by Ruth Sawyer
Chapter I. THE
MAN WHO FEARED
Chapter II. OLD
Chapter III. THE
Chapter IV. FOR
THE HONOR OF THE
Chapter V. THE
LAST OF THE
Chapter VII. THE
LAD WHO OUTSANG
INTO HER OWN
I like to write stories. Best of all I like to write stories about
people who help the world to go round with a little more cheer and good
will than is usual. You knowand I knowthere are a few who put into
life something more than the bare ingredients. They add a plum
hereextra spice there. They bake it welland then they trim it up
like an all-the-year-round birthday cake with white frosting, angelica,
and red cherries. Last of all they add the candles and light them so
that it glows warmly and invitingly for all; fine to see, sweet to
Of course, there are not so many people with the art or the will to
do this, and, having done it, they have not always the bigness of heart
to pass it round for the others to share. But I like to make it my
business to find as many as I can; and when I am lucky enough to find
one I pop himor herinto a book, to have and to hold always as long
as books last and memory keeps green.
Not long ago I was illridiculously illand my doctor popped me
into a sanitarium. Here's the place, I said, where people are needed
to make the world go round cheerfully, if they are needed anywhere.
And so I set about to get well and find one.
She camebefore I had half finished. The first thing I noticed was
the inner light in hera light as from many candles. It shone all over
her face and made the room brighter for a long time after she had left.
The next thing I noticed was the way everybody watched for her to come
roundeverybody turning child again with nose pressed hard against the
window-pane. It made me remember Stevenson's Lamplighter; and
for many days there rang in my ears one of his bits of human
And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night.
Before I knew it I had all the makings of a story. I trailed it
through the mud of gossip and scandal; I followed it to the highroad of
adventure and on to the hills of inspiration and sacrifice. It was all
thereripe for the plucking; and with the good assistance of Hennessy
I plucked it. Before the story was half written I was wellso much for
the healing grace of a story and the right person to put in it.
This much I have told that you may know that Leerie is as
true as all the best and finest things in the world are true. I am only
the passer-on of life as she has made itspiced, trimmed, and lighted
with many candles. So if the taste pleases, help yourself bountifully;
there is enough for all. And if you must thank any onethank Leerie.
Chapter I. THE MAN WHO FEARED SLEEP
Peter Brooks felt himself for a man given up. He had felt his
physical unfitness for some time in the silent, condemning judgment
masked under the too sympathetic gaze of his fellow-men; he had felt it
in the over-solicitous inquiries after his health made by the staff;
and there was his chief, who had fallen into the comfortable week-end
habit of telling him he looked first-rate, and in the same breath
begging him to take the next week off. For months past he had been
conscious of the sidelong glances cast by his brother alumni at the
College Club when he appeared, and the way they had of dropping into a
contradictory lot of topics whenever he joined a group unexpectedly
showed only too plainly that he had been the real subject under
discussion. Yes, he felt that the world at large had turned its thumb
down as far as he was concerned, but it had caused him surprisingly
little worry until that last visit to Doctor Dempsy.
There it was as if Peter's sensibilities concerning himself had
suddenly become acute. The doctor sounded too reassuring even for a
combined friend and physician; he protested too much that he had found
nothing at all the matter with himnothing at all. When a doctor seems
so superlatively anxious to set a man right with himself, it is time to
look out; therefore the casual, just-happened-to-mention-it way that he
finally broached the question of a sanitarium came within an inch of
knocking the last prop from under Peter's resolve not to lose his grip.
For the first time he fully realized how it felt to be given up, and,
characteristically, he thanked the Almighty that there was no one to
whom it would really matter.
For a year he had been slowly going to pieces; for a year he had
been dropping in for Dempsy to patch him up. There had been a host of
miserable puny ailments which in themselves meant nothing, but combined
and in a young man meant a great deal. Of late his memory had failed
him outrageously; he had had frequent attacks of vertigo, and these of
themselves had rendered him unreliable and unfit for newspaper work.
Irresponsible! Unfit! Peter snorted the words out honestly to himself.
Under these conditions, and with no one to care, he could see no
plausible reason for trying to coax a mere existence out of life.
To those who knew him bestto Doctor Dempsy most of allhis
condition seemed unexplainable. Here was a man who never drank, who
never overfed, who smoked in moderation, whose life stood out
conspicuously decent and clean against the possibilities of his
environment. What lay back of this going to pieces? Doctor Dempsy had
tried for a year to find out and had failed. To Peter, it was not
unexplainable at allhe knew. Possessed of a constitution above the
average, he had forced it to do the work of a mind far above the
average, while he had denied it one of the three necessities of life
and sanity. His will and reason had been powerless to help himand
Because he had hated himself for hiding this knowledge from the man
who had tried to do so much for him and wanted to make amends in some
wayand because it was the easiest thing, after all, to agreehe let
Doctor Dempsy pick out a sanitarium, make all arrangements, buy his
ticket, and see him off. He drew the line at being personally
conducted, however. Whether he went to a sanitarium or not did not
matter; what mattered was how long would he stay and where would he go
afterward. Or would there be an afterward? These were the questions
that mulled through Peter's mind on the train, and, coupled with the
memory of the worried kindliness on Doctor Dempsy's face, they were the
only traveling companions Peter had. It was not to be wondered,
therefore, that as he left the car and boarded the sanitarium omnibus
he felt indescribably old, weary, and finished with things.
At first he thought he was the only passenger, but as the driver
leisurely gathered up his reins and gave a cluck to the horses a girl's
voice rang out from the station, FlandersFlanders! Why, I believe
you're forgetting me. And the next instant the girl herself appeared,
suitcase in hand.
The driver grinned down a sheepish apology and Peter turned to hold
the door open. She stood framed in the doorway for a moment while she
lifted in her case, and for that moment Peter had conflicting
impressions. He was conscious of a modest, nun-like appearance of
clothes; the traveling-suit was gray, and the small gray hat had an
encircling breast of white feathers. The lips had a quiet, demure
curve; but the chin was determined, almost aggressive, while the gray
eyes positively emitted sparks. The girl was not beautiful, she was
luminousand all the gray clothing in the world could not quench her.
Peter found himself instantly wondering how anything so vitally alive
and fresh to look at could be headed for a sanitarium with broken-down
hulks like himself.
She caught Peter's eye upon her and smiled. If Flanders will hurry
we'll be there in time to see Hennessy feeding the swans, she
There was no response. Peter had suddenly lost the knack of it,
along with other things. He could only look bewildered and a trifle
more tired. But the girl must have understood it was only a temporary
lack, for she did not draw in like a snail and dismiss Peter from her
conscious horizon. She smiled again.
I see. Newcomer? And, nodding an affirmative to herself, she went
sociably on: Hennessy and the swans are symbolical. Couldn't tell you
whynot in a thousand yearsbut you'll feel it for yourself after
you've been here long enough. Hennessy hasn't changed in fifteen
yearsmaybe longer for those who can reckon longer. Same old blue
jumper, same old tawny corduroys; if he ever had a new pair he's kept
them to himself. And the swans have changed less than Hennessy. If
anything gets on your nerves heretreatment, doctors, nurses,
anythinggo and watch Hennessy. He's the one sure, universal cure.
The bus swung round the corner and brought the ivy-covered building
into sight. The girl's face grew lighter and lighter; in the shadow of
the bus it seemed to Peter actually to shine. Dear old San, she said
under her breath. Heigh-ho! it's good to get back!
Before Peter could fathom any reason for this unaccountable
rejoicing, the bus had stopped and the girl and suitcase had vanished.
Wearily he came back to his own reason for being there, and docilely he
allowed the porter to shoulder his luggage and conduct him within.
Three days passedthree days in which Peter thought little and felt
much. He had been passed about among the staff of doctors very much
like a delectable dish, and sampled by all. Half a dozen had taken him
in hand. He had been apportioned a treatment, a diet, a bath hour, and
a nurse. Looking back on those three daysand looking forward to a
continuous protraction of the samehe could see less reason than ever
for coaxing an existence out of life. Life meant to him
workefficient, telling workand companionshipsharing with a
congenial soul recreation, opinions, and mealsand some day, love.
Wellwhat of these was left him? It was then that he remembered the
gray girl's advice in the omnibus and went out to find Hennessy and the
His nurse was at supper, so he was mercifully free; moreover it was
the emptiest time of day for out-of-doors. A few straggling patients
were knocking prescribed golf-balls about the links, and a scattering
of nurses were hurrying in with their wheel-chairs. Half-way between
the links and the last building was the pond, shaded by pines and
flanked by a miniature rustic rest-house, and thither Peter went. On a
willow stump emerging from the pond he found Hennessy, as wrinkled as a
butternut, with a thatch of gray hair, a mouth shirred into a small,
open ellipse, and eyes full of irrepressible twinkles. He was seated
tailor fashion on the stump, a tin platter of bread across his knees
and the swans circling about him. He looked every whit as Irish as his
name, and he was scolding and blarneying the birds by turn.
Go-wan, there, ye feathered heathen! Can't ye be lettin' them that
has good manners get a morsel once in a while? Faith, ye'll be havin'
old Doc Willum afther ye with his stomach cure if ye don't watch out.
He looked over his shoulder and caught Peter's gaze. Sure, birds or
humans, they all have to be coaxed or scolded into keepin' healthy, I'm
thinkin', and Hennessy's head nurse to the swans, he ended, with a
But there was something quite different on Peter's mind. Has one of
the patientsa young person in graybeen here lately? I mean have you
seen her about any time?
Hennessy shook a puzzled head. A young gray patient, ye say? Sure
there might be a hundredthat's not over-distinguishin'. I leave it to
ye, sir, just a gray patient is not over-distinguishin'.
Peter reflected. It was a quiet, cloister kind of gray, but her
eyes were notcloistered. They were the shiningest
A chuckle from Hennessy brought him to an abrupt finish. Eyes?
Gray? Patient? Ha, ha! Did ye hear that, Brian Boru? and he flicked
his cap at a gray swan. Sure, misther, that's no patient. 'Tis
Leerie? The name sounded absurd to Peter, and slightly reminiscent
of something, he could not tell what.
Aye, Leerie. Real name, Sheila O'Learyas good a name as Hennessy.
But they named her Leerie her probation year. In course she's Irish an'
not Scotch, an' I never heard tell of a lass afore that went 'round
a-lightin' street lamps, but for all that the name fits. Ye mind
grown-ups an' childher alike watch for her to come 'round.
A nurse, repeated Peter, dully.
Aye. An' she come back three days since, Heaven be praised! afther
bein' gone three years.
Three years, repeated Peter again. Why was she gone three years?
Hennessy eyed him narrowly for a moment. A lot of blitherin' fools
sent her away, that's what, an' she not much more than graduated.
Suspension, they called it.
Suspension for what?
The shirring in Hennessy's lips tightened, and he drew his breath in
and out in a sort of asthmatic whistle. This was the only sign of
emotion ever betrayed by Hennessy. When he spoke again he fairly
whistled his words. If ye want to know what forye can ask some one
else. Good night. And with a bang to the platter Hennessy was away
before Peter could stop him.
Alone with the swans, Peter lingered a moment to consider. A nurse.
The gray person a nurse! And sent away for somesomePeter's mind
groped inadequately for a reason. Pshaw! He could smile at the
absurdity of his interest. What did it matteror she matteror
anything matter? For a man who has been given up, who has been sent
away to a sanitarium to finish with life as speedily and decently as he
can, to stand on one leg by a pond, for all the world like a swan
himself, and wonder about a girl he had seen but once, in a sanitarium
omnibus, was absurd. And the name Leerie? Of course they had taken it
from Stevenson, but it suited. Yes, Hennessy was right, it certainly
A rustle of white skirts coming down the path attracted his
attention. It was his nurse, through supper, coming like a commandant
to take him in charge. Thirty-seven, in a sanitarium, with a nurse
attendant! Peter groaned inwardly. It was monstrous, a cowardly,
blackguard attack of an unthinking Creator on a human beinga decent
human beingwho might bewho wanted to beof some use in the world.
For a breath he wanted to roar forth blasphemy after blasphemy against
the universe and its Maker, but in the next breath he suddenly realized
how little he cared. With a smile almost tragically senile, he let the
nurse lead him away.
And all the while a girl was leaning over the sill of the little
rest-house, watching him. It was a girl with a demure mouth, a
determined chin, and eyes that shone, who answered impartially to the
names of Sheila, Miss O'Leary, or Leerie. The gray was changed for the
white uniform and cap of a graduate nurse, and the change was becoming.
She had recognized him at first with casual amusement as she watched
him fill her prescription of Hennessy and the swans, but after Hennessy
had gone she watched him with all the intuitive sympathy of her
womanhood and the understanding of her profession. Not one of the
emotions that swept Peter's face but registered full on the girl's
sensibilities: the illuminating interest in something, bewilderment,
hopelessness, despair, agony, and a final weary surrender to the
inevitablethey were all there. But it was the strange, haunting look
in the deep-set eyes that made the girl sit up, alert and curious.
'Phobia, she said, softly, under her breath. Not over-fed liver
or alcoholic heart, but 'phobia, I'll wager, poor childman! Wonder how
the doctors have diagnosed him!
She learned how a few days later when Miss Maxwell, the
superintendent of nurses, stopped her in the second-floor corridor. My
dear, I should like to change you from Madam Courot to another case for
a few days. Miss Jacobs is on now and
Coppy? Sheila O'Leary broke in abruptly, a smile of amusement
breaking the demureness of her lips. Needn't explain, Miss Max. I see.
Young male patient, unattached. Frequent pulse-takings and cerebral
massage, with late evening strolls in the pine woods. Business office
takes notice and a change of nurse recommended. Poor Coppyripping
nurse! If only she wouldn't grow flabby every time a pair of masculine
eyes are focused her way!
But it wasn't the business office this time. Miss Maxwell herself
smiled as she made the statement. It was the patient himself. He asked
for a change.
A man that's a man for all he's a patient. God bless his soul! and
a look of sudden radiant delight swept the girl's face. What's he here
for? Jilting chorus-girlfatty degeneration of his check-book?
The superintendent shook her head. He doesn't happen to be that
kind. He's a newspaper-mana personal friend of Doctor Dempsy's.
Overwork, he thinks, and for a year he's been trying to put him back on
his feet. It's a case of nerves, with nothing discoverable back of it
so far as he can see, but he wants us to try. Doctor Nichols has
analyzed him; teeth have been X-rayed; eyes, nose, and throat gone
over. There's nothing radically wrong with stomach or kidneys; heart
shows nervous affection, nothing more. He ought to be fit physically
and he isn't. Miss Jacobs reports a maximum of an hour's sleep in
twenty-four. Doctor Dempsy writes it's a case for a nurse, not a
doctor, and the most tactful, intuitive nurse we have in the
sanitarium. Please take it, Leerie.
The girl stiffened under the two hands placed on her shoulders,
while something indescribably baffling and impenetrable took possession
of her whole being. Her voice became almost curt. Sorry, can't.
Bargain, you know. Wouldn't have come back at all if you hadn't
promised I should not be asked to take those cases.
I'll not ask you to take another, but you know how I feel about any
patient Doctor Dempsy sends to us. Anything I can do means paying back
a little on the great debt I owe him, the debt of a wonderful training.
That's why I askthis once. A look almost fanatical came into the
face of the superintendent.
The girl smiled wistfully up at her. Wish I could! Honest I do,
Miss Max! I'd fight for the life of any patient under the old San
roofman, woman, or child; but I'll not baby-tend unhealthy-minded
young men. You know as well as I how it's always been: they lose their
heads and I my temperresults, the same. I end by telling them just
what I think; they pay their bills and leave the same day. The San
loses a perfectly good annual patient, and the business office feels
sore at me. No, I'm no good at frequent pulses and cerebral massage;
leave that to Coppy.
There was no stinging sarcasm in the girl's voice. She reached out
an impulsive hand and slipped it into one of the older woman's, leaving
it there long enough to give it a quick, firm grip. Remember, it's
only three yearsand it takes so little to set tongues wagging again.
So let's stick fast to the bargain, dear; only nervous old ladies or
the bad surgical cases.
Very well. Onlyif you could change your mind, let me know. In the
mean time I'll put Miss Saunders on, and the superintendent turned
away, troubled and unsatisfied.
An hour later Sheila O'Leary came upon Miss Saunders with her new
patient, and the patient was the man of the omnibusthe man with the
haunting, deep-set eyes. Unnoticed, she watched them sitting on a bench
by the pond, the nurse droning aloud from a book, the man sagging
listlessly, plainly hearing nothing and seeing nothing. The picture set
Sheila O'Leary shuddering. If it was a case of 'phobia, God help the
poor man with Saunders coupled to his nerves! Cumbersome, big-hearted,
and hopelessly dull, Saunders was incapable of nursing with tactful
insight a nerve-racked man. In the whole wide realm of disease there
seemed nothing more tragic to Sheila than a victim of 'phobia. It
turned normal men and women into pitiful children, afraid of the dark,
groping out for the hand to reassure them, to put heart and courage
back in them againthe hand that nine cases out of ten never reaches
them in time.
With an impulsive toss of her head, Sheila O'Leary swung about in
her tracks. She would break her own bargain for this once. She would go
to Miss Max and ask to be put on the case. Here was a soul sick unto
death with a fear of something, and Saunders was nursing it! What did
it matter if it was a man or a dog, as long as she could get into the
dark after him and show him the way out! Her resolve held to the point
of branching paths, and there she stopped to consider again.
Peter's eyes were on the swans; there was nothing to the general
droop of the shoulders, the thrust-forward bend of the neck, the
hollowing of the smooth-shaven cheeks, and the graying of the hair
above the temples to write him other than an average overworked or
habitually harassed business man here for rest and treatment. If Sheila
was mistakenif there was no abnormal mental condition back of it all,
no legitimate reason for not holding fast to the compact she had made
three years before with herself to leave menyoung, old, or
middle-agedout of her profession, what a fool she would feel! She
balanced the paths and her judgment for a second, then decided in favor
of the bargain. So Peter was left to the ministrations of Saunders.
That night the unexpected happened, unexpected as far as the
sanitarium, the superintendent of nurses, and Sheila O'Leary were
concerned. How unexpected it was to Peter depends largely on whether it
was the result of a decision on his part to stop coaxing existenceor
a desire to escape permanently from Saundersor merely an accident.
However, Sheila O'Leary was called in the middle of the night, when she
was sleeping so soundly that it took the combined efforts of the
superintendent and the head night nurse to shake her awake. As she
hurried into her uniform they gave her the bare details. Somehow the
doors of the sun-parlor had not been fastened as usual, and a patient
had stayed up there after lights were out. He had tried to find his way
to the lift, had slipped the fastenings of the door in his effort to
locate the bell, and had fallen four stories, to the top of the lift
itself. The whole accident was unbelievable, unprecedented. They might
find some plausible explanation in the morningbut in the mean time
the patient was in the operating-room and Sheila O'Leary was to report
at once for night duty.
As the girl pinned on her cap the superintendent whispered the last
instructions: You'll find him in Number Three, Surgical. It's one of
your fighting cases, Leerie, and it's Doctor Dempsy's patient.
Remember, your best work this time, girl, for all our sakes!
And it was a fighting case. Innumerable nights followed, all alike.
The temperature rose and fell a little, only to rise again; the pulse
strengthened and weakened by turns; delirium continued unbroken. As
night after night wore on and no fresh sign of internal injury
developed, the girl found herself forgetting the immediate condition of
the patient and going back to the thing that had brought him here. If
she was right and he was possessed by a fixed idea, the dread of some
concrete thing or experience, his delirium showed no evidence. It
seemed more the delirium of exhaustion than fever, and there was no
raving. Consciousness, however, might reveal what delirium hid, so, as
the nights slipped monotonously by, the girl found herself waiting with
a growing eagerness for the man to come back to himself.
The waiting seemed interminable, but a time came at last when Sheila
slipped through the door of No. 3 and found a pair of deep-set,
haunting eyes turned full upon her.
It'sit's Leerie. The words came with some difficulty, but there
was an untold relief in Peter's voice.
For a moment the girl was taken aback, but only for a moment. She
laughed him a friendly little laugh while she put her hand down to the
hand that was still too weak to reach out in greeting. Yes. Oh yes,
it's Leerie. Been getting pretty well acquainted with you these weeks,
but rather a surprise to find it soso mutual.
I got acquainted with youbeforehand, announced Peter.
I seeomnibus, Hennessy, and the swans. She laughed again softly.
You've been away a long time; hope you're glad to get back.
Peter reflected. I'm afraid I'm not. But I'll not say it if it
sounds too much like a quitter.
No, say it and get it out of your system. Getting well always seems
a terrible undertaking; and the stronger you've been the harder it
seems. Sheila turned to her chart and preparations for the night.
Lights out, she sat down by the open window to wait for Peter to
sleep. An hour passed, two hours, and sleep did not come. She fed him
hot milk and he still lay open-eyed, almost rigid, staring straight at
the ceiling. At midnight she stole out for her own supper in the
diet-kitchen and found him still awake when she returned, the haunting
eyes looking more child's than man's in the dimness of the night lamp.
Had she been free to follow her most vagrant impulse, she would have
climbed on the head of the bed, taken the bandaged head on her lap, and
plunged into the most enthralling tale of boy adventure her imagination
could compass. But she hounded off the impulse, after the fashion of
treating all vagrants, and went back to the window to wait and wonder.
Peter was still awake when the gray of the morning crept down the
corridors of the Surgical.
Sheila questioned Tyler, the day nurse, as she came off duty the
next evening, Number Three sleep any to boast of?
Why, no! Didn't he sleep well last night?
She gave a non-committal shrug and passed into the room. He was
watching for her coming, and a ghost of a smile flickered at the
corners of his mouth. She couldn't remember having seen even so much of
a smile before.
It'sit's Leerie. He said it just as he had the night before. But
there was a strange, wistful appeal in the voice which set Sheila
Gorgeous night, full of stars, and air like wine. Smell the verbena
and thyme from the San gardens? Sheila threw back her head and sniffed
the air like a wild thing. Took me a month to trail that smellbe
sure of it. You only get it at night after a light rain. Take some long
breaths of it and you'll be asleep before lights are out.
But he was not. He lay rigid as the night before, his eyes staring
straight before him. Sheila remembered a description she had read once
of a mountain guide who had been caught on the edge of a landslide and
hung for hours over the abyss, clutching a half-felled tree and trying
to keep awake until help came. The man she was nursing might almost be
living through such an agony of mind and body, afraid to yield up his
consciousness lest he should go plunging off into some horrible abyss.
What did he fear? Was it sleep? Was somnophobia what lay behind the
wrecking of this fine, clean manhood? The thing seemed incredible, and
Before dawn crept again into the Surgical, the mind of Sheila
O'Leary was made up. Peter was suddenly aware that the nurse was close
at his bedside, chafing the clenched fingers free. It was that
mysterious hour that hangs between the going night and coming day, the
most non-resisting time for body and mind, when the human will gives up
the struggle if it gives it up at all. And Sheila O'Leary, being well
aware of this, rubbed the tense nerves into a comfortable state of
relaxation and talked.
First she talked of the city, and found he was not city-born. Then
she talked of the countryof South, East, and Westand located his
birthplace in a small New England village. She talked of the outdoor
freedom of a country boy, of the wholesome work and fun on a farm with
a large family and good old-fashioned parents, and she found that he
had been an only child, motherless, with a family consisting of a
misanthropic, grief-stricken father and a hired girl. His voice sounded
toneless and more tired than ever as he spoke of his childhood.
Lonely? queried Sheila.
What do you mean?
The girl leaned over the bed and looked straight into the eyes that
seemed to be daring her to find the way into his darkness and at the
same time barring fast the door against her coming. She smiled gently.
Tell mecan you remember when you first began to fear sleep?
There was no denial, no protest. Peter sighed as a little worn-out
boy might have sighed with the irksome concealment of some forbidden
act. I don't know, he said at last. I can't think back to a time
when I wasn't afraidafraid of the dropping out, into the dark. God!
He turned his head away, and for the first time in two weary, wakeful
nights Sheila saw him close his eyes.
Off duty, instead of going to breakfast and bed, Sheila O'Leary went
to the office of the superintendent of nurses. In her usual fashion she
came straight to her point. Put Saunders back on Number Three and give
me a couple of days off. Please, Miss Max.
Her abruptness shook the almost unshakable calm of Miss Maxwell. She
gazed at the girl in frank amazement. May I ask why? There was a
kindly irony in the question.
Sounds queer, I know, but I've simply got to go. Lots depends on
it, and no time now to explain. Want to catch that eight-thirty-five;
Flanders is holding the bus. Tell you when I get backplease, Miss
Max? And taking consent for granted, Sheila started for the door.
There was an odd look on the face of the superintendent as she
watched her goa look of amused, loving pride. She might hide it from
their little world, but she could not deny it to herself, that of all
the girls she had helped to train, none had come so close to her heart
as this girl with her wonderful insight, her honesty, her plain
speaking, and her heart of gold. A hundred times she had defied the
rules of the sanitarium, had swept the superintendent's dignity to the
four winds. And she would continue to do so, and they would continue to
overlook it. Such petty offenses are forgiven the Leeries the world
over. And now, watching the gray, alive figure climbing into the
omnibus, Miss Maxwell had no mind to resent her breach of discipline.
She knew the girl had asked nothing for herself; she had gone to do
something for somebody who needed it, and she would report for duty
again when that was accomplished.
And two days later, accordingly, she came, a luminous, ecstatic
figure that flew into the office with arms outstretched to swing the
superintendent almost off her feet in joyful triumph. It was
just what I thought! Found the girlonly she is an old woman nowgot
the whole miserable story from her, andandI thinkI thinkGood
heart alive! I think I can pull him out of the beastly old hole!
Meaning? Remember, my dear, I haven't the grain of an idea why
you went, or where you went, or what the miserable story is about.
Please shine your lantern this way and light up my intelligence. Miss
Maxwell was beaming.
Sheila O'Leary laughed. I began by jumping at conclusionssame as
I always dojumped at 'phobia in Number Three. Almost came and asked
to be put on the case after you told me. But he isn't Number Three any
morehe's a little boy named Petera little boy, almost a baby,
frightened night after night for years and years into lying still in
the dark under the eaves in a little attic room, deliberately
frightened by a hired girl who wanted to be free to go off gadding with
her young man. I got the place and her name from Petercoaxed it out
of himand I made her tell me the story. The father paid her extra
wages to stay at night so the little boy wouldn't be lonely and miss
his mother too much, and she didn't want him to find out she had gone.
So she'd put Peter to bed and tell him that if he stirred or cried out
the walls would close in on himor the floor would swallow him upor
the ghosts would come out of the corners and eat him up or carry him
off. Can't you see him there, a little quivering heap of a boy, awake
in the dark, afraid to move? Can't you feel how he would lie and listen
to all the sounds about himthe squealing mice, the creaking rafters,
the wind moaning in the eavestoo terrified to go to sleep? And when
he did sleepworn outcan't you imagine what his dreams would be
like? Oh, women like thatwomen who could frighten little sensitive
childrenought to be burned as they burned the witches! The girl's
eyes blazed and she shook a pair of clenched fists into the air. And
can you see the rest of it? How the fear grew and grew even as the
memory of the tales faded, grew into a nameless, unexplainable fear of
sleep? And because he was a boy he hid it; and because he was a man he
fought it; but the thing nailed him at last. He fought sleep until he
lost the habit of sleep. He couldn't get along without it, and here he
Well, what are you going to do? The superintendent eyed her
narrowly; her cheeks were as flushed as the girl's.
A little enigmatical smile curved up the corners of the usually
demure mouth. Going to play Leeriegoing to play it harder than I
ever did in my life before.
And that night as Peter turned his head wearily toward the door to
greet the kindly, cumbersome Saunders, he found, to his surprise, the
owner of the shining eyes come back. He felt so ridiculously glad about
it that he couldn't even trust himself to tell her so. Instead he
repeated foolishly the same old thing, Why, it'sit's Leerie!
When everything was ready for the night, Sheila turned the
night-light out and lowered the curtain until it was quite dark. Then
she drew her chair close to the bed and slipped her hand into the lean,
clenched one on the coverlid. Don't think of me as a girla nursea
personat all, to-night, she said, softly. I'm just a piece of
Stevenson's poem come to lifea lamplighter for a little boy going to
sleep all alone in a farm-house attic. It's very dark. You can hear the
mice squeal and the rafters creak, if you listen, and the window's so
small the stars can't creep in. In the daytime the attic doesn't seem
far away or very strange, but at night it's milesmiles away from the
rest of the house, and it's full of things that may happen. That's why
I'm here with my lamp.
Sheila stopped a moment. She could hear the man's breath coming
quick, with a catch in ita child breathes that way when it is
fighting down a cry or a sob. Then she went on: Of course it's a
magical lamp I carry, and with the first sputter and spark it lights up
and turns the attic inside outand there we are, the little boy and I,
hand in hand, running straight for the brook back of the house. The
lamp burns as bright as the sun now, so it seems like daya spring
day. It isn't the mice squealing at all that you hear, but the birds
singing and the brook running. There are cowslips down by the brook,
and 'Jacks.' Here by the big stone is a chance to build a bully good
dam and sailboats made out of the shingles blown off from the barn
roof. Want to stop and build it now?
All right. There was almost a suppressed laugh in the voice; it
certainly sounded glad. And the hand on the coverlid was as relaxed as
that of a child being led somewhere it wants to go.
Sheila smiled happily in the dark: You must get stones, thenlots
and lots of themand we'll pile them together. There's one stoneand
two stonesand three stones. Another stone hereanother hereanother
herea big one there where the current runs swiftest, and little
stones for the chinks.
According to Sheila O'Leary's best reckoning the dam was only half
built when the little boy fell fast asleep over his work. And when the
gray of the morning stole down the corridors of the Surgical, No. 3 was
sleeping, with one arm thrown over his head as little boys sleep, and
the other holding fast to the nurse on night duty.
But it takes a long while to break down an old habit and build up a
new one, as it takes a long while to build a dam. No less than tons of
stones must have gone to the building of Peter's before the time came
when he could drop asleep alone and unguided. In all that time neither
he nor the girl ever spoke of what lay between the putting out of the
night lamp and the waking fresh and rested to a welcomed day.
With sleep came speedy recovery, and Peter was the most popular
convalescent in the Surgical. His laugh had suddenly grown contagious,
his humor irresistible, his outlook on life so optimistically bubbling
that less cheery patients turned their wheel-chairs to No. 3 for
revitalizing. The chief came up with Doctor Dempsy from town, and both
went away wearing the look of men who have seen miracles. Life in its
fullness had come to Peter, the life he had dreamed of, as a lost
crosser of the desert dreams of water. Efficient work was to be his
again, and companionship, andyes, for the first time he hoped for the
third and best of life's ingredientshe hoped for love.
And then, just as everything looked best and brightest, he was told
that he no longer needed a night nurse. Sheila O'Leary was put on the
case of an old lady with chronic dyspepsia. She told him herself, as
she went off duty in the Surgical for the last time.
You've had the best sleep of all. She smiled at his efforts to
pull himself awake. I'll drop in when I'm passing, to see how you're
getting on, but otherwise this is good-by and good luck. She held out
WhybutHang it all! I can't get along without a night nurse. And
if I don't need one, why can't you take Miss Tyler's place in the day?
Orders. Sheila announced it as an unshakable fact.
I'll see Miss Maxwell.
No use. She wouldn't listen.
Guess if I'm paying for it I can have
Sheila O'Leary's chin squared and her body stiffened. There are
some things no one can pay for, Mr. Brooks.
Peter colored crimson. He reached quickly for the hand Sheila had
pulled away. What an ungrateful cur you must think I am! And I've
never said a wordnever thanked you.
There was nothing to thank for. I was only undoing what another
woman had done long ago. That's one of the glad things about nursing;
we so often have a chance at just that sort of thingthe chance to
make up for some of the blind mistakes in life. Good-by. I'm late now.
Butbut Peter held frantically to the hand. 'Pon my soul, I
can't let you go untiluntil He broke off, crimsoning again.
Promise a time when you will come backjust a minute I can count on
and look forward to. Please!
All rightI'll be back at fourjust for a minute.
It happened, however, that Miss Jacobspink-cheeked, auburn-haired,
green-eyed little Miss Jacobs, the first nurse on Peter's case, blew
into No. 3 a few minutes before four. She had developed the habit of
blowing in at least once in the day and telling Peter how perfectly
splendid it was to see him getting along so well. But as he did not
happen to look quite so well this time, she condoled and wormed the
reason out of Peter.
Leerie off duty! Don't you think it's rather remarkable they let
her stay so long? Of course the management, as a rule, doesn't let her
have cases ofof this kind. A girl who's been sent away on account
ofofquestionable conduct isn't exactly safe to trust. Don't you
think so? And the San can't afford to risk its reputation. For an
instant the green eyes shimmered and glistened balefully, while she
tossed her auburn curls coyly at Peter. It's really too bad, for she's
a wonderful surgical nurse. All the best surgeons want her on their
cases. That's why they put her on with you; that's really why they let
her come back at all.
A look in Peter's eyes stopped her and made her look back over her
shoulder. Sheila O'Leary stood in the open doorway. For an instant the
perpetual assurance of Miss Jacobs was shaken, but only for an instant.
She smiled tolerantly. Hello, Leerie! I've been telling Mr. Brooks
what a wonderful surgical nurse you are.
The gray eyes of the girl in the doorway looked steadily into the
green eyes of the girl by the bed. Thank you, Coppy, I heard you. And
she stepped aside to let the other pass out.
Well? she asked when the two were alone.
Well! answered Peter, emphatically. Everything is very, very
well. Do you know, and he smiled up at her like a happy small boydo
you know that all the while you were building that dam I was building
I was building my life over againbuilding it fresh, with the fear
gone and everything sound and strong and fine. And into the chinks
where all the miserable empty places had beenthe places where
loneliness and heartache eternally leaked throughI was fitting love,
the love I never dared dream of.
The girl's lips looked strangely hardalmost bitter, Peter thought;
and this time he reached out both arms to her.
Hang it all! It's tough on a man who's never dared dream of love to
have it take him, bandaged and tied to his bed. LeerieLeerie! You
wouldn't have the heart to blow out the lamp now, would you?
The lips softened, she gave a sad little shake of her head. No, but
you've got to keep it burning yourself. You're a man; you can do it.
Sorrycan't help it. And please don't say anything more. Don't spoil
it all, and make me say things I wish I hadn't and send you off to pay
your bill and leave the San to-night. She smiled wistfully. Dear,
grown-up boy! Don't you know that it's the customary thing for a man to
think he's fallen in love with his nurse when he's convalescing? Just
get well and forget itas all the others do. She turned toward the
I'm not going to pay my bill to-night, and I'm not going to forget
it. I guess all those chinks haven't been filled up yet. I'm going to
stay until they are. Good plan, don't you think? And Peter Brooks
smiled like a man who had never been given upnor ever intended giving
up, now that life had given him back the things for which he had a
right to fight.
Chapter II. OLD KING COLE
Hennessy was feeding the swans. Sheila O'Leary leaned over the sill
of the diminutive rustic rest-house and watched him with a tired
contentment. She had just come off a neurasthenic casea week of
twenty-four-hour dutyand she wanted to stretch her cramped
sensibilities in the quiet peace of the little house and invite her
soul with a glimpse of Hennessy and the swans.
All about her the grounds of the sanitarium were astir with its
customary crowd of early-summer-afternoon patients. How those first
warm days called the sick folks out-of-doors and held them there until
the last beam of sunshine had disappeared behind the foremost hill! The
tennis-courts were full; the golf-links were dotted about with spots of
color like a cubist picture; pairs of probationers, arm in arm, were
strolling about, enjoying a comparative leisure; old Madam Courot was
at her customary place under the juniper, watching the sun go down.
Three years! Nothing seemed changed in all that time but the
patientsand not all of these, as Madame Courot silently testified.
The pines shook themselves above the rest-house in the same lazy,
vagabond fashion, the sun purpled the far hills and spun the same
yellow haze over the links, the wind brought its habitual afternoon
accompaniment of cow-bells from the sanitarium farm, and Hennessy threw
the last crumb of bread to Brian Boru, the gray swan, as he had done
for the fifteen years Sheila could remember.
She folded her arms across the sill and rested her chin on them. How
good it was to be back at the old San, to settle down to its kindly,
comfortable ways and the peace of its setting after the feverish
restlessness of city hospitals! She remembered what Kipling had said,
that the hill people who came down to the plains were always hungering
to get back to the hills again. That was the way she had felt about
italways a hunger to come back. For months and months she had thought
that she might forever have to stay in those hospitals, have to make up
her mind to the eternal plainsand then had come her reprieveshe had
been called back to the San and the work she loved best.
Had the place been any other than the sanitarium, and the person any
other than Sheila O'Leary, this would never have happened. For she had
left under a cloud, and in similar cases a cloud, once gathered, grows
until it envelops, suffocates, and finally annihilates the person. As a
graduate nurse she would have ceased to exist. But in spite of the most
blighting circumstances, those who counted most believed in her and
trusted her. They had only waited for time to forget and tongues to
stop wagging, and then they had called her back. Perhaps the strangest
thing about it was that Sheila did not look like a person who could
have had even the smallest, fleeciest of clouds brushing her most
distant horizon. In fact, so vital, warm, and glowing was her
personality, so radiant her nature, that she seemed instead a permanent
dispeller of clouds.
From across the pond Hennessy watched her with adoring eyes as he
gave his habitual, final bang to the bread-platter and the hitch to his
corduroys preparatory to leaving. To his way of thinking, there was no
nurse enrolled on the books of the old San who could compare with her.
In the beginning he had prophesied great things of her to Flanders, the
bus-driver. Ye mind what I'm tellin' ye, he had said. Afore she's
finished her trainin' she'll have more lads a-dandtherin' round her
than if she'd been the King of Ireland's only daughter. Ye can take my
word for it, when she leaves here, 'twill be a grand home of her own
she'll be goin' to an' no dirty hospital.
That had been three years ago, and Hennessy sighed now over the
utter futility of his words. Sure, who could have been seein' that one
o' the lads would have turned blackguard? Hennessy knows. Just give the
lass time for that hurt to heal, an' she'll be winnin' a home of her
own, after all. This he muttered to himself as he took the path
leading toward the rest-house.
Sheila saw him coming, his lips shirred to the closeness of some
emotional strain. Hello, Hennessy! What's troubling? she called down
Faith, it's Mr. Peter Brooks that's troublin'. 'Tis a week, now,
that ye've been off that casean' he's near cured. Another week now
In another week he'll be going back to his workand I'll be very
Hennessy eyed the girl narrowly. Will ye, then? Why did ye cure him
up so fast for, Miss Leerie? Why didn't ye give the poor man a chance?
No one but Hennessy would have had sufficient temerity for such a
question, but had any one dared to ask it, upon their heads would have
fallen the combined anger and bitterness of Sheila's tongue. For having
had occasion once for bitterness, it was not over-hard to waken it when
men served as topics. But at Hennessy she smiled tolerantly. Didn't I
give him a chance to get well? That was all he needed or wanted. And,
now he's well, he'll go about his business.
Faith, and Hennessy closed a suggestive eye, that depends on what
he takes to be his business. In my young days the choosin' an' courtin'
of a wife was the big part of a man's business. Now if he comes round
askin' my opinion
Tell him, Hennessyand Sheila fixed him firmly with a
glancethat the sanitarium does not encourage its cured patients to
hang about bothering its nurses. It is apt to make trouble for the
Again Hennessy closed one eye; then he laughed. When ye talk of
devils ye're sure to smell brimstone. There comes Mr. Brooks now, an'
he has his head back like a dog trailin' the wind.
The girl turned and followed Hennessy's jerking thumb with her eyes.
Across the pine grove, coming toward them, was a young man above medium
height, square-shouldered and erect. There was nothing startlingly
handsome nor remarkable about his appearance; he was just nice, strong,
clean-looking. He waved to the two by the rest-house.
And do ye mind his looks when he came! Hennessy's tone denoted
wonder and admiration.
A human wreckhaunted at that. There was a good deal more than
mere professional interest in Sheila's tone; there was pride and
something else. It was past Hennessy's perceptive powers to define
what, but he noticed it, nevertheless, and looked sharply up at the
For the love o' Mike, Miss Leerie! Why can't ye stop ticketin' each
man as a case an' begin thinkin' about them human-like? Ye might begin
practisin' wi' Mr. Brooks.
The line of Sheila's lips became fixed; the chin that could look so
demure, the eyes that could look so soft and gentle, both backed up the
lips in an expression of inscrutable hardness.
In the name of your patron saint, Hennessy, what have you said to
Miss Leerie to turn her into that sphinx again? The voice of Peter
Brooks was as nice as his appearance.
Hennessy looked foolish. I was tellin' her, then, he moistened his
lips to allow a safer emigration of wordsI was tellin' herthat the
gray swan had the rheumatism in his left leg, an' I was askin' her, did
she think Doctor Willum would prescribe a thermo bath for him. I'd best
be askin' him meself, maybe, and with a sudden pull at his forelock
Hennessy backed away down the path.
Peter Brooks watched him depart with an admiration equal to that
with which Hennessy had welcomed him. That man has a wonderful insight
into human nature. Now I was just wishing I could have you all alone
Sheila interrupted him. I hope you weren't counting on too many
minutes. I can see Miss Maxwell coming down the San steps, and I have a
substantial feeling that she's looking for me to put me on another
Couldn't we escape? Couldn't we skip round by the farm to the
garage and get my car? You look fagged out. A couple of hours' ride
would do wonders for you, andGood Lord! The San can run that long
without your services. What do you say? Shall we beat it?
With a telltale, pent-up eagerness he noticed the girl's indecision
and flung himself with all his persuasive powers to turn the balance in
his favor. Do come. You can work better and harder for a little time
off now and then. All the other nurses take it. Why under the heavens
can't a man ever persuade you to have a little pleasure? Something in
Sheila's face stopped him and prompted the one argument that could have
persuaded her. If you'll only come, Leerie, I'll promise to keep
dumbabsolutely dumb. I'll promise not to spoil the ride for you.
Sheila flung him a radiant smile; it almost unbalanced him and
murdered his resolve. Then I'll come. You're the first man I ever knew
who could keep his wordthat way. Hurry! we'll have to run for it.
And taking the lead, she ducked through the little door of the
rest-house and ran, straight as the crow flies, to the hiding shelter
of the farm.
But her premonition was correct. When she returned two hours later
in the cool of a summer's twilight, with eyes that sparkled like
iridescent pools and lips that smiled generously her gratitude to the
man who could keep his word, she found the superintendent of nurses
watching from the San steps for their car.
All right, Miss Maxwell, she nodded in response to the question
that was plainly stamped on the superintendent's face. We've had
supperdon't even have to change my uniform. Then to Peter, Thank
The words were meager enough, but Peter Brooks had already received
his compensation in the girl's glowing face. It's 'off again, on
again, gone again,' in your profession, too. Well, here's looking
forward to the next escape. His laugh rang with health and good
Sheila stopped on her way up the steps, turned and looked back at
him. The wonder of his recovery often surprised even herself. It seemed
incredible that this pulsing, vitalized portion of humanity could have
once been a veritable husk, hounded by a haunting fear into a state of
hopelessness and loathing of existence. Life certainly tingled in Peter
now, and every time Sheila felt it, man or no man, she could not help
rejoice with all her heart at the thing she had helped to do.
Peter's smile met hers half-way in the dusk. It may be another week
before I see you again. In caseI'd like to tell you that I'm staying
on indefinitely. The chief has pushed me out of my Sunday section and
has sent me a lot of special articles to do up here. He thinks I had
better not come back until I'm all fit.
You're perfectly fit now. There was a brutal frankness in the
Peter had grown used to these moments. They no longer troubled or
hurt him. He had begun to understand. Maybe I am; I feel so, but you
can never tell. Then there's always the danger of one's heart going
back on one. That's why I've decided to stay on and coddle mine. Rather
Sheila O'Leary vouchsafed no answer. She disappeared through the
entrance of the sanitarium, leaving Peter Brooks still smiling. Neither
his expression nor position had changed a few seconds later when Miss
Jacobs touched him on the arm.
Oh, Mr. Brooks! Were you the guilty partyrunning away with
Leerie? For the last two hours we've been combing the San grounds for
her. The green eyes of the flirtatious nurse gleamed peculiarly
catlike in the dusk. Of course I don't suppose my opinion counts so
very much with you, there was a honeyed, self-deprecatory quality in
the girl's tone, but if I were you, I wouldn't go about so awfully
much with Leerie. She's a dear girlI don't suppose it's really her
faultbut she had such a record. And you know it's my creed that girls
of that kind can compromise poor men far oftener than men compromise
girls. Oh, I do hope you understand what I mean!
Peter still wore a smile, but it was a different smile. It was as
much like the old one as a search-light is like sunshine. He focused it
full on Miss Jacobs's face. I'm a shark at understanding. And don't
worry about me. I'm more of a shark in deep water withwith sirens.
He chuckled inwardly at the look of blank incomprehension on the
nurse's face. By the way, just what did you want Miss Leary for? Not
The girl gave her head a disgusted toss. Oh, they want her to help
an old man die. He came up here a week ago. I saw him then, and he
looked ready to burst. Doctor MacByrn said he weighed over three
hundred and had a blood pressure of two hundred and ten. They can't
bring it down, and his heart is about done for. Leerie always gets
those dying cases. Ugh! The girl shuddered. Guess they wouldn't put
me on any of those sure-dead cases; it's bad enough when you happen on
Peter shot her a pitying glance and walked back to his car. He was
just climbing in when the girl's voice chirped back to him. Just the
night for a ride, isn't it? I couldn't think of letting you go all
alone and be lonesome. Isn't it lucky I'm off duty till ten!
Lucky for the patient! Peter mumbled under his breath; then aloud:
Sorry, but I'm unlucky. Only enough gasoline to get her back to the
garage. Good night. He swung the car free of the curb, leaving little
red-headed, green-eyed Miss Jacobs in the process of gathering up her
skirts and mounting into thin air.
Meanwhile Sheila had followed the superintendent to her office.
It's a case of cerebral hemorrhages. The man is no fool; he knows his
condition, and he's been getting increasingly hard to take care of
every minute since he found out. Maybe you've heard of him. He's
Brandle, the coal magnate. Quite alone in the world; no children, and
his wife died some few years ago. He's very peculiar, and no one seems
to know what to say to him or do for him. I'm a little afraid and
the superintendent paused to consider her words before committing
herself. I think perhaps there have been too many offers of prayers
and scriptural readings for his taste.
Probably he'd prefer the last Town Topics or the latest
detective story. Sheila shook her head violently. Why can't a man be
allowed to die the way he choosesinstead of your way, or my way, or
the Reverend Mr. Grumble's way?
Miss Barry is on the case now, and I'm afraid he's shocked her
Perpetual devotion. Sheila grinned sympathetically as she
completed the sentence. They had called her Prayer-Book Barry her
probation year because of her unswerving religious point of view, and
her years of training had only served to increase it. The picture of
anything as sensitively pious as Prayer-Book Barry helping a coal
magnate to depart this temporal world in his own chosen fashion was too
much for Sheila's sense of the grotesque. She threw back her head and
laughed. Peal after peal rang out and over the transom of the
superintendent's office just as Miss Jacobs passed.
It took no great powers of penetration to identify the laugh; a look
of satisfaction crept into the green eyes. Quite dramatic and brutally
unfeeling I call it, she murmured. But it will make an entertaining
story to tell Mr. Brooks. He thinks Leerie is such a little tinseled
Ten minutes later Sheila O'Leary followed Miss Maxwell into the
large tower room of the sanitarium to relieve Miss Barry from duty. As
she took her first look from the doorway she almost forgot herself and
laughed again. The room might have been a scene set for a farce or a
Propped up in bed, with multitudinous pillows about him, was a very
mammoth of a man in heliotrope-silk pajamas. His face was as round and
full and bucolic as a poster advertising some specific brew of beer.
Surmounting the face was a sparse fringe of white hair standing erect,
while an isolated lock mounted guard over a receding forehead. It was
evident that the natural expression of the face was good-natured,
indulgent, easygoing, but at the moment of Sheila's entrance it was
contorted into something that might have served for a cartoon of a
choleric full moon. The eyes were rolling frantically in every
direction but that from which the presumable infliction came, for
seated at the bedside, with a booklet of evening prayer open on her
lap, was Miss Barry, reading aloud in a sweet, gentle voice.
Miss Barry did not stop until she had finished her paragraph. The
cessation of her voice brought the roving eyes to a standstill; then
they flew straight to Miss Maxwell in abject appeal. Take it away,
ma'am. Don't hurt itbut take it away! The articulation was thick,
but it did not mask the wail in the voice, and a gigantic thumb jerked
indicatively toward the patient, asserting figure of Miss Barry.
All right, Mr. Brandle. Miss Maxwell's tone showed neither
conciliation nor pity; it was plainly matter-of-fact. As it happens,
I've brought you a new nurse. Suppose you try Miss O'Leary for the next
day or two.
The wail broke out afresh: How can I tell if I can stand her? They
all look alikeall of 'em. You're the fourth, ain't you? He turned to
the nurse at his bedside for corroboration.
Then I'm the fifth, announced Sheila, and there's luck in odd
Five's my number. The mammoth man looked a fraction less
distracted as he stated this important fact. Born fifth day of the
fifth month, struck it rich when I was twenty-five, married in
'seventy-five, formed the American Coal Trust December fifth, eighteen
ninety-five. How's that for a number?
And I'm twenty-five, and this is June fifth. Sheila smiled.
Say, honest? A glimmer of cheerfulness filtered through. The man
beckoned the superintendent of nurses closer and whispered in a
perfectly audible voice: Can't you take it away now? I'd like to ask
the other some questions before you leave her for keeps.
Miss Maxwell nodded a dismissal to the nurse who had been, and
called Sheila to the bedside. Look her over well, Mr. Brandle. Miss
O'Leary isn't a bit sensitive.
O'Leary? That's not a bad name. Had a shaft boss up at my first
anthracite-mine by that namegot on with him first-class. Saythis
direct to Sheilacan you pray?
Not unless I have to.
Not a bad answer. Now whaterform ofliteratoore do you
Things with peppunchgo!
Say, shake. The mammoth man smiled as he held out a giant fist.
Sheila had the feeling she was shaking hands with some prehistoric
animal. It was almost repellent, and she had to summon all her sympathy
and control to be able to return the shake with any degree of
All right, ma'am. You can leave us now to thrash it out man to man.
You'd better get back to managing your little white angels, and he
swept a dismissing hand toward Miss Maxwell and the door.
Oddly enough, there was nothing rude nor affronting in the man's
words. There was too much of underlying good nature to permit it. With
the closing of the door behind the superintendent he turned to Sheila.
Now, boss, we might as well understand each otherit'll save strikes
or hurt feelings. Eh?
All right. I'm dying, and I know it. May burst like a paper bag or
go up like a penny balloon any minute. Now praying won't keep me from
bursting a second sooner, or send me up a foot higher, so cut it out.
Again Sheila nodded.
That isn't all. Had two nurses who agreed, kept their word, but
they hadn't the nerve to keep the parson from praying, and when he was
off duty they just sattwiddled their thumbs and waited for me to
quit. Couldn't stand thatgot on my nerves something fearful.
Wanted to murder them, didn't you? Sheila laughed. Well, Mr.
Brandle, suppose we begin with supper and the baseball news. After that
we'll hunt up a thrillerbiggest thriller they've got in the
You're boss, was the answer, but a look of reliefalmost of
contentmentspread over the rubicund face.
As Sheila was leaving for the supper-tray she paused. How would you
like company for supper?
Company? Good Lord, not the parson!
No, me. If you are willing to sign for two, I could bring my supper
up with yours.
And not eat alone! By Jehoshaphat! Give me that slip quick.
They had not only a good supper, they had a noisy one. The coal
magnate roared over Sheila's descriptions of some of the bath
treatments and their victims. In the midst of one particularly noisy
explosion he suddenly stopped and looked accusingly at her. Why don't
you stop me? Don't you know doctor's orders? Had 'em dinged into my
head until I could say 'em backwards: no exertion, no excitement, avoid
all undue movement, keep quiet. Darn it all! As if I won't have to keep
quiet long enough! Wellwhy don't you repeat those fool orders and
keep me quiet?
Sheila looked at him with a pair of steady gray eyes. Do you know,
Mr. Brandle, it isn't a half-bad way to go out of this worldto go
The mammoth man beamed. He looked for all the world like the full
moon suddenly grown beatific. And I'd just about made up my mind that
I'd never find a blamed soul who would feel that way about it. Shake
After the baseball news and a fair start in the thriller, he
indulged further in past grievances. Hadn't any more'n settled it for
sure I was done for than the parson came and the nurse took to looking
mournful. Lord Almighty! ain't it bad enough to be carted off in a
hearse once without folks putting you in beforehand? That's not my
notion of dying. I lived pleasant and cheerful, and by the Lord Harry,
I don't see why I can't die that way! And look-a-here, boss, I don't
want any of that repenting stuff. I don't need no puling parson to tell
me I'm a sinner. Any idiot couldn't look at me without guessing that
much. Say! He leaned forward with sudden earnestness. Take a good
look at me yourself. See any halo or angel trappings about me?
Sheila laughed. I'm afraid not. What you really ought to havewhat
I miss about youis the pipe, and the bowl, and the fiddlers three.
What do you mean by that?
Don't you remember? It's an old nursery rhyme; probably you heard
it hundreds of times when you were a little boy:
Old King Cole was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he.
He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
The coal magnate threw back his head on the pillows and laughed long
and loud. He laughed until he grew purple and gasped for breath, and he
laughed while he choked, and Sheila flew about for stimulants. For a
few breathless moments Sheila thought she had whipped up the hearseto
use the mammoth man's own metaphorbut after a panting half-hour the
heart subsided and the breath came easier.
You nearly did for me that time, boss. But it fits; Jehoshaphat, it
fits me like a B. V. D.! The only difference you might put down to
simplified spelling. Eh? And he cautiously chuckled at his joke.
While Sheila was making ready for the night he chuckled and lapsed
into florid, heliotrope studies by turns. It's straight, what I told
you about being a sinner, he gave verbal expression to his thoughts at
last. That's why I don't leave a cent to charitynot a cent. Ain't
going to have any peaked-faced, oily-tongued jackasses saying over my
coffin that I tried to buy my entrance ticket into the Lord Almighty's
kingdom. No, sirree! I know I've lived high, eaten well, and drunk
some. I've made the best of every good bargain that came within
eyeshot. I treated my own handsomeand I let the rest of the world go
hang. Went to church Easter Sunday every year and put a bill in the
plate; you can figure for yourself about how much I've given to
charity. Never had any time to think of it, anywayprobably wouldn't
have given if I had. Always thought Mother'd live longer'n me and she'd
take care of that end of it. But she didn't.
For a moment Sheila thought the man was going to cry; his lower lip
quivered like a baby's, and his eyes grew red and watery. There was no
denying it, the man was a caricature; even his grief was ludicrous. He
wiped his eyes with the back of his heliotrope sleeve and finished what
he had to say. Don't it beat all how the pious vultures croak over you
the minute you're done forreminding you you can't take your money
away with you? Didn't the parsonfirst time he camesit in that chair
and open up and begin about the rich man's squeezing through a needle's
eye and a lot about putting away temporal stuff? I don't aim to do any
squeezing into heaven, I can tell you. And I fixed him all right. Ha,
ha! I told him as long as the money wouldn't do me and Mother any more
good I'd settle it so's it couldn't benefit any one else. And that's
exactly what I've done. Left it all for a monument for us, fancy
marble, carved statues, and the whole outfit. It'll beat that
toadstool-looking tomb of that prince somewhere in Asia all hollow. Ha,
He leaned back to enjoy to the full this humorous legacy to himself,
but the expression of Sheila's face checked it. Say, boss, you don't
like what I've done, do you? Run it out and dump it; I can stand for
straight talk from you.
Sheila felt repelled even more than she had at first. To have a man
at the point of death throw his money into a heap of marble just to
keep it from doing good to any one seemed horrible. And yet the man
spoke so consistently for himself. He had lived in the flesh and for
the flesh all his days; it was not strange that there was no spirit to
interpret now for him or to give him the courage to be generous in the
face of what the world would think.
It's yours to spend as you likeonlyI hate monuments. Rather
have the plain green grass over me. And don't you think it's queer
yourself that a man who had the grit to make himself and a pile of
money hasn't the grit to leave it invested after he goes, instead of
burying it? Supposing you can't live and use it yourself! That's no
reason for not letting your money live after you. I'd want to keep my
Alive? Say, what do you mean?
Just what I sayalive. Charity isn't the only way to dispose of
it. Leave it to science to discover something new with; give it to the
laboratories to study up typhoid or cancer. Ever think how little we
know about them?
Why should I? I don't owe anything to science.
Yes, you do. What developed the need of coalwhat gave you the
facilities for removing it from your mines? Don't tell me you or
anybody else doesn't owe something to science.
Bosh! And the argument ended there.
The old man had a good night. He dozed as peacefully as if he had
not required propping up and occasional hypodermics to keep his lungs
and heart going properly, and when the house doctor made his early
rounds this sad and shocking spectacle met his eye: the dying coal
magnate, arrayed in a fresh and more vivid suit of heliotrope pajamas,
smoking a brierwood and keeping a violent emotional pace with the hero
in the thrillingest part of the thriller. Even Sheila's cheeks were
tinged with excitement.
Miss O'Leary! All the outraged sensibilities of an orthodox,
conscientious young house physician were plainly manifested in those
Out shot the brierwood like a projectile, and a giant finger wagged
at the intruder. Look-a-here, young man, the boss and I are running
thiserquitting game to suit ourselves, and we don't need no
suggestions from the walking delegate, or the board of directors, or
the gang. See? Now if you can't say something pleasant and cheerful,
Good morning! It was the best compromise the house physician could
make. But ten minutes after his speedy exit Doctor Greer, the
specialist, and Miss Maxwell were on the threshold, both looking
The coal magnate winked at Sheila. Here comes the peace
delegatesor maybe it's from the labor union. Well, sir? This was
shot straight at the doctor.
Mr. Brandle, you're mad. I refuse to take any responsibility.
Don't have to. That's what's been the mattertoo much
responsibility. It got on my nerves. Now we want to be asas noisy and
as happy as we can, the boss and me. And if we can't do it in this
little old medicated brick-pile of yours, why, we'll move. See? Or I'll
buy it with a few tons of my coal and give it to the boss to run.
When it's yours. The specialist was finding it hard to keep his
temper. The man had worn him out in the week he had been at the
sanitarium. It had been harder to manage him than a spoiled child or a
lunatic. He had had to humor him, cajole him, entreat him, in a way
that galled his professional dignity, and now to have the man
deliberately and publicly kill himself in this fashion was almost
beyond endurance. He tried hard to make his voice sound agreeable as
well as determined when he launched his ultimatum. But in the mean
time Miss O'Leary will have to be removed from the case.
No, you don't! With a sweep of the giant hand the bedclothes were
jerked from their roots, and a pair of heliotrope legs projected
floorward. It took the strength of all the three present to hold him
back and replace the covering. The magnate sputtered and fumed. First
nurse you put on here after the boss goesI'll die on her hands in ten
minutes just to get even with you. That's what I'll do. And what's
moreI'll come back to haunt the both of you. Take away my bossjust
after we get things going pleasantly. Spoil a poor man's prospects of
dying cheerful! Haven't you any heart, man? And you, ma'am? this to
the superintendent of nurses. By the Lord Harry! you're a womanyou
ought to have a little sympathy! The aggressiveness died out of the
voice, and it took on the old wail Sheila had first heard.
But you forget my professional responsibility in the mattermy
principles as an honorable member of my profession. I cannot allow a
patient of mine wilfully to endanger his lifeeven shorten it. You
must understand that, Mr. Brandle.
A look of amused toleration spread over the rubicund face. Bless
your heart, sonny, you're not allowing me to shorten it one minute. The
boss and I are prolonging it first-rate. Shouldn't wonder if it would
get to be so pleasant having her around I'd be working over union hours
and forgetting to quit at all. I'm old enough to be your granddaddy, so
take a bit of advice from me. When you can't cure a patient, let 'em
die their own way. Now run along, sonny. Good morning, ma'am. And then
to Sheila: Get back to that locked door, the three bullet-holes, and
the blood patch on the floor. I've got to know what's on the other side
before I touch one mouthful of that finnan haddie you promised me for
After that Old King Cole had his way. The doctors visited him as a
matter of form, and Sheila improvised a chart, for he would not stand
for having temperatures taken or pulses counted. Cut it out, boss, cut
it all out. We're just going to have a good time, you and me. And he
smiled seraphically as he drummed on the spread:
Old King Colediddy-dum-diddy-dum,
Was a merry old souldiddy-dum-diddy-dum.
On the second day Sheila introduced Peter Brooks into the
Keeping-On-Going Syndicate, as the mammoth man termed their temporary
partnership. Sheila had to take some hours off duty, and as the coal
magnate absolutely refused to let another nurse cross his threshold,
Peter seemed to be the only practical solution. She knew the two men
would get on admirably. Peter could be counted on to understand and
meet any emergency that might arise, while Old King Cole would be kept
content. And Sheila was right.
Say, we hit it off first-rateran together as smooth as a parcel
o' greased tubs, the magnate confided to Sheila when she returned. He
told me a whole lot about youwhat you did for himand the nickname
they'd given you'Leerie.' I like that, but I like my name for you
better. Eh, boss?
Once admitted, Peter often availed himself of his membership in the
syndicate. He made a third at their games, turned an attentive ear to
the thriller or added his bit to the enlightenment of the conversation.
And there wasn't a topic from war to feminine-dress reform that they
did not attack and thrash out among them with all the keenness and
thoroughness of three alive and original minds.
Puts me thinking of the days when I was switch boss at the Cassie
Maguire Mine. Nothing but a shaver then, working up; nothing to do in
the God-forsaken hole, after work, but talk. We just about settled the
affairs of the world and gave the Lord Almighty advice into the
bargain. The mammoth man laughed a mammoth laugh. And when we'd
talked ourselves inside out we'd have some fiddlingalways a fiddle
among some of the boys. Never hear one of those old tunes that it don't
take me back to the Cassie Maguire and the way a fiddle would play the
heart back into a lonely, homesick shaver. He turned with a suspicious
sniff to Sheila. Come, boss, the chessboard. Peter'n'me are going to
have another Verdun set-to. Only this time he's German. See? And if you
don't mind, you might fill up our pipes and bring us our four-forty
At one time of the day only did the merriment flagthat was at
dusk. Don't like itnever did like it, he confessed. Something
about it that gets onto my chest and turns me gloomy. Don't suppose you
ever smelled the choke-damp, did you? Well, that's the feeling. Say,
boss, wouldn't be a bad plan to shine up that old safety of yours and
give us more light in the old pit. Mother quit about this time o' day,
and it seems like I can't forget it.
The next day the coal magnate took a turn for the worse. The heart
specialist and the house doctor glowered ominously at Sheila as they
came to make their unwelcome rounds, and Sheila hurried them out of the
room as speedily as she could. Then it was that she thought of the
fiddlers three. An out-of-town orchestra played biweekly at the
sanitarium. They were young men, most of them, still apprentices at
their art, and she knew they would be glad enough for extra earnings.
They were due that evening, and she would engage the services of three
violins for the dusk hour the old man dreaded. She did not accomplish
this without a protest from the business office, warnings from the two
physicians, and shocked comments from the habitual gossips of the
sanitarium. But Sheila held her ground and fought for her way against
their combined attacks. Of course I know he's dying. Don't care if the
whole San faints with mortification. I'm going to see he dies the way
he wants tokeep it merry till the end.
To the Reverend Mr. Grumble, who requestednay,
demandedadmittance, she turned a deaf ear while she held the door
firmly closed behind her. Can't come in. Sorry, he doesn't want you.
If you must say a last prayer to comfort yourself, say it in some other
room. It will do Old King Cole just as much good and keep him much
happier. Now, please go!
So it happened that only Peter was present when the musicians
arrived. Sheila ushered them in with a flourish. Old King Cole, your
fiddlers three. Now what shall they play?
Lucky for the indwellers of the sanitarium that the magnate's room
was in the tower and therefore little sound escaped. It is improbable
if the final ending would ever have been known to any but those
present, whose discretion could have been relied upon, but for the fact
that Miss Jacobs stood with her ear to the keyhole for fully ten
minutes. It was surprising how quickly everybody knew about it after
that. It created almost as much scandal as Sheila's own exodus had
three years before. Many had the temerity to take the lift to the third
floor and pace with attentive ears the corridor that led to the tower.
These came back to fan the flame of shocked excitement below. The
doctors and Mr. Grumble came to Miss Maxwell to interfere and put an
end to this ungodly and unprofessional humoring of one departing soul.
But the superintendent of nurses refused. She had put the case in
Sheila's hands, and she had absolute faith in her. So all that was left
to the busybodies and the scandalmongers was to hear what they could
and give free rein to their tongues.
There was, however, one mitigating fact: they could listen, and they
could talk, but they could not look beyond the closed door of the tower
room. That vivid, appalling picture was mercifully denied them. With a
heaping bowl of egg-nog beside him, and his brierwood between his lips,
the coal magnate beat time on the bedspread with a fast-failing
strength, while he grinned happily at Sheila. Beside him Peter lounged
in a wheel-chair, smoking for company, while grouped about the foot of
the bed in the attitude of a small celestial choir stood the fiddlers
All the good old tunes, reminiscent of younger days of mining-camps
and dance-halls, they played as fast as fingers could fly and bows
could scrape. Dan Tucker, Money Musk, The Irish Washerwoman, and
Pop Goes the Weasel sifted in melodic molecules through the keyhole
into the curious and receptive ears outside. And after them came
Captain Jinks and The Blue Danube, Yankee Doodle and Dixie.
Some boss! muttered the magnate, thickly, the brierwood dropping
on the floor. Just one solid streak of anthraciteclear through. Now
give us something elseI don't careyou choose it, boss.
So Leerie chose The Star-spangled Banner and Marching Through
Georgia, and as dusk crept closer about them, Suwanee River and The
Old Kentucky Home.
Nice, sleepy old tunes, mumbled the coal magnate. Guess I've
napped over-time. He opened one eye and looked at Sheila, half amused,
half puzzled. Say, boss, light up that little old lamp o' yours and
take me down; the shaft's growing pretty black.
The fiddlers played a hymn as their own final contribution. Sheila
smiled wistfully across the dusk to Peter. She knew it wouldn't matter
now, for Old King Cole was passing beyond the reach of hymns, prayers,
It's over as far as you or I or he are concerned, she whispered,
whimsically. When I come down, by and by, would you very much mind
taking me on one of those rides you promised? I want to forget that
It was not until a week later that Sheila O'Leary met with one of
the big surprises of her rather eventful existence. A lawyer came down
from New York and asked for her. It seemed that the coal magnate had
left her a considerable number of thousands to spend for him and ease
her feelings about the monument. The codicil was quaintly worded and
stated that inasmuch as Mother had gone first, he guessed she would
do the next best by him.
Sheila took Peter Brooks into her immediate confidence. Half of it
goes for typhoid research and half for a nurses' home here. We've
needed one dreadfully. What staggers me is when did he do it?
Peter grinned. When I happened to be on duty. We fixed it up, and I
was to keep the secret. He had lots of fun over itpoor old soul!
Merry old soul, corrected Sheila.
And when the nurses' home was built Sheila flatly ignored all the
suggestions of a memorial tablet with appropriate scriptural verses to
grace the cornerstone or hang in the entrance-hall.
Won't have itnever do in the world! Just going to have his
picture over the living-room fireplace.
And there it hangsa gigantic reproduction of Old King Cole, done
by the greatest poster artist of America.
Chapter III. THE CHANGELING
He arrived in the arms of his mother, the mulatto nurse having in
some inexplicable and inconsiderate fashion acquired measles on the
ship coming from their small South American republic. Francisco Enrique
Manuel Machado y RodriguezPancho, for shortand his mother were
allowed to disembark only because of his appalling lack of health and
her promise to take harborage in a hospital instead of a hotel.
Having heard of the sanitarium from her sister-in-law's brother's
wife's aunt, who had been there herself, and having traveled already
over a thousand miles, the additional hundred or so seemed too trivial
to bother about. So the señora kept her promise to the officials by
buying her ticket thitherward, and Flanders, the bus-driver, arrived
just in time to see three porters unload them and their luggage on the
small station platform. The señora was weeping bitterly, the powder
spattered and smeared all over her pretty, shallow little face; Pancho
was clawing and scratching the air, while he shrieked at the top of his
lungsthe only part of him that gave any evidence of strength.
Having disposed of the luggage, Flanders hurried back to the
assistance of the señora, whereupon the brown atom clawed him instead
of the air and fortissimoed his shrieking. Flanders promptly returned
him to his mother, backing away to the bus and muttering something
about letting wildcat's cubs be.
Wil'cat? repeated the señora through her sobs. I don't know what
ees wil'cat. I theenk eet ees one leetle deevil. Tsa, Panchito! Ciera
la boca. And she shook him.
During the drive to the sanitarium Flanders cast periodic glances
within. Each time he looked the atom appeared to be shrieking louder,
while his mother was shaking harder and longer. By the time they had
reached their destination the breath had been shaken quite out of him.
He lay back panting in his mother's arms, with only strength enough for
a feeble and occasional snarl. His bonnet of lace and cerise-pink
ribbon had come untied and had slipped from his head, disclosing a mass
of black hair curled by nature and matted by neglect. It gave the last
uncanny touch to the brown atom's appearance and caused Hennessy, who
was sweeping the crossing, to drop his broom and stare agape at the new
Faith, is it one o' them Brazilian monkeys? he whispered, pulling
Flanders by the sleeve. I've heard the women are makin' pets o' them,
although I never heard they were after fixin' them up wi' lace an'
ribbons like that.
It's a kid. Flanders stated the fact without any degree of
positiveness as he rubbed three fingers cautiously down his cheek. He
was feeling for scars. Guess it's a kid all right, but it scratches
like a cat, gosh durn it!
Hennessy, however, shook a positive head. That's no kid. Can't ye
see for yourself it's noways human? Accordin' to the Sunday papers it's
all the style for blond dancers an' society belles to be fetchin' one
o' them little apes about. They're thinkin' if they hang a bit o' live
ugliness furninst, their beauty will look all the more ravishin'.
Live ugliness, repeated Flanders; then he laughed. You've struck
Meanwhile Francisco Enrique Manuel Machado y RodriguezPancho, for
shortand his mother had passed into the hands of the sanitarium
porter. He had handed them on to the business office, which in turn had
handed them over to the superintendent. The superintendent had shared
the pleasure with the house staff, the staff had retired in favor of
the baby specialist, and at half past seven o'clock that night neither
he nor the superintendent of nurses had been able to coax, argue,
command, or threaten a nurse into taking the case.
I'm afraid you will have to do with an undergraduate and make the
best of it. Miss Maxwell acknowledged her helplessness with a faint
But Doctor Fuller shook his head. Won't do. It means skilled care
and watching for days. A nurse without experience would be about as
much good as an incubator. Think if you dismissed the four who've
refused, you could frighten a fifth into taking it?
This time the superintendent of nurses shook her head. Not this
case. They all feel about it the same way. Miss Jacobs tells me she
didn't take her training to nurse monkeys.
The old doctor chuckled. Don't know as I blame her; thought it was
a new species myself when I first clapped eyes on it. But shucks! I've
seen some of our North American babies look like Lincoln Imps when they
were down with marasmus. Give me a few weeks and a good nurse and his
own mother wouldn't recognize He interrupted himself with a pounding
fist on the desk. Where's Leerie?
You can't have hernot this time. Miss Maxwell's lips became a
fraction more firm, while her eyes sharpened into what her training
girls had come to call her forceps expression.
The girl's just off that case for Doctor Fritz; she's tired out.
Remember she's been through three unbroken years of hospitals, and
we've worked her on every hard case we've had since she came back. I'm
going to see that she gets forty-eight hours of rest now.
Let her have them next time. Doctor Fuller put all his persuasive
charm into the words. I need Leeriesome one who can roll up her
sleeves and pitch in. Let me have her just this once.
But Miss Maxwell was obdurate. She's asleep now, and she's going to
sleep as long as she needs to. I'll give you Miss Grantshe's had a
month at the Maternity at Rochester.
A month! Scorn curled up the ends of the doctor's mustache. The
next instant they were almost touching in a broad grin. Leerie likes
cases like thisjust eats them up. I'm going after her. And before
the superintendent of nurses could hold him he was down the corridor on
his way to the nurses' dormitory.
Ten minutes later he was back, grinning harder than ever. He had
only time to thrust his head in the door and wave a triumphant arm.
She's dressingas big a fool about babies as I am! Said she'd slept a
whole hour and felt fresh as a daisy. How's that for spunk?
I call it nerve. Miss Maxwell smiled a hopeless smile. What am I
going to do with you doctors? You wear out all my best nurses and you
won't take But Doctor Fuller had fled.
In spite of his boast of her, the baby specialist saw Sheila O'Leary
visibly cringe when she took her first look at Pancho. He lay sprawling
on his mother's bed in a room littered with hastily opened bags and
trunks out of which had been pulled clothing of all kinds and hues. He
had been relieved of the lace and pink ribbons and was swathed only in
shirt and roundabout, his arms and legs projected like licorice sticks;
being of the same color and very nearly the same thickness. He was
dozing, tired out with the combination of much travel, screaming,
shaking, and loss of breath. So wasted was he that the skin seemed
drawn tight over temple and cheek-bones; the eyes were pitifully
sunken, and colorless lips fell back over toothless gums.
How old isit? Sheila whispered at last.
About nine months.
Sheila shuddered. Just the adorable age. Ought to be all pink
cheeks, dimples, and creasesand look at it!
I know, but wait. Give us time and we'll get some of those things
started. Doctor Fuller wagged his head by way of encouragement.
Sheila answered with a deprecatory shake. This time I don't believe
you. That would be a miracle, and you can do about everything but
miracles. Honestly, it doesn't seem as if I could touch it; looks about
a thousand years old and just human enough to be horrible.
The old doctor eyed her askance. Not going back on me, are you?
Of course I'm not, but there's no use in making believe it will be
any joy-game. I'll be hating it every minute I'm on the case.
Hate it as much as you like, only stick to it. Hello there, bub!
This to the brown atom, who was opening his eyes.
The eyes were large and brown and as soft and appealing as a baby
seal's. For a moment they looked with strange, wondering intensity at
the two figures bending over it, then with sudden doubling and
undoubling of fists, a frantic upheaval of brown legs, the atom opened
volcanically and poured forth scream after scream. It writhed, it
clawed the air, it looked every whit as horrible as Sheila had claimed.
Going to run? the old doctor asked, anxiously.
For answer Sheila bent down lower and picked up the writhing mass.
With a firm hand she braced it against her shoulder, patting it gently
and swaying her body rhythmically to the patting. Some eyes and some
temper! laughed Sheila. Where's the mother?
The screaming brought the corridor nurse to the door. Where's the
mother? Sheila repeated.
The corridor nurse pointed to the strewn luggage and gave a
contemptuous shrug. Gone down to dinner looking like a bird of
paradise. She said if the baby cried I was to stir up some of that milk
from that can, mix it with water from that faucet, put it in that
bottle, and feed it to him. Words failed to convey the outraged
disgust in her voice.
The milk indicated was condensed milk in a half-emptied can; the
bottle was the regulation kind for babies and as filthy as dirty glass
could look. Sheila and Doctor Fuller exchanged glances.
Plenty of fight in the little beggar or he wouldn't be
outlasting The doctor swallowed the remainder of the sentence, cut
short by a startled look on Sheila's face.
The screams had stopped a minute before, and Sheila believed the
atom had dropped asleep. But instead of feeling the tiny body relax as
a sleeping baby's will, it was growing slowly rigid. With this
realization she strode to the bed and put the atom down. Before their
eyes the body stiffened, while the head rolled slowly from side to side
and under the half-closed lids the eyeballs rolled with it.
Convulsions! announced the corridor nurse, with an anxious look
toward the door. Then, as a bell tinkled, she voiced her relief in a
quick breath. That's sixty-one. I'm hiking
No, you don't! The doctor jerked her back; he wanted to shake her.
You'll hustle some hot water for us, and then you'll stand by to
hustle some more. See? He was shedding all unnecessary clothing as he
spoke, and Sheila was peeling the atom free of shirt and roundabout as
fast as skilled fingers could move.
It is a wonderful thing to watch the fight between human skill and
death for the life of a baby. So little it takes to swing the victory
either way, so close does it border on the miraculous, that few can
stand and see without feeling the silent, invisible presence of the
Nazarene. A life thus saved seems to gather unto itself a special
significance and value for those who have fought for it and those who
receive it again. It creates new feelings and a clearer vision in
blind, unthinking motherhood; it awakens to a vital response hitherto
dormant fatherhood. And even the callous outsider becomes exalted with
the wonder and closeness of that unseen presence.
As the brown atom writhed from one convulsion into another, Sheila
and the old doctor worked with compressed lips and almost suspended
breath; they worked like a single mind supplied with twice the usual
amount of auxiliaries. They saw, without acknowledging it, the
gorgeous, tropical figure that came and stood half-way between the door
and the bed; lips carmined, throat and cheeks heavy with powder, jewels
covering ears, neck, fingers, and wrists, she looked absurdly unreal
beside the nurse in her uniform and the doctor in his shirt-sleeves.
Occasionally Sheila glanced at her. If they won, would the mother care?
The question came back to her consciousness again and again. In her own
experience she knew how often the thing one called motherhood would
come into actual existence after a struggle like this when birth itself
had failed to accomplish anything but a physical obligation. Believing
this, Sheila fought the harder.
After an hour the convulsions subsided. A few more drops of brandy
were poured down the tiny throat, and slowly the heart took up its
regulation work. Sheila wrapped the atom in a blanket, put it back on
the bed, and beckoned to the mother.
Curiosity seemed to be the one governing emotion of the señora. She
looked without any trace of grief, and, having looked, she spoke
impassively: I theenk eet dead. Yes?
Doctor Fuller, with perspiration pouring from him, transfixed her
with a stare. No! That baby's going to get well now, and you're going
to let Miss O'Leary teach you how to take proper care of it.
Understand? Then clapping his fellow-fighter on the back, he beamed
down upon her. Leerie, you're one grand soldier!
The monotone of the gorgeous señora broke up any response Sheila
might have given. I theenk eet die, all the same, came the impassive
voice. The padre on the ship make it all ready for dieI
theenk yes pret' soon.
No! The doctor fairly thundered it forth.
She stooped and pulled away a fold of the blanket with the tips of
her fingers. Eet look ver' uglylike eet die. I theenkall the
The doctor caught up his cast-off clothing and flung himself out of
the room. Sheila watched him go, a faint smile pulling at the corners
of her mouth. Strange! He had so evidently reached the end of his
self-control, optimism, and patience, while she was just beginning to
find hers. In the sweep of a second things looked wonderfully clear and
hopeful. She thought she could understand what was in the mind and
heart of the señora; what was more significant, she thought she could
understand the reason for it. And what you can understand you can cope
She watched the señora searching in this trunk and that; she saw her
jerk forth a diminutive dress of embroidery and fluted lace; while she
thought the whole thing through to the finish and smiled one of her old
Pret' dress, said the señora. Plent' lace and reebon. You put on
for bury eetI go find padre.
No, said Sheila, emphatically, you stay here. I'll go and find
She left them both in the charge of the corridor nurse and flew for
the telephone. It took her less than a minute to get Father O'Friel; it
took but a trifle more for her to outline her plan and bind him to it.
And Father O'Friel, with a comprehension to match his
conscientiousness, and a sense of humor to match them both, hardly knew
whether to be shocked or amused.
Why not appeal to the baby's father?
Realize it takes a month for a letter to reach that little South
American ant-hill? Write now if you want to, but let me be trying my
way while the letter is traveling.
All right. But if it doesn't work
It will. When my feelings about anything run all to the good this
way, I'd bank anything on them. Now please hurry.
So it came about that instead of a burial service that night Father
O'Friel conducted an original and unprecedented adoption ceremony.
Without even a witness the señora signed a paper which she showed no
inclination to read and which she would hardly have understood had she
attempted it. It was enough for her that she could give away Francisco
Enrique Manuel Machado y Rodriguez to a foolish nurse who was plainly
anxious to be bothered with him. Death had seemed the only release from
an obligation that exhausted and frightened her, and from which neither
pleasure nor personal pride could be obtained. But this was another way
mercifully held out to her, and she accepted it with gratitude and
absolute belief. Eagerly she agreed to the conditions Sheila laid down;
the father was to be notified and forced to make a life settlement on
the atom; in the mean time she was to remain at the sanitarium, pay all
expenses, and interfere in no way with the nurse or the baby. So
desirous was she to display her gratitude that she heaped the atom's
wardrobelace, ribbons, and embroideryupon Sheila, and kissed the
hem of Father O'Friel's cassock.
Qué graciosoqué magnifico! Then she yawned behind her
tinted nails. I have ver' much the sleep. I find anothaire room and
make what you callla cama. At the door she turned and cast a
farewell look upon the blanketed bundle. Eet look ver' uglyall the
same I theenk eet die.
It took barely ten minutes for word of the adoption to reach Doctor
Fuller, and it brought him running. Good Lord! Leerie, are you crazy?
Did you think I pulled you out of bed to-night to start an
orphan-asylum? What do you mean, girl?
Sheila looked down at her newly acquired possession, and for the
first time that night the strange, luminous look that was all her own,
that had won for her her nickname of Leerie, crept into her eyes; they
fairly dazzled the old doctor with their shining. Honestly, don't know
myself. Still testing out my feelings in my think laboratory.
You can't raise that baby and keep on with your nursing. Too much
responsibility, anyway, for a young person. What's more, the mother
shouldn't be allowed to dodge it. She can be made fit.
How are you going to do it? Train her with harness and braces? Or
moral suasionor the courts?
And I thought you hated it, couldn't bear to touch it, growled the
Did. But that's past tense. Since I fought for it, it's suddenly
become remarkably precious. And that's the precise feeling I'm testing
up in the lab.
In the name of common sense what do you mean, Leerie?
She patted his arm soothingly. There, there. Go to bed; you're
tuckered out. Leave me alone for two months, and I'll tell you. And
suppose you write down that milk formula before you go; he's going to
wake up as fighting hungry as a little tiger-cat.
How the sanitarium took the news of the arrivals and the rumor of
the adoption, what they thought of the gorgeous and irresponsible
señora and Leerie's latest exploit, does not concern the story. It is
enough to say that tongues wagged abundantly; and when Sheila appeared
some ten days later in the pine grove wheeling a perambulator every one
who was out and could manufacture the flimsiest excuse for her
curiosity hurried to the carriage and thrust an inquisitive head under
the hood. It seemed as if hundreds blocked the walk from the pond to
Bad as a circus parade, thought Sheila. Can't stay here, or
they'll put us in a tent and ask admission. Then she spied Hennessy
coming with his platter of bread for the swans, and called to him.
Somehow he managed to scatter the crowd, and Sheila clung to the sleeve
of his blue jumper as if it had been so much cork to a man overboard.
Listen, Hennessy, I want to take Pancho away from the San. You and
Marm have a cozy place, and it's far enough away. There's only the two
of you. Can't you take us in?
But Hennessy was likewise thrusting a head under the hood. Honest
to God, Miss Leerie, is it human?
Hennessy, don't be an idiot!
But I saw the face on itan' the scratchin' it did the day it was
fetched in. Does it still be scratchin'?
Sometimes. Sheila smiled faintly. He hasn't had time yet to
forget all those shakings. Well, can we come?
Hennessy eyed the perambulator fearsomely. Have to ask Marm. Faith,
do ye think, now, if it had been human, its mother would have given it
away same as if it had been a young cat or dog too many in the litter?
Mothers don't have to love their babies; there's no birth license
to sign, you know, with a love-and-cherish clause in it. Just come,
wanted or not, and afterward
But Hennessy was deep in speculations of his own. Now if it was
Ireland, Miss Leerie, do ye know what I would be thinkin'?
He lowered his voice and looked furtively over his shoulder. A
changeling! Sure as you're born, Miss Leerie, I'm thinkin' it's one o'
them little black imps the fairies leave in place o' the real child
they're after stealin'. I disremember if they have the likes o' that in
South America, but that's my notion, just the same.
Sheila O'Leary laughed inside and out. Hennessy, you're wonderful.
And who but an Irishman would have thought of it! A changelinga most
changeable changeling! What's the treatment?
A good brewin' of egg-shellsgoose egg-shells if ye have 'em,
hens' if ye haven't. But don't ye be laughin'; 'tis a sign o' black
doin's, an' laughin' might bring bad luck on ye.
Sheila sobered. We'll brew egg-shells. Now hurry home to Marm and
coax her hard, Hennessy.
Because Sheila O'Leary invariably had her way among the many who
loved and believed in her, and because Hennessy and Marm Hennessy were
numbered conspicuously among these, Sheila and her adopted moved early
the following morning into the diminutive and immaculate house of
Hennessy, with a vine-covered porch in front and a hen-yard in the
rear. And that night there was a plentiful brew of egg-shells on the
kitchen stove, done in the most approved Irish fashion, with the atom
near by to inhale the fumes.
Maybe 'twill work, an' then again maybe 'twon't. Hennessy looked
anxious. Magic, like anything else, often spoils in transportatin'.
Oh, it will work! Sheila spoke with conviction. And we'll hope
the señora's letter won't travel too fast.
So the names of Sheila O'Leary and Francisco Enrique Manuel Machado
y Rodriguez were crossed off the books of the sanitarium, and the
gossips saw them no more. Only Doctor Fuller and Peter Brooks sought
them out in their new quarters, the doctor to attend professionally,
Peter to attend to the dictates of a persistent heart. Never a day went
by that he did not find his feet trailing the dust on the road to the
house of Hennessy, and Sheila dropped into the habit of watching for
him from the vine-covered porch at a certain time every afternoon. The
picture of the best nurse at the sanitarium sitting in a little old
rocker with the brown atom kicking and crowing on her lap, and looking
down the steps with eyes that seemed to grow daily more luminous, came
to be an accepted reality to both Peter and the doctoras much of a
reality as the reaching out of the atom's small tendril-like fingers to
curl about one's thumb or to cling to one's watch-charm.
Loving little cuss, muttered Peter one afternoon. Can you tell me
how any mother under the sun could resist those eyes or the clutch of
those brown paws?
Don't forget one point, Sheila spoke quietly; he wasn't a loving
little cuss then.
He'll go down on the books as my pet case, chuckled the doctor.
Four pounds in four weeks! Think of it, on a whole-milk formula!
Hennessy wagged his head knowingly at Sheila, and when they had gone
he snorted forth his contempt for professional ignorance. Milk!
Fiddlesticks! Sure a docthor don't know everything. 'Twas the
egg-shells that done it, an' Marm an' me can bear witness he quit the
scratchin' an' began the smilin' from that very hour. Look at him now!
Can ye deny it, Miss Leerie?
I'm not wanting to, Hennessy. Whereupon Sheila proved the matter
by reducing the atom to squeals of joy while she retold the old history
of the pigs with the aid of five little brown toes.
Between Peter and Hennessy, Sheila came into possession of many
facts concerning the señora. Her dresses and her jewels were the talk
of the sanitarium. She applied herself diligently to all beautifying
treatments and the charming of susceptible young men. Presumably life
to her meant only a continuous process of adorning herself and
receiving admiration. So she spent her days dressing and basking in the
company of a dozen different swains, and the atom cast no annoying
shadow on her pathway.
August came, and the atom discovered his legs. Sheila disregarded
the lace and ribbons with a sigh of relief and took to making rompers.
They were adorable rompers with smocking and the palest of pink collars
and belts. The licorice sticks had changed to a rich olive brown and
had assumed sufficient rotundity to allow of pink-and-white socks and
white ankle-ties. In all the busy years of her nursing Sheila had never
had time for anything like this; she had never had a baby for longer
than a week or two at a time. Just as she was beginning to feel her
individual share in them they had all gone the way of properly parented
offspring, and never had she sewed a single baby dress. She gloried in
the lengths of dimity and poplin, in the intricacies of new stitches
and embroidery. And Peter, watching from a step on the porch, gloried
in the picture she made.
When a romper was finished it had to be tried on that very minute.
She would whisk up the atom from the hammock where he lay kicking, and
slip him into it, holding him high for Peter to admire.
He's a cherub done in bronze, said Peter, one day. Here, give him
to me. And later, as he perched him on his shoulder and tickled his
ribs until he squirmed with glee he announced, If I wasn't a homeless
bachelor I'd take him off your hands in about two minutes.
What's that? shouted Doctor Fuller, coming down the street. Did
you say anything about re-adoption? Well, you might as well know now
that Mrs. Fuller and I intend taking Pancho off Leerie's hands as soon
as she's ready to go back to work again. Aren't you getting lazy,
For once Sheila failed to respond in kind to the doctor's chaffing.
All the shine faded out of her eyes. Can't believe two months have
gonea month for a letter to go, a month for an answer to come. I'm
afraid none of us will keep him very much longer.
Don't worry, they won't want him back. Besides, they've forfeited
their right to him, the old doctor snorted, indignantly.
[Illustration: Holding him high for Peter to admire]
Not legally. When the letter comes, you'll see. There was none of
the anticipated delight in Sheila's voice that had been there on that
first night when she had laid her plans and sworn Father O'Friel into
backing her up. Her voice was as colorless as her eyes were dull; for
some miraculous reason the life and inner light that seemed such an
inseparable part of her had suddenly gone out. She reached up and
removed the atom from Peter's shoulder.
Hennessy, who had joined the group, was the last to speak. Sure
it's mortial good of both ye gentlemen to lift the throuble o' raisin'
the wee one off Miss Leerie, but if any one lifts it, it's Marm an' me.
We had that settled the next morning after we fetched him over an' knew
'twas the real one we'd got, after all.
The real one? What do you mean by that? The doctor looked puzzled.
Hennessy winked his only answer.
Through the first days of September Sheila waited with feverish
anxiety. The hours spent on the vine-covered porch with the atom,
asleep or awake, for steady company, and Peter for occasional, passed
all too quickly. For the first time in her life Sheila wished days
back; she would have put a checking hand on time had she had the power.
Then just as she was making up her mind that her fear was for nothing,
that her plans had gloriously failed and Pancho was to be hers for all
time, the wretched news came. Peter brought it, hurrying hatless down
the street, and Sheila, knowing in her heart what had happened, went
down the steps to meet him.
Is it a letteror a wireor what? And where's the señora?
Having hysterics in front of the business office. Peter stopped to
get his breath. The husband wired from New Yorkhe'll be down on the
morning train. It seems the señora wired him when she first got here
that Pancho was dying, so she didn't see any need of changing it in her
letter. She said she wanted the money for a monument and massesand he
could send it in a draft. Guess he thought more of the boy than the
mother did, for he's come up to bring the body home and put up the
monument down there. Now she doesn't know what to tell him. Can you
beat that for straight fiction?
Sheila picked up the atom and disappeared inside without a word.
When she reappeared a few minutes later, the atom was arrayed in his
most becoming romper, his black curls were brushed into an encircling
halo, his hands clapping over some consciousness of pleasurable
excitement. Sheila tucked him into his carriage and faced Peter with a
grim look of command. You're to play policeman, understand! Walk back
of me all the way. If I show any sign of turning back or running away,
arrest me on the spot.
What are you going to do?
What two months ago I thought would be the easiest thing in the
worldand what I wouldn't be doing now for a million dollars if I
hadn't given my word to Father O'Friel and the law wasn't against me.
As Peter had rightfully reported, the señora was having hysterics in
front of the business office, with the business and hospital staff
trying their best to quench her, and as many patients as the lobby
would hold watching in varying degrees of curiosity. Only one of Latin
blood could have achieved a scene of such melodramatic abandon and
stamped it as genuine, but no one present doubted the grief and despair
of the señora as she paced the floor wringing her hands and wailing in
her native tongue. Sheila entered by way of the basement and the lift,
and she wheeled the atom's carriage into the inner circle of the crowd,
with Peter still in attendance.
For the moment the interest swerved from the weeping figure to the
cooing occupant of the carriage. The atom was still clapping his hands,
and a pink flush of excitement tinged the olive of the cheeks. Look at
that cunning baby!... Isn't he a darling?... Why, isn't that the
South American baby?... Sh-h-hdeformed or something.... Of
course, it can't be. Sentences, whole and in fragments, came to Sheila
as she pushed her way through the crowd.
Something of this new interest must have penetrated the señora's
consciousness, for her wailing ceased; she cocked her head on one side
like a listening parrakeet. Who say babee? I theenkI theenk Then
she saw Sheila. A look of immediate recognition swept over her face,
but it was gone the instant she looked at the atom. Who that babee?
Mine. Sheila pinned her with steady eyes, while her mouth looked
as if it could never grow gentle and demure again.
Incredulity, suspicion, amazement, were all registered on the
pretty, shallow face. Your babee? How you get babee?
Sheila made no answer.
The señora looked again at the atom; she held out a timorous finger
to him. He responded cordially by curling a small fist promptly about
it. Madre de Dios, qué bonito! Qué chico y hermoso! Then, to
Sheila: I give you seeck babeeeet no die? You make thees babee out
of seeck babee, yes?
Sheila still remained silent.
The señora turned to the atom for the confirmation she desired.
Nene, como te llamas?
It was intensely entertaining to the atom. He wagged the señora's
finger frantically, tossed back his head, and gave forth a low,
gurgling laugh. Jesu! That ees hees papa. He look like that
when he laugh. Tu nombre, nenetu nombre? With a fresh
outburst she sank down beside the carriage and buried her face in the
brown legs and pink socks.
But the atom did not approve of this. His lower lip dropped and
quivered; he reached out his arm to Sheila. Ma-ma-ma-ma, he coaxed.
You no ma-ma, I ma-ma. The señora was on her feet, shaking an
angry fist at Sheila. But in an instant her anger was gone; she was
down on her knees again, clasping Sheila's skirt, while her voice
wailed forth in supplication. You no keep leetle babee? You ver' good,
ver' kind, señoritayou muy simpatica, yes? You give leetle
babee. I ma-ma. Yes?
But Sheila O'Leary stood grim and unyielding. No. He is mine. When
he was sick, dying, you didn't want him. You did not like to look at
him because he was ugly; you did not like to hear him cryso you
abused him. Now, he's all well; he's a pretty baby; he does not cry; he
does not scratch. I never shake him; he loves me very, very much. Now I
keep him! Thus Sheila delivered her ultimatum.
But the señora still clung. I no shake babee now. I love babee now.
Pleasepleasehis pa-pa come. You give heem back?
Sheila unclasped the señora's hands, turned the atom's carriage
about, and deliberately wheeled him away.
Out of the lobby to the sidewalk she was pursued by pleading cries,
expostulating reproofs, as well as actual particles of the crowd
itself, the Reverend Mr. Grumble, the wife of one of the trustees, a
handful of protesting patients, following to urge the rights of the
prostrated mother. But Sheila refused to be held back or argued with;
stoically she kept on her way. When she reached the little vine-covered
porch only Peter, Father O'Friel, and Doctor Fuller remained as escort.
You can't keep him, Leerie. You've got to give him up. The old
doctor spoke sorrowfully but firmly.
It was only a mock adoption, and you promised if she ever wanted
him back she should have him, Father O'Friel reminded her.
She's his mother, after all, Peter put in, lamely.
At that Sheila exploded. You men make me tired! 'She's his mother,
after all.' After all what? Cruelty, neglect, heartlessness, hoping he
would dieglad to be rid of him! That's about all the sense of justice
you have. Let a woman weep and call for her baby, and every man within
earshot would hand him over without considering for a moment what kind
of care she would give him. Oh, youmakemesick! Sheila buried her
face in the nape of Pancho's neck.
Doctor Fuller, who had always known her, who had stood by her in her
disgrace when she had been sent away from the sanitarium three years
before and had believed in her implicitly in spite of all damning
evidence, who had fought for her a dozen times when she had called down
upon her head the wrath of the business office, looked now upon her
silent, shaking figure with open-mouthed astonishment. In all those
years he had never seen Leerie cry, and he couldn't quite stand it.
There, there, child! We understandwe're not quite the duffers you
make us out. Of course, by all rights, human and moral, the little
shaver belongs to you, but you can't keep him, just the same.
Know it! Needn't rub it in! Wasn't going to! Sheila raised a wet
face, with red-rimmed eyes and lips that trembled outrageously. She
couldn't steady them to save her, and so she let them tremble while she
stuttered forth her last protest. Didn't think for a moment I wouldn't
give him back, d-d-did you? That was my planmy way. I wanted Father
O'Friel to let me tryt-t-t-thought all along he'd grow into such an
ad-d-d-dorable mite his m-m-m-mother'd be wanting him back. What I
didn't count on was my wanting to k-k-keep him. Sheila swallowed hard.
She wanted to get rid of that everlasting choke in her throat. When she
spoke again her voice was steadier. But I tell you one thing. She
doesn't get him without fighting for him. She's going to fight for him
as I fought that night in the sanitarium, and you're going to help me
keep her fighting. Understand? Then perhaps when she gets him she'll
have some faint notion of how precious a baby can be. With a more grim
expression than any of the three had ever seen on her usually luminous
face, Sheila O'Leary shouldered the atom and disappeared within the
The three men stood by her while Hennessy guarded the house. For the
rest of the day the señora, backed by the business office and a
procession of interested sympathizers, stormed the parish house and
demanded to see the paper that she had signed. They stormed Doctor
Fuller's office and demanded his co-operation, or at least what
information he had to give. They consulted the one lawyer in the town
and three others within car distance, but their advice availed little,
inasmuch as Father O'Friel had refused to give up the paper until the
baby's father arrived, and they could get no intelligent idea from the
señora of how legal the adoption had been made. By keeping perfectly
dumb the three were able to hold the crowd in abeyance, and the señora,
looking anything but a bird of paradise, came back to them again and
again to weep, to plead, to bribe.
The excitement held until midnight, an unprecedented occurrence for
the sanitarium. It was still dark the next morning when Hennessy was
roused from the haircloth sofa in the hall, where he was still keeping
guard, by the fumbling of a hand on the door-knob. Who's there?
Pleaseeet ees methe Señora Machado y Rodriguez.
Go 'way! Shoo-oo! Hennessy banged the door with his fist as he
always banged the bread-platter to scatter the swans.
I go when I see babee, came the feeble response to his racket.
Let her in, Hennessy, came the voice of Sheila from up-stairs.
Hennessy unbarred the door, and a shaken, pathetic little figure
crept in. All the coy prettiness was gone for the moment; the swollen
eyes had circles about them, the cheeks were sallow and free of powder
as the lips were free of carmine. The mouth quivered like a
grief-stricken child's. PleasepleaseI see babee? came the wail
Yes. Come up softly, Sheila called from the head of the stairs.
The little figure crept up eagerly. Sheila put out an arm and led
her into a room where a single candle burned beside the bed. There lay
the atom, rosy and dimpling in his sleep.
It is to be doubted if the señora had ever dreamed of such a
possession after the appalling reality of the original Francisco
Enrique Manuel Machado y Rodriguez. In her ignorance and youth she had
accepted ugliness, sickness, and peevish crying as the normal
attributes of babyhood, and because of this she had loathed it.
Therefore to be suddenly confronted with her awful mistake, to find
that she had thrown away something that was beautiful and enchanting,
to know she had forfeited what might have been hers, to feel in a small
degree the first longing of motherhood and be denied itall this was
born into the slowly awakening consciousness of the señora. It almost
transformed her face into homely holiness as she made her one supreme
prayer and sacrifice. You give me my babeenowyou give heem and not
keepand I give you all these. See? She held out her hands that had
been clasped under the heavy mantilla that covered her head and
shoulders. Opening them, she thrust them close, that Sheila might look.
They were filled with jewelsthe jewels she adored, that had
contributed a large part to the joy of her existence. Pins, rings,
necklaces, braceletsthe señora had not kept back a single ornament.
Youyou and the blessed Maria will give heem back to me?
Get down and pray to the Maria, commanded Sheila. Promise her
that if she will give your baby back to you you will take care of him
for ever and ever. Never neglect him, never shake nor slap him, never
give him bad milk to make him sick. Promise you'll always love him and
keep him laughing and pretty. And rememberbreak your promise, let
anything happen to Pancho again, and Maria will not give him back to
you another time.
The sanitarium never learned in detail how Señor Machado became
reconciled to a live son, not being present when the news was conveyed
to him. They saw him arrive, however, looking very much shaken with his
bereavement, and they saw him depart with his son perched high upon his
shoulder, wearing the expression of one who has come unexpectedly into
a great possession, while the señora clung to them both. The sanitarium
waved them off with gladness and satisfactionall but four unsmiling
outsiders. So great a hole can a departing atom sometimes leave behind
that those four who had given him temporary care and guardianship went
about for days with sorrow written plainly upon them. Hennessy fed the
swans in bitter silence; Peter moped, with a laugh for no one; Doctor
Fuller groaned whenever South America was mentioned; while all three
knew they could not even fathom the deepness or the bigness of that
hole for Sheila.
Peter took her for a twilight ride in his car the first empty night.
Go on and cry it outI sha'n't mind, he urged as he speeded the car
along a country road.
Sheila smiled faintly. Thank youcan't. Just feel bruised and
banged all overfeel as if I needed a plunge in that old pool of
They spun on in silence for a few miles more before Sheila spoke
again. I learned one wonderful thing from Panchosomething I never
felt sure of before.
What was that?
Sorrycan't tell. It's the sort of thing you tell only the man you
marry, after you've discovered he's the only man you ever could have
Peter speeded the car ahead and smiled quietly into the gathering
darkness. Fortunately he was not an impatient man.
There is one point concerning the atom that Hennessy and Doctor
Fuller still wrangle over, neither of them having the slightest
conception of the other's point of view.
That was a case of good nursing and milk, the old doctor persists.
While Hennessy beats the air with his fists and shouts: Nothing of
the sort! 'Twas egg-shells that done it.
Chapter IV. FOR THE HONOR OF THE SAN
Peter Brooks paced the sanitarium grounds like a man possessed.
Hands thrust deep into pockets, teeth hard clenched, head bare, the raw
October wind ruffling his heavy crop of hair like a cock's comb. So
suggestive was the resemblance that Hennessy, watching him from the
willow stump by the pond, was forced to remark to Brian Boru, the gray
swan, that Mr. Peter looked like a young rooster, after growing his
spurs, looking for his first fight.
Aye, an' for one I'm wishin' he'd be findin' it, continued
Hennessy. He's bided peaceful an' patient till there is no virtue left
in him. Ye can make believe women be civilized if ye like, but I'm
knowin' that a woman's sure to go to the man that fights the hardest to
get her, same as it was in the savage day o' the world. An' there's
nothing that sets a man right quicker with himself than a good fight,
tongues or fists.
At that moment Peter would have gladly chosen either or both if fate
could only have furnished him with a legitimate combatant. But a man
cannot fight gossipy old ladies or jealous, petty-minded nurses, or a
doctor whom he has never met and whose transgressions he cannot swear
to. And yet Peter wanted to double up his fists and pitch into the
whole community; he felt himself all brute and yearned for wholesale
Peter had come to the sanitarium in the beginning to be cured of a
temporal malady, only to rise from his bed stricken with an eternal
one. He had fallen desperately in love with Sheila O'Leary as only a
man of Peter's sort can fall in love, once and for all time. Moreover,
he believed in her as a man believes in the best and purest that is
likely to come into his life. On the day of his convalescing, when she
had been transferred from his case to another, he had sworn that he
would not stir foot from the old San until he had won her. He had kept
his word for four months. He would have been content to keep it for
four moreor for four years, for that matterhad everything not
turned suddenly topsy-turvy and sent his world of hopes crashing down
For four months he had shared as much of Sheila's life and work as
she would allow. He had let himself drift into the rôle of a
comfortable and sympathetic companion whenever her hours for recreation
gave him a chance. His love had grown as his admiration and
understanding of her had grown, until she had come to seem as necessary
a part of his life as the air he breathed. Then he had been able to
smile whimsically at those gossipy tales. What if she had been
suspended and sent away from the sanitarium? What if she had broken
through some of the tight-laced rules with which all institutions of
this kind hedge in their nurses? Sheila's proclivity for breaking rules
was a byword among the many who loved her, and the head of the
institution, the superintendent of nurses, the entire staff of doctors,
down to Hennessy, the keeper of the walks and swans, only smiled and
closed their eyes to all of Sheila's backsliding. For hadn't they all
believed in her? And hadn't they sent for her to come back to them
again? And which one of them had ever allowed a word of scandal to pass
his lips? So Peter smiled, too.
In those months he had come to read Sheilaso he thoughtlike an
open book. He had learned by heart all her moods, the good and the bad,
the sweet and the bitter. He knew she could be as divinely tender and
compassionate as a celestial mother; he also knew that she could be as
barren of sympathy and as relentless as fate itself. She could pour
forth her whole throbbing soul, impulsive, warm, and radiant, as a true
Celt, yet she could be as impersonal, terse, and cryptic as a
marconigram. He loved these very extremes in her, her unmitigated
hatred for the things she hated, and her unfailing love for the things
she loved. She made no pretense or boast for herself; she was what she
was for all the world to see. And Peter had found her the stanchest,
sweetest, most vitalalbeit the most stubbornpiece of womanhood he
had ever known. Her very nickname of Leerie was her open letter of
introduction to every one; her smile and the wonder-light in her eyes
were her best credentials. Small wonder it was that her patients
watched for her to come and that Peter felt he could snap his fingers
at the scandalmongers.
But Peter wasn't snapping them nowor smiling. His fists were
doubled tight in his pockets, and he clenched his teeth harder as he
paced the walk from pond to rest-house. How the accursed tongues of the
gossips rang in his head! Rather odd the sanitarium should have sent
for him, wasn't it? Don't you know he was the young surgeon who was
mixed up in that affair with that popular nurse?... Oh yes, they
hushed it up and sent them both away.... Nothing definite was ever
explained, but they were always together, just as they are now, and you
can't get smoke without some burning.... Yes, Doctor Brainard and
Miss O'Leary. Didn't you ever hear about what happened three years
Peter's stride seemed to measure forth the length of each offending
tongue, and when he reached the end of his beaten track he swung about
as if to meet and silence them all, for all time. But instead he came
face to face with the two who had caused them to wag. So absorbed were
the surgeon and nurse in what they had to say to each other that they
brushed by Peter without seeing him. He might have been one of the
rustic posts of the rest-house or the pine-tree growing close by. As
they passed, Peter scanned narrowly the half-averted face of the girl
he loved and found it pitifully changed in those few days. The luminous
light had gone from her eyes; her lips no longer curved to the
gracious, demure smile Peter had always called cloistered. They were
set to grim determination, as if the girl had gripped fast to a purpose
and no amount of shaking or persuasion would induce her to let go. Her
eyes were circled and anxious. Peter groaned unconsciously at his
glimpse of her, while Hennessy from his vantage-point on the stump
shook a vengeful fist at the retreating back of the surgeon.
A million curses on him! muttered Hennessy, his lips tight
shirred. Sure, the lass has the look of a soul possessed. The next
instant his fist was descending not over-mercifully on Peter's back.
First I'm cursin' him an' then I'm cursin' ye. For the love o' Saint
Patrick, are ye goin' to stand round like a blitherin' fool an' see
that rascal of a docthor do harm again to our lass? I'll come mortial
close to wringin' your neck if ye do.
Peter glared at his erstwhile friend and fellow-philosopher. You're
the fool, Hennessy. What under heaven can I do? What could any man do
in my place?
Fight for her. Can't you see the man has her possessed? What an'
how Hennessy hasn't the wits to make out, but ye have. Search out her
throuble same as she searched out yours, an' make her whole an' sweet
an' shinin' again. Hennessy laid two gnarled, brown hands on Peter's
shoulder while he peered up at him with eyes full of appeal. Ye've
heard naught to shake your faith in the lass? Ye believe in heraye?
Good God! man, of course I believe in her! I'd believe in her if
all the tongues in the world wagged till doomsday. But what else can I
do? Hang around this old hotbed of gossip and listen and listen,
powerless to cram the truth down their throats because I don't know
it? Peter shot out a sudden hand and gripped Hennessy's. For the love
of your blessed Saint Patrick, stand up like a man there, Hennessy, and
tell me what was the truth?
For a moment Hennessy's eyes shifted; he whistled his breath in and
out in staccato jerks; then his gaze came back to Peter and he eyed him
steadily. Son, I'm knowin' no more than when I first saw ye.
You believe in her?
Hennessy pulled his hand free and shook his fist in Peter's face.
Bad scran to ye for thinkin' aught else. 'Tis God's truth I'm tellin'
ye, Mr. Peter. I'm knowin' no more than them blitherin' tongues say,
but I'd pray our lass into heaven wi' my dyin' breath if I could.
Peter smiled. You'd be doing better to pray her out of this
miserable little purgatory right here. If she belonged to me,
I wish to God she did, sir! But that's what ye can fight formake
Easier said than done. Since Doctor Brainard came I can't get her
to see me. Read that! Peter pulled out of his pocket a tiny folded
note and handed it to the swan-keeper. It was deciphered with much
labor and read with troubled seriousness.
Dear Mr. Brooks:
Thank you for the flowers, and the candy, and the many offers
car, but I haven't time to enjoy any of these things just now.
please don't send me any more, or write, or try to see me. I
would be better for every one, and far happier in the end for
you would go back to your work as soon as possible.
Hennessy snorted. So that's what she thinks, is it? Well, don't ye
do it. 'Twas betther advice I gave ye myself; hold fast here an' fight
for her. Mind that! And with a farewell pull of his forelock Hennessy
Peter watched him for an instant, then with a new purpose full-born
in his mind he turned and walked swiftly back to the sanitarium. He
knew why the management had sent for Brainard to come back to the San.
The head surgeon had been taken with typhoid; the wards were full of
his special operative cases, and Brainard, who had trained under him,
was the most skilful man available to take his place. But why had they
put Sheila O'Leary on as his surgical nurse? Why had they done this
thing that was bound to revive the old scandal and set tongues wagging
anew? Peter knew that upon the answer to this depended his decision.
Would he take Sheila's advice and go, or Hennessy's advice and fight?
He went directly to the office of the superintendent of nurses, and,
finding the door well ajar, he entered without knocking. Miss Maxwell
was seated at her desk. Across the desk, with clasped hands, cheeks
aflame, and lips compressed into a look of even greater determination
than Peter had seen there a few minutes before, leaned Sheila O'Leary.
Peter colored at his unintentional intrusion. Excuse me, he
stammered. Not hearing voices, I thought you were alone. I'll come
again later, Miss Maxwell, and he turned toward the door.
Leerie's voice called him back. Don't gowant you. Something I was
trying to get Miss Max to promise.
This time Miss Maxwell colored. It's against rules, Leerie, to talk
over hospital matters before patients, even as discreet a one as Mr.
I knowcan't help itneed him. Besides, he's his best friend.
She turned to Peter with a strained eagerness. This will be news to
you. Doctor Dempsy is due here in the morningtaken suddenlymajor
operationnurse just wired. I want you and Miss Max to take him on to
the Dentons if he can stand the trip. Awfully delicate operation, and
it's Doctor John's crack piece of work. Will you do it?
The unexpectedness of the news and the request overwhelmed Peter's
usually agile intelligence. He stared blankly at the girl before him.
I don't think I understand. If Dempsy is coming here for an operation,
why should we take him somewhere else? Why shouldn't he be operated on
here if he wants to be?
He thinks Doctor Jefferson is still operating. He doesn't know
The superintendent of nurses interrupted her. Leerie, you're
overstepping even your privileges. Doctor Brainard was called here to
take charge because the management had absolute confidence in his skill
and knew he was trustworthy and conscientious. I think there is nothing
further that needs to be said. Doctor Dempsy will do what every other
patient has done, put himself unreservedly into Doctor Brainard's
But he mustn't. The crimson had died out of Sheila's cheeks, and
she stood now pale to the very lips, her face working convulsively.
You don't seem to understand, and it's hardhard to put it into
words. Doctor Brainard is youngvery young for his position and all
the responsibility that has been heaped upon him. His work ever since
he came has been terrificeight and ten majors a day, Sundays, too.
It's been a fearful strain, and now to make him responsible for a case
like Doctor Dempsy, a case that takes great delicacy and nerve, one
that is bound to attack his sympathy and his reputation at the same
time, whywhy, it isn't fair. Can't you see that if he should fail, no
matter how blameless he might be, it would stick to him for the rest of
his life, a blot on his work and the San? Sheila's hands went out in a
last appeal. Send him to the Dentons; they've had five years of
experience for every year of Doctor Brainard's. Please, please! Oh,
don't you see?
Why should you care so much? The words were off Peter's tongue
before he knew it. He would have given a good deal if he could have got
The girl looked from him to Miss Maxwell. The question apparently
bewildered her. Then a hint of her old-time dignity and assurance
returned, coupled with her cryptic mood. Plenty of reasons: he was
Miss Max's chiefshe always worshiped himyour best friend, a most
loved and honored man in the profession. Isn't he? Well, this isn't the
time or the place for a risk.
The superintendent rose and looked down at the girl. When she spoke
there was a touch of annoyance in the tone as well as sadness. And
that's as muchand as littleas you expect to tell us?
Miss Maxwell threw up her hands in a little gesture of helplessness.
Leerie, Leerie, what are we going to do with you? It was this way even
three years ago.
In a flash the girl's arms were about the superintendent's neck, her
face buried on her shoulder; the words were barely audible to Peter,
Love me and believe in meas you did three years ago. And then a
choking, wet-eyed, and rather disheveled figure flew past him, out of
Miss Maxwell sank back heavily into her chair; her face showed
plainly her battling between love for the girl, her sense of outraged
discipline, and her anxiety over the decision she must make. Peter
watched her with a sort of impersonal sympathy; the major part of his
being had been plunged into what seemed a veritable chasm of
hopelessness. He tried to pull himself together and realize that there
was Dempsy to think about.
What are you going to do? he asked, at last.
Do? You meanabout?
An almost pathetic smile crept into the superintendent's face. As
long as you were here, anyway, it's rather a relief to be able to
confess that I don't know what to do. You see, superintendents are
always supposed to have infallible judgment on all matters, she
sighed. I have never but once known Leerie to break a rule or ask for
a special dispensation without a reasona good reason. But I don't
understand what lies behind all this.
I do. Peter fairly roared it forth. She loves that man, and she's
afraid this might ruin his career ifif anything happened. Why, it's
as plain as these four walls and the ceiling above us. No woman pleads
for a man that way unless she loves him better than anything else on
I think you're wrong.
Why? Peter strode over to the superintendent's desk like a man
after his reprieve. I'm not just curious. I've the biggest excuse in
the world for wanting to know why she has asked this. I love Sheila
O'Leary. I love her well enough to leave her to-night with the man she
loves, provided he loves her. But if he doesn'tif he's just playing
with her, accepting her as a sop to his vanity, as a lot of near-famous
men will with a womanthen, by thunder! I'm going to stay and fight
him for her! Understand? And Peter's fist pounded the desk.
The superintendent smiled again. This time there was no pathos in
it. I understandand I'd stay. You ought to know Leerie well enough
by this time to know that she can fight for the right of anything,
whether she cares personally or not, and more than that, even if she
has to suffer for it herself. She's the only woman I have ever known
who had that particular kind of heroism. If she felt Doctor Brainard
needed some one to stand up for him, I believe she could plead better
if she didn't care. And I've another, a better reason for thinking she
doesn't love him. She refused at first to be his surgical nurse. She
didn't consent until she knew that he had made that one of the
conditions of his coming here; he stipulated that he must be allowed to
bring his own anesthetist, operate without an assistant, and choose his
own operating nurse.
And he choose her?
She is the best we have. Not using an assistant throws a tremendous
responsibility and strain on the nurse, and Doctor Brainard naturally
wanted the most expert one he could get.
Then there was nothing personal
I don't think so. Doctor Brainard has a strong influence over
Leerie, but I believe it is only what any surgeon with distinction and
power would have. If she really cared for Doctor Brainard, she wouldn't
have said what she did when I asked her to take the appointment.
What did she say? Peter leaned forward eagerly and gripped the
edge of the desk.
She said she would rather be suspended for three more years than do
it, but if there was no one else, she guessed she could manage it for
the honor of the San.
What did she mean?
Oh, that's just a by-phrase among those of us who have worked here
a long while and feel a certain loyalty and responsibility for the
ideals of this institution. We have tried to stand for honest, humane
work as against mere moneygrubbing and popularity.
I see. That's why Dempsy sent me here; that's why he's coming
himself. Thank you, Miss Maxwell. I hope you're right. Peter
straightened himself and moved toward the door.
Wait a minute, Mr. Brooks. How much do you know of what happened
three years ago?
Just what has dripped from the wagging tongues. Peter smiled
Suppose I tell you the truth of it. It might help you to fight this
thing through. It certainly couldn't hurt your love for Leerie if you
really love her.
Nothing could, said Peter, simply.
Doctor Brainard and Leerie were the very best of friends during the
years she was training and he was working under Doctor Jefferson. Then
I thought it was love; they were always together, and there seemed to
be a strong, deep sympathy between the two. Just about the time she
graduated things began to go awry. Doctor Brainard was on the verge of
a nervous breakdown and Leerie seemed to be laboring under some bad
mental strain. Then the nurses began to hint that Leerie had been going
to his room. One night, when she was head night nurse in the Surgical
and Miss Jacobs was fourth corridor nurse, Miss Jacobs called me up at
two in the morning and told me Leerie had been in Doctor Brainard's
room for an hour. I came at once and found her there. She made no
explanation, offered no excuses. She even acknowledged that she had
been there twice before at the same time.
What did Brainard say? Peter asked it through clenched teeth.
Nothing then. But later, when he was called before the Board, he
laughed and asked what a man could say when a nurse chose to come to
his room at two in the morning.
The cad! and Peter swore under his breath.
I should have believed in Leerie, anyway, but it was that laugh of
Doctor Brainard's that made me determined to fight for her. What motive
Doctor Brainard had for not defending her I don't know, but he acted
like a scoundrel.
But why? Peter beat the air. Oh, the girl must have known she
couldn't run amuck with convention that way and not have it hurt her!
Why did she do it?
The superintendent of nurses looked long and thoughtfully at him.
Do you know, Mr. Brooks, if I happened to be the man who loved Sheila
O'Leary, I think I'd find that out as soon as I could. The answer might
prove valuable; it might solve the riddle why Sheila doesn't want
Doctor Dempsy operated on here.
Well, is he going to be?
No, we'll take him on to the Dentons if he can be moved again after
he gets here.
But fate willed otherwise. When Doctor Dempsy arrived on the early
train there were no conflicting opinions as to his condition; it was
critical, and there would have to be an operation within twenty-four
hours. Miss Maxwell brought the news to Peter along with the doctor's
wish that his friend should be with him as long as the powers allowed.
Does Leerie know? asked Peter.
She was present at the consultation.
What did she say?
Nothing. But she looked very white and drawn. I'm afraid she hasn't
Good Lord! you don't believe she really thinks Brainard will
But Miss Maxwell cut him short. This is no time to bother with
futile suppositions. Please, Mr. Brooks! Remember that for all our
sakesDoctor Dempsy's most of allthis is the time to keep our nerve
and think only one way. With a grave shake of the head she left him at
the door of Doctor Dempsy's room.
To Peter the day crept on at a snail's pace; to Sheila it galloped.
Peter saw her just once, when, at Doctor Dempsy's urgent wish, she came
in for a moment between operations, muffled to the eyes in her gown and
Come here, child. The old doctor held out a commanding hand and
drew the nurse close to the bed. I've had something on my mind ever
since I saw your face this morning. Might as well say it now before I
forget it. He smiled up gently at the great, deep-gray eyes looking
down wistfully at him. I imagine that you two youngsters may be
fretting some over to-morrowseven A.M. Hey? Mean trick to saddle you
with the responsibility of an old, worn-out hulk like mine, with the
chances fifty-fifty on patching it up. What I wanted to say was that
you mustn't take it too hard if I don't patch. 'Pon my soul I sha'n't
mind for myself.
A voice called from the corridor outside, Miss O'Leary, Doctor
Doctor Dempsy gave the hand inside the rubber glove a tight squeeze.
Remember, Leerie, I know you'll keep the little old lantern burning
for me as long as you can, and here's good luck, whatever happens.
She went without a word. Peter had become vastly absorbed at the
window in watching Hennessy sweeping a gathering of leaves from the
curb. When he finally came back to his chair by the bedside he
flattered himself that his expression was beatifically cheerful and his
voice perfectly steady.
As the day waned a storm gathered, and by nightfall the sanitarium
and the surrounding country were in the grip of a full-fledged
equinoctial. Doctor Dempsy was put to bed early, and Peter went back to
his room in the main building to write himself into a state of
temporary forgetfulness, if he could. He had tinkered with his pen,
sharpened half a dozen pencils, and mussed up as many sheets of paper
when a knock brought him to his feet. Sheila O'Leary stood at the door.
Her lips were bravely trying to smile away the haggard lines of the
Unconsciously Peter's arms went out to her as he repeated that old
cry of his in the days when he was a sufferer in the Surgical,
Whywhy, it's Leerie! and his love seemed to pound through every
For the flash of a second the eyes of the girl leaped to his in
answer, but in another flash they seemed to have traveled miles away,
looking back at him with the sadness of a lost angel. Yes, it's Leerie
againcome for help, she announced, tersely.
All right. Peter tried to sound matter-of-fact.
Don't ask questions; just do it. Will you?
You said once if you had to, you could drive through any storm,
snow, hail, or rain, that you had ever seen. Yes? Then get your car and
take Doctor Brainard out to-night. Take him anywhere, and keep him
going till he's so tired he's ready to drop. Talk to him, tell him
stories, don't let him talk about himselfor to-morrow. And bring him
home when you think he can sleep.
Yes. What are you going to do?
Sleep, I hope. She turned to go, but came back again and laid a
cold hand in Peter's. Thank you. Don't think I don't appreciate it.
Wait a minute. As it happens, I haven't met Doctor Brainard, and
there's a perfectly good chance he may not care about joy-riding in a
young hurricaneeven in my company, Peter ended ironically.
Leerie gave a little hollow laugh. Oh, he'll godon't worry. I'll
bring him down and introduce him. Ready in ten minutes? And this time
she was gone.
Peter knew if he lived to the ripe old age of Solomon himself he
should never forget the smallest detail of that nightDoctor
Brainard's curt, almost surly greeting, the plunge into the car, and
the start. After that Peter felt like a mythological being piloting the
elements. He headed for a state road, and for miles, neither of them
speaking, the car streaked over what might have been the surface of the
river of Lethe, or the strata of mist lying above Niflheim, for all the
feeling of reality and substance it gave. He had the eery sensation
that he might be forced to keep on and on till the end of the world,
like the Flying Dutchman. He wondered what sin of his own or some one's
else he might be expiating. They passed no living or mechanical thing;
they had the road, the night, the storm to themselves. They might have
gone ten miles or thirty before Doctor Brainard broke the silence.
Gad! but you can drive!
Thank you. Like it?
Not exactly. But it's better than thinking.
Works the other way with me; this sets me thinking. A sudden,
heavier gust sent the car skidding across the road, and Peter's
attention went to his wheel. Righting it, he went on, This is the
second time in my life I've felt something controlling me that was
stronger than my own will.
Nasty feeling. Lucky man if you've only felt it twice. What was it
the first time?
Fear. That's what brought me here.
Peter felt the eyes of the doctor studying him in the dark. I heard
about your case. It was Leerie brought you through, too, wasn't it?
Quick as a flash Peter turned. For the instant he forgot they were
speeding at a forbidden rate down slippery macadam in a tempest, with
his hand as the only controlling force. He almost dropped his wheel.
Why 'too'? Is she pulling you through something?
He could hear a heavy intake of breath beside him. Unconsciously he
knew that his companion was no longer sitting limp with relaxed
muscles. He seemed to feel every nerve and fiber in the body of the
surgeon growing tense, which made his careless, inconsequential tone
sound the more strange when he finally spoke:
That's an odd question to put to a doctor. I was referring to
Leerie's cases. She's pulled through hundreds of patients, you know;
she's famous for it.
Yes, I know, answered Peter. His voice sounded just as careless,
but the hands that gripped the wheel were as taut as steel.
They swept on for another half-hour, the silence broken by an
occasional yawn from the surgeon. At last Peter slowed down and looked
at his watch. Eleven-thirty. If we turn now we'll make the San about
one. How's that for bedtime?
Gad! I'm ready now, and the doctor yawned again.
Peter timed it to a nicety. It was five minutes past one as he
dropped Doctor Brainard at the Surgical, where he roomed. He was just
driving off when Miss Jacobs hurried out of the entrance.
Oh, Mr. Brooks, wait a minute, please. Doctor Dempsy isn't resting
very well, and Miss Maxwell left word that if he called for you, you
could sit with him. We can't get him to sleep, and he does want you.
All right. I'll leave the car and come back.
As Peter took his chair again by his friend's bedside his face was
set to as strong a purpose as Sheila O'Leary's had shown that day in
the sanitarium grounds. Want me to talk, old man? he asked, quietly.
Maybe I can yarn you into forty winks. Shall I try?
Wish you would. It's funny how a man can go through this with a
thousand or so patients and it seems like an every-day affair, but when
it's himselfwell, there's the rub. And the doctor smiled a bit
sheepishly at his own ungovernable nerves.
Peter gripped his hand understandingly. I know. It's the difference
between fiction and autobiography as far as it touches your own sense
of reality. Well, to-night shall we try fiction? Ever since they pulled
me through here, I've had my mind on a yarn with a sanitarium or
hospital for a background and a doctor for a hero. All this atmosphere
gets into your blood. It keeps you guessing until you have to spin a
yarn and use up the material.
Anything for copy, hey? the doctor chuckled.
That's about it. Well, my yarn runs about this way. With the skill
of an artist and the sympathy of a humanistand the suppressed
excitement of one who has something at stakePeter drew his two
principal characters, the conscientious, sensitive doctor possessed
with the constant fear of that hypothetical case he might lose some
day, and the smooth, scheming man a few years his senior who wanted to
get his fellow-practitioner out of the way and marry the girl they both
loved. Peter made the girl as adorable as a man in love might picture
For a sixpence I'd wager you had fallen in love yourself. Doctor
Dempsy chuckled again. I never before knew you to be so keen over
Just more copy, and Peter went on with the tale. Well, the young
chap's horror and fear kept growing with each new case, and the other
chap kept sneering and suggesting that his nerves weren't fit, and his
hand wasn't steady, and he worked too slowly. He kept it up until he
got what he wanted; the young chap bungled his operation and lost his
Poor devil! I know just what kind of torment he lived through.
Doctor Dempsy raised himself on an elbow and shook his head at Peter.
A case like that may be fiction to you, but it's fact to us in the
profession. You have no idea how often a youngster's nerves fail him.
Guess I'm getting the idea. But I need your help to finish the
yarn. Of course the hospital couldn't bounce him for losing one case.
They would have to prove first that he wasn't fit, wouldn't they?
They would have to make him out incompetent.
Peter nodded. Had there been more light in the room Doctor Dempsy
might have been startled at the unprecedented expression of cunning
that had crept into his friend's face. I'm not up enough in medical
matters to know what I could prove against the young chap to put him
out. You'll have to help me. Just how could his rival oust him?
Accuse him of drugs, came the unhesitating answer. That's the
most plausible, and it's what plays havoc with young surgeons quicker
than anything else. They feel their nerves going, and they take a
hypodermic; it steadies them untilit gets them. If you can make your
villain convince the staff that drugs are back of the lost case, you
can get your poor devil of a surgeon permanently disposed of.
Peter let out a long-drawn breath. Thank you, Doc. You've helped me
It does not in the least matter how Peter finished the tale. Before
the inevitable conclusion Doctor Dempsy dropped off to sleep, and no
one but Peter himself heard the final, And they married and lived
happy ever after. By Jupiter they did!
He slipped softly out of the room and stood a moment in the
corridor, wondering what he would do next. Sleep seemed unnecessary
just then, as well as undesirable. And as he stood there, innocent of
all intention of eavesdropping, he had that rare experience of hearing
history repeat itself. From around the bend of the corridor, out of
sight, came the low but distinct whisper of the night nurse's voice at
the house 'phone.
Miss Maxwell, Miss Maxwell, can you hear me? This is Miss Jacobs.
Leerie went to Doctor Brainard's room a half-hour ago. She's still
there.... All right. And then the soft click of the receiver dropping
Peter stiffened; his hands clenched. His first impulse was to creep
'round and quietly choke the tattle-tale breath out of Miss Jacobs. He
knew how the little green-eyed nurse was gloating over this second
incrimination of Leerie. But there was something more compelling to do
first, something that could not wait. He slipped 'round through the
supply-room and down the back stairs. He reached the first floor of the
Surgical just as the superintendent of nurses appeared in the entrance.
You! demanded Miss Maxwell.
No one else, agreed Peter. Suppose we go up together.
Peter could have almost laughed at the look of dumfounded amazement
on the superintendent's face. You meanWhy, that's impossible! It
isn't your place
Peter cut her short. Oh yes, it is. Remember the advice you gave me
a few hours ago. I'm here to find out what's back of it all, and no one
is going to stop me. His jaws snapped with an ominous finality.
Doctor Brainard opened to their knock, but he held the door so that
barely a corner of the room was visible, and he blocked the entrance.
Open it wider! commanded Peter. We've come to stay a few minutes
and ask Miss O'Leary a few questions, and he thrust the surgeon
quickly aside and flung wide the door.
Sheila was sitting by a reading-lamp, an open book on her lap. She
looked as Peter had seen her in the early evening, only back of the
tiredness and pallor was a strange look of peace. To Peter she seemed a
crucified saint who had suddenly discovered that nail wounds were
harmless. She smiled faintly at them both. I'm sorry it's happened
again, Miss Maxwell. If you'll just go away and try to forget about it
until after the morning, I'll send in my resignation and leave as soon
as you can fill my place. And can't we do it this time without any
Board meeting? I'll promise never to come back.
Then there are going to be no explanations this timeeither?
There was pleading in the superintendent's voice, as well as infinite
The girl shook her head. There's nothing to explain. I'm just
here. She folded her hands quietly on her lap. Won't you please go?
No, we won't! Peter thundered it forth. Then he turned to the
surgeon, and there was no pleading in his voice. You cur! you cad!
What have you got to say?
Doctor Brainard jumped as if Peter had struck him; for the instant
he seemed to find speech difficult. Whywhy, what do you mean? How
I dare you, and Peter shot out each word with the directness of a
hand-grenade, I dare you to stand up like a man and tell why Miss
O'Leary came here to-night. You sneaked behind her silence three years
ago; don't be a cursed coward and do it again.
The surgeon laughed a dry, unpleasant laugh. It's easy to call
another man namesbut it doesn't mean anything. And what right have
you to ask me to betray Miss O'Leary's silence?
Betray! Peter fairly howled back the word at him. Take off your
coat. Take it off, or I'll rip it off. Now roll up your sleevesno,
your left. There, by Jupiter! Look, Miss Maxwell!
Peter's demand was unnecessary. The eyes of the superintendent were
already fixed on the manifold tiny blue discolorations in the surgeon's
bare arm. Cocaine. She almost whispered it under her breath, and then
louder, How long?
Four years, about. The surgeon's voice was quite toneless; he
seemed to shrink and grow old while they watched him.
Miss Maxwell looked across at the girl, who was leaning forward, her
face in her hands, crying softly. Her eyes were bitterly accusing, and
there was abundant scorn in her voice when she spoke again to the
surgeon. So Leerie has been shielding you all along and helping you to
fight it. How did she know?
I told her. I thought if some one with a courage and trust like
hers knew about it it might pull me together. God! I wish I'd killed
myself three years ago.
Pity you didn't! There was no mercy in Peter's voice. But I
suppose she wouldn't let you; I suppose she held you together then as
she's trying to now. She's trying to save you for to-morrowseven
A.M.and all the to-morrows coming after. II think I'm beginning to
understand. His arms dropped dejectedly to his sides. For Peter there
could be but one meaning to Sheila's sacrifice and struggle.
But Miss Maxwell was holding fast to her cross-examination. And I
suppose you promised Leerie three years ago if she'd keep silent you
would fight it through and break the habit. And that's why you've let
no one but Leerie and Miss Jacobs in the operating-room, so no one else
would guess. Did Miss Jacobs find out three years ago?
Doctor Brainard nodded.
Words failed the superintendent, but her expression boded ill for
the little green-eyed nurse. Well, she said, at length, there's only
one thing that matters right noware you or are you not going to be in
a fit condition to operate to-morrow?
It was Leerie who answered. She was out of her chair at a bound and
beside the surgeon, her hand on his arm. He's going to operate; he's
got to. There isn't another skilled hand like his nearer than the
Dentons, so he's got to bring Doctor Dempsy through. Please, Miss
Maxwell, leave him to me. I can manage. He's got four hours to sleep,
and then I'll let him have enough cocaine to steady him. Won't you
It's about the only way now.
Peter left unnoticed. He realized, as he had realized in the
sanitarium grounds that afternoon, that he counted about as much in
this crisis as a part of the inanimate surroundings. Miss Maxwell
joined him a moment later, looking outrageously relieved. She flashed
Peter an apologetic smile.
I know it's shameless of me to look glad when you look so
miserable. But I can't help feeling that we are going to win. Leerie
deserves it after what she's suffered for him. That man couldn't fail
her, and her trust is bound to make good. Don't you see?
Peter's shoulders gave an unconvincing shrug. I hope so. He ought
toif he's half-way a man. He looked at his watch. Almost morning
now. Guess I'll pack my things and be ready to start as soon as I know
Dempsy's all right.
Miss Maxwell held him back for an instant. I know you're thinking
that all's wrong with the world, but I know all's right. Go and pack if
you must, but please stay in your room until I send you word. Promise?
And not caring, Peter promised.
From seven o'clock on Peter paced the room among his packed luggage
and counted the minutes. He wondered how long his patience would last
and when his misery would stop growing. The burden of both had become
unbearable. At eight-thirty a sharp knock sounded and he sprang to the
door. On the threshold stood a nurse in surgical wrappings, with eyes
that shone like a whole firmament of stars and a mouth that curved to
the gentle demureness of a nun. Peter stood and stared at this
unexpected apparition of the old Leerie.
Well, said the apparition, smiling radiantly as of old, I'm a
messenger of glad tidings. Won't you ask me to come in?
Peter flushed and drew her to a chair.
Oh, it was a wonderful operation. It seemed almost like performing
a miracle, and that blessed old doctor is coming out of the ether like
Maybe it was a miraclethe miracle of a woman's trust.
A look of rare tenderness swept into the girl's face. Thank you. I
wonder if you know how often you say the kindest and most comforting
thing. Then she sobered. He's made a brave fight, and it wasn't easy
to pull himself together, in the face of what he knew you were all
thinking of him, and do such a tremendous piece of work. I want you to
understand. He's a brilliant surgeon; it didn't seem right that he
should be lost to himself and the profession. And the best of it is, he
isn't going to be. The San is going to stand by him; every doctor on
the staff is willing to help him. As soon as Doctor Jefferson is back,
Doctor Brainard is to stop work untiluntil he's fit again. Isn't that
splendid! Oh, I could sing! I keep saying over those great Hebrew words
of comfort, 'Weeping may tarry through the night, but joy cometh in the
Yes, said Peter, dully. I'm glad joy has come for you. May I wish
you and Doctor Brainard all success and happiness?
Sheila's eyes looked into Peter's with a sudden intensity. You
maybut not together. Have you actually been thinking that I loved
Doctor Brainard? A hint of the old bitterness crept into her voice. I
can pity a man like that, but love himlove weakness and
selfishnessand the willingness to betray a woman's honorno! Three
years ago he killed whatever personal feeling I might have had for him,
and he made me hate all men.
And you're still hating them? Peter held fast to his rising hopes
while he hung eagerly on her answer.
No. Ever since a fine, strong, unselfish man came into my life it
has set me loving all mankind so scandalously that I'm afraid the only
way to make me respectable isfor some man to marry me. Leerie's arms
went out to Peter in complete surrender. Oh, PeterPeterit's
But it was almost noon before Peter began to think intelligently
again, and then he remembered something, something that ought to be
done. I think, he said, I think we ought to go out and tell Hennessy
and the swans; we sort of owe it to them.
And it all ended even as Peter had prophesied in his yarn by Doctor
Chapter V. THE LAST OF THE SURGICAL
Things have a way of beginning casually, so casually that you think
they are bound to spin themselves out into airy nothings. The first
inkling you have to the contrary is that headlong plunge into one of
the big moments of your life, perhaps the biggest. But you never cease
to wonder at the innocent, inconsequential way it began. These are the
moments when you can picture Fate, sitting like an omnipotent operator
before some giant switchboard, playing with signals and the like. I
dare say he grins like a mischievous little boy who delights in turning
things topsy-turvy whenever he has a chance.
Fate had been busy at this for some time when the sanitarium, quite
oblivious of any signal connection, set itself to the glorious business
of getting Sheila O'Leary married. Grief, despair, disappointment came
often to the San, death not infrequently, but happiness rarely, and
there had never before been such a joyous, personal happiness as this
one. Small wonder that the San should gather it close to its heart and
gloat over it! Was not Sheila one of its very own, born under its
portals, trained in its school, placed above all its nurses, and loved
beyond all else? And Peter Brooks. Had not the San given him his life
and Sheila? It certainly was a time for rejoicing. As Hennessy had
Sure, half the weddin's ye go to ye sit miserable, thinkin' the man
isn't good enough for the lass, or the lass is no mate for the man.
But, glory be to Pether! here's a weddin' at last that God Almighty
might be cryin' the banns for.
They were to be married within the month. Every one was agreed to
this, from the superintendent down to Flanders, the bus-driveryes,
and even the lovers themselves. The San forgot its aches and sorrows in
the excitement of planning an early summer wedding.
We'll make the chapel look lovely, chirped the Reverend Mrs.
Grumble, clasping and unclasping her hands in a fidget of anticipation.
There'll be enough roses and madonna lilies in the gardens to bank
every pew and make an arch over the chancel.
Well, if Leerie's married in the chapel, half of us can't get in.
And Madam Courot shook her head in emphatic disapproval. She'd better
take the Congregational church. That's the only place large enough to
hold everybody who will want to come.
A mutinous murmur rose and circled the patients on the veranda. Not
married at the San! It was unthinkable. So this point and the final
date Sheila settled for them.
We'll have the wedding in the gardens, save all the fuss and waste
of picking the flowers, be ever so much prettier, and everybody and his
neighbor can come.
When Hennessy heard of it he shirred his mouth into a pucker and
whistled ecstatically. 'Tis like her, just! Married out-o'-doors wi'
the growin' things to stand up wi' her and the blessed sun on her head.
Faith, Hennessy will have to be scrubbin' up the swans an' puttin'
white satin bows round their necks.
Sheila chose the hour before sunset on an early day of June, and the
San speedily set itself to the task of praying off the rain and
arranging the delightful details of attendants, refreshments, music,
and all the other non-essentials of a successful wedding. Miss Maxwell,
the superintendent of nurses, took the trousseau in hand and portioned
out piles of napery and underwear to the eager hands of the nurses to
embroider. The whole sanitarium was suddenly metamorphosed into a
Dorcas Society; patients forgot to be querulous, and refused extra
rubbings and all unnecessary tending, that more stitches might be taken
in the twenty-four hours of the hospital day. A great rivalry sprang up
between the day and night nurses as to which group would finish the
most, and old Mr. Crotchets, the cynical bachelor with liver complaint
and a supposedly atrophied heart, offered to the winning shift the
biggest box of candy New York could put up.
Through the first days of her happiness Sheila walked like a lambent
being of another world, whose radiance was almost blinding. Those who
had known her best, who had felt her warmth and beauty in spite of that
bitterness which had been her shield against the hurt she had battled
with so long, looked upon her now with unfathomable wonder. And Peter,
who had worshiped her from the moment she had taken his hand and led
him back to the ways of health, watched her as the men of olden times
must have watched the goddesses that occasionally graced their earth.
Beloved, you're almost too wonderful for an every-day,
Sunday-edition newspaper-man like me, Peter whispered to her in the
hush of one twilight, as they sat together in the rest-house, watching
Hennessy feed the swans.
Every woman is, when the miracle of her life has been wrought for
her. Man of mine, and Sheila reached out to Peter's ever waiting arms,
wouldn't God be niggardly not to let me seem beautiful to you now?
Peter laughed softly. If you're beautiful now, what will you be
Sheila hushed him. Listen, Peter, our happiness frightens me, it's
so tremendous for just two peoplealmost more than our share of life.
I know I seem foolish, but long ago I made up my mind I should have to
do without love and all that goes with it, and now that it has
comesorrow, death, never frightened me, but this does.
Glad I have the courage for two, then. Look here, Leerie, the more
happiness we have the more we can spill over into other lives and the
brighter you can burn your lamp for the ones in the dark. This old
world needs all the happiness it can get now. So?
Sheila smiled, satisfied. You always understand. If I ever write
out a prescription for love, I shall make understanding one-third of
the dose. Let's go into partnership, Brooks and O'Leary, Distillers and
Dispensers of Happiness.
All right, but the firm's wrong. It's going to be Brooks and
Brooks, and Peter kissed her.
There is one thing, and Sheila gently disentangled herself. There
are days and days before the wedding, and if everybody thinks I am
going to do nothing until then, everybody is very much mistaken. I'm
going in this minute to sign up for my last case in the Surgical.
It must have been just at this moment that Fate turned on an
arbitrary signal-light and changed a switch. I should like to think
that back of his grin lurked a tiny shadow of contrition.
And what am I going to do? Peter called dolefully after her.
Oh, I don't know. You might write an article on the dangers and
uncertainties of marrying any woman in a profession. And she blew him
a farewell kiss.
The train from the city, that night, brought a handful of patients,
and one of these wore the uniform and insignia of a lieutenant of the
Engineers. His mother came with him. She had been an old patient, and
because of extraordinary circumstancesI use the government termshe
had obtained his discharge from a military hospital and had brought him
to the San to mend.
The wounds are slow in closing, and there's some nervous trouble,
Miss Maxwell explained to Sheila. The boy's face is rather tragic.
Will you take the case?
She accepted with her usual curt nod and a hasty departure for her
uniform. A half-hour later she was back in the Surgical, her fear as
well as her happiness forgotten in the call of another human being in
distress. The superintendent of nurses was right: the boy's face was
tragic, and a frail little mother hovered over him as if she would
breathe into his lungs the last breath from her own. She looked up
wistfully, a little fearsomely, as Sheila entered; then a smile of
thanksgiving swept her face like a flash of sunlight.
Oh, I'm so glad! I remember you well. I hopedbut it hardly seemed
possibleI didn't dare really to expect it. When I was here before,
you were always so needed, and my boyof course there is nothing
seriousonly and the shaking voice ended as incoherently as it had
The nurse took the withered hands held out to her in her young, warm
ones. In an instant she saw all that the little mother had been
throughthe renunciation months before when she had given her boy up
to his country; the long, weary weeks of learning to do without him;
the schooling it had taken to grow patient, waiting for the letters
that came sparingly or not at all; and at last the news that he was at
the front, under fire, when the papers published all the news there was
to be told. Sheila saw it all, even to her blind, frantic groping for
the God she had only half known and into whose hands she had never
wholly given the keeping of her loved ones. And after that the cable
and the waiting for what was left of her boy to come home to her. As
she looked down at her, Sheila had the strange feeling that this frail
little mother was dividing the care of her boy between God and herself,
and she smiled unconsciously at this new partnership.
Gently she laid her hand on the lean, brown one resting on the
coverlet; the boy opened his eyes. It's going to be fine to have a
soldier for a patient; I expect you know how to obey orders. You are
our first, and we're going to make your getting well just the happiest
time in all your life, the little mother and I.
The boy made no response. He looked at his mother as if he
understood, and then with a groan of utter misery he turned away his
head and closed his eyes again. Ah-h-h! thought Sheila, and a little
later she drew the mother into the corridor beyond earshot.
There's something ailing him besides wounds. What is it?
Clarisse. The promptness of the answer brought considerable relief
to the nurse. It was easy to deal with the things one knew; it was the
hidden things, tucked away in the corners of the subconscious mind or
the super-sensitive soul, that never saw the light of open confession,
that were the baffling obstacles to nursing. Sheila never dreaded what
Well, what's the matter with Clarisse? she asked, cheerfully.
The little mother hesitated. Evidently it was hard to put it into
words. They're engaged, she and Phil, and Phil doesn't want to see
her, shrinks from the very thought of it. That's what's keeping him
from getting better, I think. She's very young and oh, so pretty. They
were both young when Phil went awaybut Phil She stopped and passed
a fluttering hand across her forehead; her lips quivered the barest
bit. Phil has come back so old. That's what war does for our boys; in
just a few months it turns them into old men, the serious onesand
their eyes are older than any living person's I ever saw.
And Clarisse is still young. I think I understand.
That's why I brought him here. In the city there would have been no
reason for her not coming to the hospital, but she couldn't come here
unless we sent for hercould she? Again the fluttering hand groped as
if to untangle the complexity of thoughts and feelings in the poor
confused head. I write her letters. I make them just as pleasant as I
can. I don't want to hurt her; she's so young.
Sheila nodded. Does he love her? That was the most important, for
to Sheila love was the key that could spring the lock of every barrier.
He did, and I think she loves himI think
Sheila went back to her patient and began the welding of a
comradeship that only such a woman can weld when her heart is full with
love for another man. Day by day she made him talk more. He told her of
his soldiering; apparently everything that had happened before held
little or no place in his scheme of life, and he told it as simply and
directly as if he had been a child. He made her see the months of
training in camp, when he grew to know his company and feel for the
first time what the brotherhood of arms meant. He told of the
excitement of departure, the spiritual thrill of marching forth to war
with the heart of a crusader in every boy's breast. His eyes shone when
he spoke of their renunciation, of the glory of putting behind them
home and love until the world should be made clean again and fit for
Sheila winced at this, but the boy did not notice; he was too
absorbed in the things he had to tell.
He told of the days of waiting in France, with the battle-front
before them like a mammoth drop-curtain, screening the biggest drama
their lives would ever know. There we were, marking time with the big
guns, wondering if our turn would come next. That was a glorious
feeling, worth all that came afterwardwhen the curtain went up for
He raised himself on an elbow and looked into Sheila's cool, gray
eyes with eyes that burned of battle. God! I can't tell you about it.
There have been millions of war books written by men who have seen more
than I have and who have the trick of wordsand you've probably read
them; you know. Only reading isn't seeing it; it isn't living it. He turned quickly, shooting out a hand and gripping hers hard. Tell
me; you've seen all sorts of operationshorrible ones, where they take
out great pieces of malignant stuff that is eating the life out of a
man. You've seen that?
The nurse nodded.
Did you forget it afterward, when the body was clean and whole
again? Could you forget the thing that had been there? For that's war.
That's what we're fighting, the thing that's eating into the heart of a
decent, sound world, and since I've seen the horror of it I can't
forget. I can't see the healingyet.
You will. Not at first, perhaps, but when you're stronger. That is
one of God's blessed plans: He made beauty to be immortal and ugliness
to die and be forgotten. And even the scars where ugliness was time
whitens and obliterates. Give time its chance.
It was the next day that the boy spoke of Clarisse. Will time make
them all right, too? Leerie, he had picked up the nickname from the
other nurses and appropriated it with all the ardent affection of
worshiping youth, we're milesagesapart. Can anything under God's
canopy bring us together, I wonder?
Perhaps. Sheila smiled her old inscrutable smile. Tell me more.
And so he told her of the girl who was so young, and oh, so pretty.
It had all seemed right before he had gone to camp; it was the great
love for him, something that had made his going seem the worthier. But
at camp the distance between them had begun to widen, her letters had
failed to bridge it, and through those letters he had discovered a new
angle of her, an angle so acute that it had cut straight to the heart
and destroyed all the love that had been there. At least that was what
I knew she was young, of course, not much more than a child, and I
knew she loved fun and good times, and all that, butWhy, she'd write
about week-end parties, and how becoming her bathing-suit was, and what
Tommy Flint said about her fox-trotting. Lord! He writhed under the
coverlet and ground his nails into his palms. We marched through
places where there wasn't a shred of anything left for anybody. We saw
old women hanging on to broken platters and empty bird-cages because it
was all they had lefthome, children, everything gone. And on top of
that would come a letter telling how much she'd spent on an evening
gown, and how Bob Wylie took them out to Riverdale and blew in a
hundred and twenty dollars on the day's trip. A hundred and twenty
dollars! That would have bought a young ocean of milk over there for
the refugee kids I saw starving.
He jerked himself up suddenly and sat huddled over, his eyes
kindling with a vision of purging the world. Sheila knew it was useless
to stop him, so she propped him up with pillows and let him go on.
And that wasn't all. Between the lulls in the fighting they moved
us along to a quiet sector, to freshen up, where we were so close to
the German side that we could look into one of their captured villages.
There we could see the French girls they'd carried off going out to
work, saw them corralled at night like He broke off, hesitated, then
went doggedly on. With field-glasses we could see them plainly, the
loads they had to lift and carry, the beatings they got, the look in
their faces. Their shoulders were crooked, their backs bent from the
long slaving. They were wraiths, most of themand some with babies at
their breasts. After I got back from seeing that, I found another
letter from Clarisse. She said the girls just couldn't buckle down to
much Red Cross work; it was so hard to do anything much in summer.
They'd no sooner get started than some one would say tennis or a swim.
And I saw women dying over thereand bearing Boche babies!
All the agony of soul that youth can compass was poured forth in
those last words. The boy leaned back on his pillows, weary unto death
with the hopelessness of it all. So Sheila let him lie for a while
before she answered him.
Do the boys want their girls to know the full horror of it all? I
thought that was one of the things you were fighting for, to keep as
much of it away from them as you could.
The boy raised a hand in protest, but Sheila silenced him. Wait a
minute; it's my turn to talk now. I know what's in your mind. You think
that Clarisseand the girls like herare showing unforgivable
callousness and flippancy in the face of this world tragedy. Instead of
becoming women as you have become men, they stay silly, unthinking,
irresponsible creatures who dance and play and laugh while you fight
and die. The contrast is too colossal; it all seems past remedy. Isn't
that so? Well, there's another side, a side you haven't thought of. The
girls are giving you up. The little they know of life, as it is now,
looks very overwhelming to them. Perhaps it frightens them. And what do
frightened children do in the dark?
The boy did not try to answer; he waited, tensely eager.
Why, they sing; they laugh little short-breathed laughs; they tell
stories to themselves of nonsensical things to reassure them. All the
time they are trying not to think of what terrors the dark may hold;
they are trying not to cry out for some one to come and sit with them.
Some of our girls are doing a tremendous work. They meet trains at all
hours of the day or night and feed the boys before they sail; they wait
all day in the canteens until they're ready to drop; they put in a lot
more time, making comfort-kits, knitting, and rolling bandages, than
they ever own to. And suppose they don't grow dreadfully serious; isn't
it better that way? The girls are doing their bit as fast as they are
learning how. It isn't fair of the boys to judge them too soon. It
isn't fair of you to judge your Clarisse without giving her a chance.
You didn't read those letters.
Letters! Most of us, when we write, keep back the things that
really matter and skim off the surface of our lives to tell about.
There may not be the sixteenth part of your girl in those letters.
The boy's lips tightened stubbornly. It wasn't just oneit was all
of them. Anyhow, I haven't the nerve or the heart to find out.
Again Sheila let the silence fall between them. When she spoke, her
voice was very tender. Tell me, boy, what made you love her?
He smiled sheepishly. Oh, I don't know. She was always a good
sport, never got grumpy over things that happened, never got cold feet,
either. She had a way of teasing you to do what she wanted, would do
anything to get her way; and then she'd turn about so quickly and give
you your way, after alljust make you take it. And she'd be so awfully
sweet about it, too. And she'd always play fair, and she had a way of
making you feel the best ever. Oh, I don't know The boy looked about
him helplessly. They sound awfully foolish reasons for loving a girl.
Sheila's face had become suddenly radiant; her eyes sparkled like
rushlights in a wind. They actually startled the boy so that he
straightened up in bed again and gripped her hand. I say, Leerie, what
is it? I never saw you look like this before. You'reAre you in love?
With one of the finest men God ever made. He's so fine that he
trusted me through a terrible bunglebelieved in the real woman in me
when I would have denied it. That's what a man's love can do for a
woman sometimes, keep her true to the best in her.
That night, after many fluttering protests, the little mother wrote
a letter to Clarisse. It was dictated by Sheila and posted by her, and
it contained little information except what might have been extracted
from a non-committal railroad guide. It did mention at the last,
however, that Phil was slowly gaining.
With this off her mind, Sheila went to find Peter. She had
characteristically neglected him since she had been on the case, and as
characteristically he made no protest. Instead he met her with that
quick understanding that she had claimed as one of love's ingredients.
He looked her over well and proudly, then tapped his head
I see, there's more to this soldier-boy case than just wounds. Want
me to run you down the boulevard while you work it out?
Thank God for a man! breathed Sheila, and then aloud: No, it's
worked out. But you might run me down, just the same.
Feels almost like frost to-night, said Peter as he put the car
into first. Do you think it will hold pleasant enough for
For what? Sheila's tone sounded blank.
Peter chuckled. For the gardens and the old ladies, of course. Have
you by any chance forgotten that there's going to be a wedding in four
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday counted Sheila. Why, so it
is! Then she echoed Peter's chuckle, Oh yes, there's going to be a
wedding, a beautiful wedding in four days.
A strange little twinge took Peter's heart there in the dark at the
queer, impersonal note in what she had said. What did it mean?
Sheila gave the girl twenty-four hours to reach the San after
receiving the letter; she came in eighteen, and the nurse rejoiced at
this good omen. She had delegated Peter to meet all trains that day,
take the girl to her room, send for her at once, and tell nobody. Peter
obeyed, and early in the afternoon Sheila looked up from her reading to
the boy to see Peter standing in the doorway, the message on his lips.
Baggage delivered, was Peter's announcement.
Thank you. I'll come in a minute and see if my key fits. She
hunted up the little mother, left her in charge, and hurried over to
the nurses' home.
There in the big living-hall, perched in a wicker chair under the
poster of Old King Cole, Sheila found the girl, who was young and oh,
so pretty. She looked about as capable of taking a plunge into the grim
depths of life and coming out safely as a toy Pom of weathering the
waters of the Devil's Hole. How shall I ever push her in? thought
Sheila as she held out her hand in greeting.
Clarisse took it with all the hectic impulsiveness of youth. You're
his nurse. Isn't it great his coming back this way? All our set is
engagedor about to bebut I'm the only one that's got her man back
with battle scars all over him. Makes me feel like a story-book
Sheila O'Leary didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. She
ended by doing what probably surprised her more than it did the girl.
She sat down in the wicker chair herself and gathered the girl into her
lap. Oh, you blessed, blessed baby! she crooned softly.
The girl pouted adorably. It was very evident that she liked to be
petted, coaxed, and spoiled. If there was a woman slumbering under all
this dimpling, infantile charm, she was quite indiscernible to the
woman who held her.
Slowly she bent over the girl and let her face show all the delight
she could feel in her prettiness and baby ways. There must be sympathy
between them or her task would be hopeless. There, let me untie that
bewitching bonnet of yours and take off your gloves. We have a lot to
tell each other before you see your soldier.
But Philwon't he be waiting, wondering why I don't come? Oh, I'm
just crazy to see him!
He doesn't know you're here yet.
Oh! The smooth, white forehead did its utmost to manage a frown.
Why, didn't he send for me?
Who did? His mother wrote.
The round, childish eyes filled with apprehension; she wrenched
herself free of Sheila's arms. He isn't going toThe letter said?
He's better. Sit down, dear. That's what we have to talk over. His
body is mending fast, but his mindwell, his mind has been taken
Clarisse tossed an adorable crown of golden curls. I don't
Didn't expect you to, at first. It's this way. He's been through
some very big, very terrible experiences, and he can't forget them. He
isn't the boy you used to play with, the boy who was happy just having
a good time. He's grown very serious. That's what experience is likely
to do for us all in time, but with him it's come all in a heap. When
that happens you can't go back and be happy in the old way. Do you
He's bound fast and walled about with the memories of what he has
been throughkilling human beings, watching his comrades die, seeing
what the Germans have done. For the moment it has made him forget that
the sun shines and birds sing and the world is a place to be glad in.
The bright colors have faded out of life for him; everything looks gray
Gee! and how he used to like a good cabaret with a jazz band! The
girl whispered it, and there was awe in her voice. And colors! I had
to wear the gayest things I had, to please him.
Yes, I know. And he'll like them best again, some day. Just be
patient, dear. And the waiting won't be hard, you'll have so much to do
for him. You'll have to be bringing the sunshine back, making him
listen to the bird-songs, teaching him how to be glad, to love doing
all the happy, foolish boy-things he used to like.
I seeI can. The girl's voice was breathless.
I'm sure you can. Sheila tried to put conviction into her words.
At first you may find it a little hard. It means
It means creeping into his prison with him, so gently, so lovingly,
and staying close beside him while you cut the memory-cords one by one.
Could you do that?
The girl sprang past Sheila toward the door. Come! What are we
But he doesn't know you are here yet, parried the nurse.
Let's go and tell him, then. He always adored surprises. The
dimples in her cheeks danced in anticipation while she took Sheila's
hand and tried to drag her nearer the door. But at the threshold
something in the woman's face stopped her. She hesitated. Maybemaybe
he doesn't like surprises any more. Again the impulsive hands were
thrust into the nurse's. Tell me, tell me honestlyYou said you sent
for me. Was itDidn't he want meto come?
And Sheila, remembering what the boy had loved about her, gave her
back the truth: No, he has grown afraid of you. That's another thing
you will have to bring back to him with the songs and the sunlighthis
love for you.
Her hand was flung aside and the girl flew past her, back to the
wicker chair under Old King Cole. Burying her head in her arms, she
burst into uncontrollable sobs, while Sheila stood motionless in the
doorway and waited. She must have waited an hour before the girl raised
her eyes, wet as her own. For Sheila knew that a woman's soul was being
born into the world, and none understood better than she what the agony
of travail meant to the child who was giving it birth.
Come, said Sheila, gently.
The girl rose uncertainly; all the divine assurance of youth was
gone. I think I see, she began unsteadily. I think I can.
I know you can. And this time there was no doubt in Sheila's
She saw to it that the little mother had been called away before
they reached the Surgical, so that the room was empty except for the
occupant of the cot. Hello, boy! she called, triumphantly, from the
doorway. I have brought you the best present a soldier ever had, and
she pushed Clarisse into the room and closed the door.
For a moment those two young creatures looked at each other,
overcome with confusion and the self-consciousness of their own great
The boy spoke first. Clare!
Phil! It came in a breathless little cry, like a bird's answer to
its mate. Then the girl followed. Across the room she flew, to the bed,
and down on her knees, hiding her face deep in the folds of coverlet
and hospital shirt. Words came forth chokingly at last, like bubbles of
air rising slowly to the surface.
Those lettersthose awful letters! Just foolish things that didn't
matter. One of the boys at the canteenI used to wait on the table and
make believe every soldier I served was mine, and I always wore my
prettiest clotheshe saidthe boythat over there they didn't want
anything but light stuffthose were his wordssaid a chap couldn't
stand hearing that his girl was lonely.... He said to cut out all the
blue funks and the worries; the light stuff helped to steady a chap's
nerve. So I
And then the boy lied like a soldier. Don't, Clare darling. I knew
all along you were playing off like a good sport. And it helped a lot.
Gee! how it helped!
When Sheila looked in, hours later, the girl was still by the bed,
her cheek on the pillow beside the boy's.
It was a strangely illusive Leerie that met Peter that night in the
rest-house after the ailing part of the San had been put safely to bed.
Her eyes seemed to transcend the stars, and her face might have served
for a young neophyte. As Peter saw, for the first time he glimpsed the
signal Fate had been playing with so many days.
What's happened? Anything wrong with those cubs?
Nothing. They're as right as right can be. Then with the old
directness Sheila plunged headlong into the thing she knew must be
done. Man of mine, I'm going to hurt you. Can you forgive and still
I can try. Peter did his best to keep his voice from sounding too
heavy, for a fear was gripping at his heart, and his eyes sought
Sheila's face, pleading as he would never have let his lips plead.
Sheila covered her eyes. She didn't want to see. It was too
reminiscent of the little boy lying awake in a dark attic, afraid of
sleep. We have both done without happiness so long, don't you think we
can do without it a little longer?
I suppose soif we must. Peter's voice was very dull. But why?
I've always had an idea that happiness was something like opportunity;
it had to be snatched and held fast when it came your way, or you might
never have another chance at it. Had Sheila brought him to the gates
of Paradise only to bar them against his entering? he wondered.
The woman who loved him understood and laid her hand on his breast
as if she would stay the hurt there if she could. It may make it
easier if you know that the giving up is going to be hard for me, too.
I've thought about that home of ours so long that I've begun to see it
and all that goes with it. I even stumble upon it in my dreams. It's
always at the end of a long, tired road, going uphill. If I thought I
should have to give it up, I wouldn't have the courage to do what I'm
going to now.
She sat down on the bench, laid her arms over the sill of the rustic
window, and looked toward the pond. The night was very still; the
blurred outlines of the swans, huddled against the bank, were the only
signs of life. When she spoke it was almost to herself.
When they sent me away from the San three years ago I thought I
could never bear itto go away alone, that way, disgraced, to begin
work over again in a strange place, among strange people. But I had to
do it, just as I have to do this. She straightened and faced Peter.
Her voice changed; it belonged to the curt, determined Sheila.
I'm going across, to nurse the boys over there. The boy over in the
Surgical pointed the way for me. There's a big thing going on in the
worldsomething almost as big as the warit's the business of getting
the boys ready for life after their share in the war is over, and I
don't mean just nursing their bodies back to health. Everything is
changed for them; they've got new standards, new interests, new hearts,
new souls, and we women have got to keep pace with them. And we mustn't
fail themdon't you see that? Oh, I know I have no place of my own in
the war: you are safe, and I have no brothers. But I'm a womana
nurse, thank God! And I'm free to go for the mothers and sweethearts
who can't. Don't you understand?
And Peter answered from an overwhelmingly full and troubled heart,
Oh yes, I understand.
I knew you would. Sheila raised starry eyes to the man who had
never failed her. Those boys will need all the sympathy, all the
wholesome tenderness we can send across to them, and they'll need our
hands at their backs until they get their foothold again. I've served
my apprenticeship at that so long I can do it.
Peter gathered her close in his arms. God and I know how well.
It was not until they were leaving the gardens that Peter asked the
question that had been in his mind all through the evening. What about
the wedding? I suppose you're not going to marry me, now.
Can't. Haven't the courage. Man of mine, don't you know that after
I once belonged to you I couldn't leave you? I've only had sips of
happiness so far. If I once drained the cup, only God's hand could take
it from me.
And the wedding? The old San's just set its heart on that wedding.
The radiant smile crept back to Sheila's lips. Even in the dark
Peter could tell that the old luminous Leerie was beside him once more.
Why, that's one of the nicest parts of it all. We're going to pass our
wedding on to those childrenmake them a sort of wedding-present of
it. Won't that be splendid?
Oh yes, said Peter, without enthusiasm. Does it suit them?
They don't know yet. Guess I'd better go and tell them.
It is doubtful if anybody but Sheila O'Leary could have managed such
an affair and left every one reasonably happy over ittwo of them
unreasonably so. She accepted the wedding collation bestowed by the
wealthy old ladies of the sanitarium and passed it over to the boy and
his betrothed as if it had been as trivial a gift as an ice-cream cone.
In a like manner she passed on the trousseau, kissed all the nurses
rapturously for their work, and piled it all into Clarisse's arms with
the remark that it was lucky they were so nearly of a size. When she
brought the wedding-dress she kissed her, too, and said that she was
going to make the prettiest picture in it that the San or the soldier
had seen in years. She placated the management; she wheedled Miss
Maxwell into a good humor; she even coaxed Doctor Fuller into giving
away the bride. Only Hennessy refused to be propitiated.
Are ye thinkin' of givin' Mr. Brooks away with everythin' else? he
asked, scornfully; and then, his indignation rising to a white wrath,
he shouted, I'll not put bows on the swans, an' I'll not come to any
But he did come, and held with Flanders the satin ribbons they had
promised to hold for Sheila. And the wedding became one of the greenest
of all the memories that had gone down on the San books.
As the sun clipped the far-away hills the boy was wheeled down the
paths to where the gold and white of early roses were massed in summer
splendor. Then came the girl with Sheila at her side; the girl had
begged too hard to be refused. But Sheila's face was as white as it had
been the day they operated on Doctor Dempsy, and only Peter guessed
what it cost her to stand with the bride. To Peter's care had been
intrusted the little mother, and he let her weep continually on his
shoulder in between the laughs he kept bringing to her lips.
And it all ended merrily. Sheila saw to that. But perhaps the thing
that gave her the keenest pleasure was wheedling out of Mr. Crotchets
his bungalow that stood on the slopes beyond the golf-links for a
They'll have all the quiet they want and the care he still needs,
she told Peter when they were alone. And nobody but the nurse in
charge knows about ityet. Then seeing the great longing in Peter's
eyes, she drew him away from the crowd. Listen, man of mine! I have
the feeling that when we are married there will be no wedding, just you
and I and the preacher. And in my heart I like it better that way.
So do I, agreed Peter.
I'm leavingtrain to-night, Sheila hurried on. No use putting it
off; better sail as soon as the passport's ready. There's just one
thing more I want to say before I leave you.
Then Peter chuckled for the first time that day. You can say it, of
course, but if you think you're going to leave me behind, you're
mistaken. I wired the chief the day you told me. They need another
correspondent over there. When it comes to passports there is some
advantage in not being a husband, after all. Wellare you glad?
When Hennessy came upon them, a few minutes later, they looked so
supremely happy and oblivious of the rest of the world that he was
forced to stop. Sure, ye might be the bride an' groom, afther all, by
the looks of ye. What's come over ye all of a sudden? And when Peter
told him, and they both put their hands in Hennessy's in final parting,
he shirred his lips and whistled forth evidence of a satisfied emotion
to which he added a word of warning to Peter:
I'm not envyin' ye, just the same, Mr. Brooks. Afore ye get her
home again ye'll find the Irish say right, 'A woman's more throuble to
look afther than a thorn in the foot or a goat fetched back from the
Chapter VI. MONSIEUR SATAN
There had been nothing, perhaps, more radically changed by the
rigors of war than Atlantic transportation. The thrills of pleasure and
romance that attended the tourist in the days before the war had
deepened to thrills of another timbre, while romance had become more
epic than idyllic. The happy phrase of going abroad had given place
to going over or going across; such a trifling difference in words,
but the accompaniment comes in quite another key. It was no longer
shouted in a care-free, happy-go-lucky fashion; it may have had a ring
of suppressed exultation; but it was sure to be whispered with a quick
intake of breath, and so often it came through teeth that were
The piers had changed their gala attire. The departure from this
country for another was no longer a matter of mere rejoicing and
congratulatory leave-taking. The gangways no longer swarmed with
friends shouting, Bon voyage! There was no free voicing of
anticipation, no effervescing of good humor. The Spirit of Adventure
was there, but he had changed his costume and his make-up. So had the
good ships. Their black paint and white trimmings were gone; gone were
the gay red funnels; and in their stead were massed the grays and
blues, the greens and blacks of camouflage. The piers were deserted. A
thin stream of travelers sifted in; there were a few officials and
deckhands; and far outside, beyond hail of ship or sea or traveler, in
a barbed-wire inclosure, guarded by military police, stood a few
scattered, silent figures. They were the remnants war had left of the
once-upon-a-time jocose band of waving, shouting friends.
All this Sheila O'Leary felt as she stood on the upper deck of a
French liner with Peter Brooks and watched their fellow-passengers
board the ship. She was tingling from head to foot with almost as many
emotions as there are ganglia in the nervous system. It was as if she
had suddenly claimed the world for a patient and had laid fingers to
its pulse for the first time. Eagerly, impatiently, she was waiting to
count each successive beat until she should be able to read into the
throbbing rhythm of it all a meaning for herself.
As Sheila thought in terms of her work, so Peter thought in terms of
his. It was all copy to him. Each group that followed another up the
gangway carried the promise of a story to Peter. There were Red Cross
nurses, canteen workers, a college unit for reconstruction work, a
hospital unit, scores of detached American officers going over for the
first time, scores of French and British returning, a few foreigners
getting back to their respective countries, and hosts of non-descripts
whose civilian clothes gave no hint of their missions. Last of all came
a sudden, swift influx of celestial blue.
Peter smiled at them with anticipation, Look, Leerie, the Blue
Devils of France! There ought to be the making of a good yarn.
But Sheila barely heard. The mass had captured her imagination on
the instant with a dramatic intensity too overpowering to be denied.
Unconsciously she smiled. They were going back to fight againto be
wounded. Who knewin a month she might be nursing some of them. The
Blue Devils had reached the gangway; they were just below them when one
looked up. Black eyes as unfathomable as forest pools looked into
Sheila's quiet gray ones. For a moment there was almost a greeting
flashed between them; as if they recognized something common to them
both that lay in the past or the future. It was one of those gossamer
threads of fate that a few glimpse rarely in their lives.
Peter saw, and was on the point of giving tongue to his astonishment
when a voice from behind interrupted them: The ship sails at ten; it
lacks thirty seconds of that. There is the typical instance of the way
these Devils obey their orders. Is it not so?
The voice savored of France. Sheila and Peter turned together to
find a little man, with a small, pleasant face, topped with shaggy
brown hair, and dabs of mustache and beard placed like a colon under
his nose. His shrug was the conclusive evidence of his nationality.
Well, thirty seconds is enough, laughed Sheila. Time is as
precious as food, gold, or gunpowder these days. Why waste it?
And men, supplemented the little man. Perhaps, mad'moiselle
already knows Bertrand Fauchet, the young captain who passed below?
Sheila shook her head.
The little man rubbed his hands together in keen enjoyment. Ah,
there is a man; but they are all men. The Boches have named them well.
They fight like demons, then they rest and play like children until
their turn comes to fight again. And Fauchethe is a devil of a devil,
possessed of a thousand lives. Mad'moiselle would adore him.
Sheila's demure chin tilted mutinously, But I don't like devils,
even blue ones.
Ah, you do not understand. C'est la guerre. We must lock away in
our hearts all the pity, all the tenderness, as we hide our jewels and
our treasures and mask our cathedrals. If we did not they would all be
destroyed and we would go quite mad. He smiled whimsically at Sheila,
as one smiles at a child who fails to comprehend. Waitwait till
mad'moiselle sees France. Then He finished with a shrug and left
They were in midstream when they saw the little man again. He came
hurrying toward them with both hands outstretched to Peter. It is Mr.
Brooks. I did not know when I was speaking with you and mad'moiselle
before. They told me at the office of your paper that you would be
sailing to-day. May I present Jacques Marchand of the Figaro, a
fellow-journalist? and he made a profound bow which included Sheila.
Peter introduced the girl beside him and the little man looked at
her with whetted interest and a twinkle of suppressed humor. You women
of America, you come like battalions of good angels to nurse our
devils. Eh bien, before the sun goes down you shall meet your first
one. Au 'voir till then.
They were in the stern, watching the last of the sun in their wake
as it turned myriads of whirring wings to iridescent gold, when the
little man found them again. This time he was not alone. Close upon his
heels came the captain of the Blue Devils; and again the black eyes met
Sheila's when they were still a man's length apart.
Mad'moiselle, said Jacques Marchand, I have brought, as I
promisedMonsieur SatanMad'moiselle O'Leary. Look him well over; you
will see he has not the horns or cloven feet, neverthelessmais,
The captain was blushing like a very bashful little boy; he was
smiling as naïvely as an infant. Sheila guessed at his age and placed
it not far from twenty. Who had ever conceived of a boy-Mephistopheles?
It was absurd. A genuine diabolical personage had no right to a
pre-middle age; for him all years prior to forty should not exist. And
here was undeniably a boy, whose very bashfulness and naïveté bore
witness that he had not entirely grown up. So Sheila smiled back upon
him with the frankness and abandon one feels so safe in bestowing upon
This paper-man, he likes to be what you call funny. It pays him
well, and he must keep, what you say, his feet in. But I do not like
always his little jokes. I will make a new introduce so. Bertrand
Fauchet, capitaine Chasseurs Alpins, very much at your service,
ma'am'selle. The soldier bowed with solemnity. It was evident he felt
his dignity had been trampled on and resented it.
The little man of the Figaro wagged a forefinger at him. Ah,
tata, garçon. Remember, I am your godfather in the battalion. It is I
that give you the name. Three years ago in the Café des Alcazar I call
you Monsieur Satan, and it stick. You cannot rub it off; you cannot
make France forget it; and when you come back so fierceso terrific
from the fighting at Troyes where you get the Croix de Guerre it is not
for Capitaine Fauchet the men shoutnon. It is for Monsieur Satan they
shout, for the devil of a Blue Devil. Eh, mon ami? And he laid a
loving arm across the other's shoulder.
During the crossing the four met often; the journalist always kindly
and loquacious, Monsieur Satan always shy. Sometimes he joined Sheila
alone for an after-dinner promenade. It was always at that hour when
the day was fading into a luminous twilight that told of stars to come,
and they tramped the decks in a strange, companionable silence. It was
plain that Monsieur Satan did not wish to talk, and Sheila gave him
freely the silence he craved. Once he stopped and looked over the
railing, hard at the sea horizon.
Did you ever think, ma'am'selle, he said, softly, how the great
ocean shows nothing of the war? The underneath may be choked with
sunken ships, the murdered ships, but the ocean has no scars. It is not
like our sorrowful Franceall scars. SoI find it good to look at
this and forget. Perhaps, some day, a peace like this will come to the
heart of Bertrand Fauchet. Qui savez?
And another time, when he was wishing her good night, he added:
Dormez biensans songes, ma'am'selle. The dreams, they are bad.
But generally he left her with just a pressure of the hand and an
Au 'voir. And yet there was always in his voice a suppressed
gratitude as for a gift.
When Peter was alone with him he tried to draw him out and got
nothing for his pains. The story he had scented on their day of
embarkation had undoubtedly left no trail. When he aired his
disappointment good-naturedly to Sheila she only laughed at him.
If you want a story go to some of the other devils; we'll never
know more of Monsieur Satan till Fate turns interlocutor.
Well, he's certainly the most slumbering devil I ever saw. If
that's the worst French soil can propagate, it's hard to believe the
Germans they tackle get much of an inferno.
In spite of his skepticism, however, Peter had an unexpected glimpse
into that inferno the day before they landed. For thirty-six hours they
had been running through the danger zone with life-boats loose on their
davits, life-belts ready for adjustment, and nerves tense. Then the
tension had suddenly relaxed, everybody talked with everybody else,
displaying a lack of restraint that bordered on intimacy. Peter and
Sheila were strolling an almost deserted deck toward a group amidships.
As they neared it they saw it was dominated by two principal
figuresone a professional philanthropist with more sentiment than
judgment, and the other Monsieur Satan. The philanthropist was talking
in what Peter termed an open-throttle voice.
But you don't mean you would ever harm a defenseless prisoner,
Captain Fauchet? Of course you would never allow your men to kill a
fallen enemy or one supplicating mercy.
Supplicating mercybah! The mouth that could smile so boyishly
had a diabolical twist, the eyes blazed like hell-fires, as Peter said
afterward. There is only the one Boche that is safe, madamethe dead
Boche. When we find them wriggling I teach my men to make them
safequickly! The lips smiled sardonically. Monsieur Satan was a boy
no longer; in some inexplicable fashion he had come into full
possession of that Mephistophelian middle-age.
But the lady philanthropist had neither the eyes to see nor the
intelligence to understand. Instead she clumsily parried with invisible
forces. Of course you don't mean that, Captain Fauchet. You are just
making believe you are a wicked man. I believe you are trying to stuff
me, as our American slang puts it. Now if a wounded German came running
toward you crying Kamerad
Sacrebleu! Oui, madame, once I listen to that Kamerad. But
nowjamais! When they call it with their lying tongues I shout them
back 'Kamerad to hell!' and I zigeuille. The right hand made a swift,
subtle twist with a deep thrust. It took little imagination to guess
what it was supposed to be holding. For a second Monsieur Satan's eyes
still continued to blaze at the woman before him; then he tossed back
his head, plunged through the crowd, and was gone.
A devil of a Blue Devil, quoted Peter under his breath. Our
friend, Monsieur Marchand, was not indulging in hyperbole after all.
Sheila watched him go and said nothing.
That twilight, when Monsieur Satan joined her, he looked as harmless
as ever, only a trifle more bashful. Perhaps ma'am'selle will care no
longer to promenade with the wicked man. N'est ce pas?
A brave man, corrected Sheila, and she looked straight into the
black eyes. A brave man who has given himself body and soul to
Body and soul. Oui, ma'am'selle. But listenthere is something
His face changed in a breath, the eyes were blazing again, the mouth
had turned as sinister as his nom de guerre signified. But
something in Sheila's eyes checked him. He put out a hand unconsciously
and laid it on her as though to steady himself. Non, ma'am'selle. One
need not tell everything. You will see enoughenough.
When they landed, his good-bys to her were curiously brief. He held
her hand a second as if he would have said a great deal; then with a
quick Au 'voir he flung it from him and was down the gangway.
But with Peter it was different. He found him alone and vouchsafed him
for the first time what might have been called conversation.
I do not know until yesterday that you were betrothed to
Ma'am'selle O'Leary. That is so?
You have been generous, monsieur. I wish to thank you.
Peter held out his hand. Oh, that's all right. American men aren't
given to being jealous, as a rule. Besides, Miss O'Leary is the sort
one has no right to be selfish with. I guess you understand?
Oui, monsieur. She belongs a little to every one, man or child, who
needs the sympathy, the kind word, the loving heart. Moi, I comprehend.
Some time, perhaps, I render back the service. Then you can trust me;
the honor of Bertrand Fauchet can be trusted with women. Adieu,
By dawn the next day the passengers of the liner were scattering to
the far corners of the fighting-front. Jacques Marchand had gone,
via the office of the Figaro, to Flanders. Monsieur Satan
had been despatched to relieve another captain of the Chasseurs Alpins
with French outposts along the Oise. Peter had received his war permits
to join the A. E. F. in action and Sheila had received her appointment
to an evacuation hospital near the front. Her parting with Peter was
over before either of them had time to realize it. Her train left the
Gare du Nord before his. They had very little to say, these two who had
claimed each other out of all the world and now were putting aside
their personal happiness that they might give their service where it
was so really needed. There were no whimperings of heart, no conscious
self-righteousness; only a great gladness that hard work lay before
them and that they understood each other.
Good-by, man o' mine. Whatever happens, remember I am yours for
always, and death doesn't count, and Sheila laid her lips to Peter's
in final pledge.
I know, said Peter. That's what makes all this so absurdly easy.
And, sweetheart, you are to remember this, never put any thought of me
before what you feel you have got to do. Don't bungle your instincts.
I'd swear by them next to God's own.
And so they went their separate ways.
There was no apprenticeship for Sheila in the hospital whither she
was sent. The chief of the surgical staff gave a cursory glance over
the letter she had brought from the San, signed by the three leading
surgeons in that state; then he looked hard at her.
Hm ... m! And strong into the bargain. You're a godsend, Miss
Before the day had gone she was in charge of one of the
operating-rooms; by midnight they had fifty-three major operations. And
the days that followed were much the same; they passed more like dreams
than realities. There were a few sane, clear moments when Sheila
realized that the sky was very blue or leaden gray; that the sun shone
or did not shine, that the wards were cheery places and that all about
her were faces consecrated to unselfish work or to patient suffering.
These were the times when she could stop for a chat with the boys or
write letters home for them. But for the most part she was being hurled
through a maelstrom of operations and dressings with just enough time
between to snatch her share of food and sleep. Her enthusiasm was
unbounded for the marvelous efficiency of it all. She could never have
believed that so many delicate operations could have been done in so
few hours, that wounds could heal with such rapidity, that nerves could
rebound and hearts come sturdily through to go about their business of
keeping their owners alive. And every boy brought to her room was a
fighting chance; but the fight was up to her and the surgeons, and they
fought as archangels might to restore a new heaven on a befouled earth.
Life had always seemed full and worth while to her. Now it seemed a
super-life, shorn of everything petty and futile.
War may be hell; very likely it is for those who make it; but for
us who do the patching afterward it's like the Day of Creation. I feel
as if I'd put new souls into mended bodies. And the gruff, overtired
chief who heard her smiled and mumbled to himself, Those of us who
survive will all have new souls; old ones have atrophied and dropped
Fall was slow in coming. Instead of settling down to trench
hibernating as had been the custom for three years, the Entente kept to
its periodic attacks, pushing the enemy back farther and still a little
farther, so that trenches were no longer the permanent abiding-places
they had been in the past. Just as every one was prophesying the
numbing of hostilities until spring, the rumor spread of Foch's final
drive. On the heels of the rumor came the drive itself. Hospitals were
taxed to their utmost; surgeons and nurses worked for days with a
maximum of four hours' sleep a night. In Sheila's hospital Anzacs,
Territorials, poilus, Americans, Tommies, and Zouaves poured in
indiscriminately. Mattresses covered every square inch on the floor and
canvas was stretched in the yard over many more. The number of
operating-tables gave out at the beginning and they used stretchers,
boardsanything that could hold a wounded man.
It's our last pull, said the doctors. If we can keep going
threefour more days, we'll have as many months to get back some of
Of course we'll keep going, said the nurses. And they slept in
their clothes for those days and did dressings in their sleep.
When it was over and they had settled down to what was near-routine
again they began to sort out the minor cases and pass on the
convalescents. Sheila, who had slept on the threshold of her room for
weeks, was dragged forth by the chief to make the rounds with him and
dispose of the negligible cases. It was in the last ward that she came
upon Monsieur Satan.
From across the room she was conscious of the change in him. He was
not much hurtan exploding shell had damaged one foot and his heart
had been strained. It was a mental change that caught Sheila's
attention. The eyes had grown abnormally alert and cunning; there was
nothing boyish or naïve left to the mouth; it was sinister, vengeful,
unrelenting. He was in a wheel-chair between two husky giants of
Australians who kept wary eyes upon him. As the surgeon and the nurse
reached them, Monsieur Satan tossed his head back with a sudden
recognition, and Sheila held out a friendly hand.
I am glad to see you again, Captain Fauchet; not much of a scratch,
The eyes held their cunning, the sinister droop to the lips
intensified as they curved mockingly to greet her: Bon! It is
Ma'am'selle O'Leary. The scratch it is nothing. Bertrand Fauchet has
still the two good hands to kill with. He curled them as if over the
hilts of invisible weapons, and with lightning thrusts attacked the air
about him. Une, deux, trois, quatre, cinqHa-ha! and the appalling
pantomime ended with a diabolical laugh.
In some inexplicable fashion he had come into full possession of his
nom de guerre. Sheila had thought her nerves steel, her control
unshakable; but she was shuddering when they reached the corridor.
There she broke through the orthodox repression of her calling and
quizzed the chief.
What's happened? He wasn't like that when I knew him. If it was
witch-times we'd say he'd been caught by the evil eye.
Same thing, brought up to date. It's shell shock. Memory all right,
nerves and brain speeded up like a maniac; he's come back obsessed with
the idea he must kill. First night he was brought in, before we knew
what the matter was, he knifed the two Germans in his ward. Since then
we've kept him safe between these two Australians, but he has their
nerves almost shattered. The chief smiled grimly.
To Sheila it seemed diabolically logical. What was more natural in
this business of war than that when one's reason went over the top it
should grip the mad desire to kill? But the horror of it! She turned
back to the day's work white and sick at heart. For twenty-four hours
she accepted it as inevitable. At the end of that time her memory was
harkening back to the bashful boy of the French liner, the boy who
could smile like a lost cherub, who looked at her with the fineness of
soul that made her companionship a willing gift. Had that fine, simple
part of him been blown to eternity and could eternity alone bring it
back? And what of the years before him, the years such a physique was
bound to claim? Did it mean a mad-cell with a keeper?
At the end of a third day the old Leerie of the San was walking
through the wards of the hospital with her lamp trimmed and burning,
casting such a radiance on that eager face that the men turned in their
cots to catch the last look of her as she passed; and after she had
gone blinked across at one another as if to say: Did you see it? Did
you feel it? And what was it, anyway?
She was looking for some one; and she found him with a leg shot off,
playing a mouth-organ in the farthest corner of one ward. He was a
Chasseur Alpin; he had been wounded in the same charge as Monsieur
Satan. Sheila was searching for cause and effect and she prayed this
man might help her find them. As she sat down on the edge of the cot
she thanked her particular star for a speaking knowledge of French.
Bon jour, mon ami. I have come for your help. C'est pour Capitaine
The mouth-organ dropped to the floor. The eyes that had been merely
pleasantly retrospective gathered gloom. Mais, que voulez-vous? All
the others say it is hopeless. Tell me, ma'am'selle, what can I do?
I don't knowI hardly know what any of us can do. But we must try
something. We know so little about shell shock, so often the impossible
happens. Tell me, were you with him?
The soldier hitched himself forward and leaned over on one elbow.
Toujours, ma'am'selle, always I am with him. Listen. I can tell you. I
was born in the little town of Tourteron where Bertrand Fauchet was
bornand where Nanette came to live with her brother Paul and their
uncle, the good abbé. I was not of their class; but we all played
together as children and even then Bertrand loved Nanette. The year war
came they were betrothed. I am not tiring ma'am'selle?
No. Go on.
We both enlisted in the Chasseurs Alpins. They made Bertrand a
lieutenant, then a captainhe was a man to lead. And how kind, how
good to his men! That was before he had won his nom de guerrebefore
they called him Monsieur Satan. If there was a danger he would see it
first and race for it, to get ahead of his men. He would give them no
orders that he would not fill with them; and always so pitying for the
prisoners. 'Treat them kindly, mes garçons,' he would cry; and what
mercy he would show! Mon Dieu! I have seen him, when his mouth was
cracking with the thirst, pour the last drop from his canteen down the
throat of a dying Boche, or share the last bread in his baluchon with a
wounded prisoner. And the many times he has crept into No Man's Land to
bring in a blessé we could hear moaning in the dark; and when it turned
out a Boche, as so often it did, he would carry him with the same
tenderness. That was Bertrand Fauchet when war began. Once I ask him,
'Why are you so careful with the Boches?' and he smiled that little-boy
smile of his and say: 'Why not? We are still gentlemen if we are at
war. And listen, Françoissome day our little Tourteron may fall into
Boche hands. I would have them know many kindnesses from us before that
Eh bien, Tourteron did fall into their hands, ma'am'selle, and
there it has been until a fortnight ago. The German ranks swept it like
a sea and made it their own, as they made the houses, the cattle, the
orchards, the maids, quite their own. You comprehend? After that
Bertrand fight like the devil and pray like the saint. Then one day a
Boche stabs PaulNanette's brother Paulas he stoops to succor him.
Fauchet sees; and he hears the tales that come across the trenches to
us. The abbé is crucified to the chapel door because he gives sanctuary
to the young girls; Père Fauchet is shot in the Square with other
anciens for example. After that Capitaine Fauchet gives us the order
'no mercy,' and we kill in battle and out. Ma'am'selle shuddersmais,
que voulez-vous? He is Monsieur Satan now; but I still think he prays.
And now comes the big drive of the Supreme Command. Village after
village that has been Boche land for four years becomes French again.
The people go mad with joy; they come rushing out to meet our regiments
like souls turned out of hell by God Himself. But such souls,
ma'am'selle! Be thankful in your heart you shall never have the little
places of America thrown back to you by a retreating Boche army, never
look into the faces of the people who have been made to serve their
desires. It is like when the tide goes out on the coast and leaves
behind it wreckage and slime. Only here it was human wreckage.
At last the night came when we lay outside Tourteron. Bertrand
called for me and we bivouacked together. We were to attack some time
before dawn, after the moon had set. We could not trust our tonguesat
such times things are better left unsaid; so we lay and smoked and
prayed against what we feared. Only once Bertrand spoke'François,
to-morrow will see me always a devil or a saint, le bon Dieu knows
The moon shone bright till after midnight. We lay under cover of
thin weeds, and beyond lay the meadow and stream and then the town.
About twelve we heard the crisp bark of a snipertwo, three shots;
then everything was still as death again. We were watching the shadows
play across the meadow and timing the minutes before the moon would
sink, when out of one of those shadows she camestraight across the
meadow and the moonlight. It was Nanette, ma'am'selle. We knew it on
the instant. She had a way of carrying the head and a step one could
not forget. It was she the sniper had been after. One side of her face
was crimson, the other side white and beautiful. But she did not seem
to know, and the first look I had told me she had gone quite mad.
I could feel Bertrand Fauchet stiffen by my side; I could feel him
reach out for my Rosalie and grip it fast. Then he began a low or
crooning call. He dared not call out loudhe dared not move to give
our troops away! It was to be a surprise attack. So all he could do was
to wait and call softly as to a little child, 'Nanette chérie, allons,
There had been a skirmish in the meadow two days before; we had
given way and the handful of dead we had left behind were still
unburied. I think Nanette had heard that the Chasseurs Alpins had come
and she had stolen out to find her lover. She came slowly, so slowly,
and frail as a shadow herself. As she passed each corpse she knelt
beside it and sang the foolish little berceuse that Poitou mothers sing
to their babies. We could hear the humming far away, and as she came
nearer we could hear the words. Ma'am'selle knows them, perhaps?
'Ah! Ah! papillon, marie-toi
Hélas, mon maître, je n'ai pas de quoi,
La dans ma bergeri-e
J'ai cent moutons; ça s'ra pour faire les noces de papillon.'
[Illustration: The first look I had told me she had gone quite
The soldier crooned the song through to himself as if under the
spell of the story he was telling. Then he went on. She sang it
through each time, patting the blue coats, pushing back the caps of
those who still wore them, looking hard into each dead face. But she
would always turn away with the little shake of the head, so triste,
ma'am'selle. And all the time the man beside me calling out his heart
in a whisper'Nanette Nanetteallons, chérie!'
She was not twenty yards away, the arms of Bertrand Fauchet were
reaching out to take her, when, pouf! the sniper barked again and
Nanette went down like a pale cornflower before the reaper. And all the
time we laid there, waiting for the moon to set. When we charge we
charge like devils. We swept Tourteron clean of the Boches; and we
take no prisoners! For that night every man remember the one thing,
they love their captain and they see what he has seen. But before the
day is gone we are sane men again, all but our captain. The shell that
takes my leg takes what pity, what softness he has left, and leaves him
with just the frenzy to kill. And it is not for me to wondermoifor
I know all.
The story haunted Sheila for days; always when she closed her eyes
she could see the girl Nanette coming across the meadow in the
moonlight. She never failed to open them before she saw too far. The
plaintive melody of the berceuse rang in her ears on duty and off, till
at last she could stand it no longer. It was the old dominant Leerie
who hunted up the chief.
Colonel Sparks, I want you to put me on Captain Fauchet's case. The
work is lighter now; you can do with one less operating-room. I know
it's bad form to interfere, but I want my chance on that case.
The chief looked his surprise. I've heard of your fondness for
breaking ruleswondered when you were going to begin. I don't mind
giving you up, but that case is hopeless. I'm sure of it. Listenand
this isn't for publicationFauchet got out of his ward again, hid in
the corridors until the nurse was gone, and killed another German last
night. That man is incurably insane and we can't keep him here any
Please! There was a look about Leerie that could not be denied, a
compelling prayer for the right to save another human being. You could
keep him a little longer; I'll promise there'll be no more dead
Germans. Give me my chance.
What's your idea?
The girl raised a deprecating hand. Something so crazy that you'd
laugh at it. Let me keep it to myselfand give me Captain Fauchet.
In the end Leerie had her wish. The little room at the end of a
ward, used heretofore for supplies, was turned into a private room, and
Monsieur Satan was moved in, with Sheila O'Leary as guardian. It was
very evident that the patient approved. Once the door was closed behind
them, he beckoned the nurse to him with malignant joy.
They are all Germans out thereI've just discovered it. Sooner or
later they will all have to be destroyed. You are an American. I can
swear to that, for I saw you on a liner coming from America and your
French is so bad, pardonnez-moi, it could not be anything but American.
That is why I trust you. You are with me against the Boches, n'est-ce
Sheila solemnly agreed.
Eh bien, listen. The world is slowly turning Boche. You pour a
little Pinard into water and what do you get? Crimson! Well, you
scatter a few Boches over the earth and what have you? A German world
colored Prussian blue. Come closer, ma'am'selle. He put out nervous
hands and drew her down so he could whisper his words. And the cure,
ma'am'selle, the cure? Ah, moi, Monsieur Satan, knows it.
They spent the rest of the day in discussing the killing qualities
of shells, grenades, bombs; the stabbing qualities of bayonets,
daggers, swords; the exploding properties of dynamite, nitroglycerin,
TNT, and others. As they talked Monsieur Satan sucked in his breath
exultantly and hissed between his teeth, Zigouille, toujours
zigouille! while his hand stabbed and twisted into the air.
Another day and he had taken Sheila entirely into his confidence. I
have my mind made. You shall hear the cure, ma'am'selle, for you and I
will be partners. A Boche world can be cured but the one
waydestroyed, completely destroyed, and he laughed uproariously.
Then his eyes narrowed; he was all cunning and intensity, a beast of
prey crouched for the spring. Ah, but we must whisper; there are spies
everywhere. The men in the wards are all spies pretending they are
French wounded; and the doctors are spies. Oh, the Boches are damnably
clever, but we will be more damnablewe will outwit them. We will blow
them into a million atoms. They will make good fertilizer for French
vineyards in a hundred years. Eh bien?
So Sheila became partner in evolving the most colossal crime the
world had ever known. Everything played into her hands and gave
credence to her deceptions. The great cases that came by night packed
with dressings were to Monsieur Satan air-bombs with propellers. They
were to be set loose on the day appointed in such millions that the air
would be charged with them, the sun blotted out; and they would drop in
exploding masses over the earth, exterminating humanity.
They shall be like the hordes of locusts that nearly destroyed
Egyptonly these shall destroy. And how every one shall run in terror!
You will see, ma'am'selle. It will be a good sight. And Monsieur Satan
rubbed his hands in keen anticipation.
The tanks of oxygen placed on motor-trucks, the gasoline-tanks, were
nothing else than a deadly gas. The partners had concocted it out of
the strangest compounds, unshed-tears, heart-agony, fear-in-the-night,
snipers' barks, and moonshine. Monsieur Satan chuckled over the formula
and said he would swear not a living soul could withstand a single
whiff of it. It was agreed that the makers of the gasmythological
beings Sheila had createdshould be killed at once so that their
secret should never be discovered; and Sheila herself was despatched to
compass the deed. Before she returned the bell in the church near by
was tolling for their parting souls; and Monsieur Satan chuckled as he
cast admiring glances at this prompt executioner.
You are a good pupil, ma'am'selle; you learn quickly. Now the
maps. And they fell to diagraming where the piping for this deadly gas
should be laid.
Not an inch of the old world was to be left peopled; from east to
west and north to south everything was to be destroyed. No, not
everything. Even as Monsieur Satan decreed it he hesitated. There are
the children, I thinkyes, I think they shall live. Their hearts are
pure; the Boches cannot contaminate them. They shall live after us with
no memory of evil, so they can build again the beautiful world. He
stopped and looked across at the nurse with a haunting, wistful stare.
Tell me, ma'am'selle, was the world ever beautiful?
Very beautiful, capitaine.
He passed an uncertain hand over his eyes. I seem to remember that
it was; but now I see it always running with red blood boiling from
After that the children were always in his mind; as he planned the
destruction of the rest of the world he planned their re-creation.
Thereupon Sheila saw to it that the war orphans from the crêche
came to play in the hospital gardensunder the window of the little
room. Soon it became a custom for Monsieur Satan to look for them, to
ask their names, and wave gaily to them. And they waved back. And the
chief of the surgical staff began to marvel that Monsieur Satan should
give no more trouble.
Among them was a little girl, a wan, ethereal little creature who
sat apart from the other children and watched their play with far-away,
haunting eyes, as if she wondered what in the world they were doing.
Sheila had found toys for hera ball, a doll, a jumping-jackand
tried to coax her to play. But she only clung to them for their rare
value as possessions; as a means to enjoyment they were quite
meaningless. From one of the older children Sheila got her story. Her
father had been killed, her mother was with the Boches; there was no
one else. With an aching heart the nurse wondered how many thousand
Madelines France held.
One day she brought the child in to Monsieur Satan and repeated her
story. He listened wisely, patting her on the head, and then whispered
to Sheila: Ah, what did I say! These Bochesthey get everythingthe
mothers, the sweethearts. Then to Madeline: Listen, ma pauvre; you
shall have the sadness no longer. Monsieur Satan will promise you
happiness, ah, such happiness in the new beautiful world he is
preparing for you. Now go. But 'sh ... sh! You must say nothing.
From this moment Sheila became senior partner. It was she who
suggested all the extraordinary horrors Monsieur Satan had overlooked.
It was she who speeded up time and plans. I have the hospitals and
streets all mined in case the flying bombs should not come thick
enough; and I have the wells poisoned. Isn't that a clever idea?
The man looked disturbed. That's as clever as the Boches. But the
childrenwhere will they drink? You must take care of the children.
Then Sheila played her trump card and said the thing she had been
waiting so long to say. Like Monsieur Satan she hissed the words
between her teeth, while her face took on all the diabolical cunning it
could muster. The childrenbah! What do they matter, after all? I
have decidedthe children shall be destroyed.
Monsieur Satan sprang from his chair. He pinioned her arms behind
her, forcing her back so he could look deep into her eyes with all the
hate and mercilessness his soul harbored. Touch Madelinethe
children, never! Let so much as one little hair of their heads be
harmed and IMonsieur Satanwill kill you!
She left him with a non-committal shrug, left him panting and
swearing softly under his breath.
From that moment he watched Sheila suspiciously and followed the
children with jealous eyes. For Madeline he called constantly; and she
sat on his knee by the hour while he danced the jumping-jack
outrageously and taught her to sing to the doll a certain foolish
berceuse that Poitou mothers sing to their babies.
Sheila had planned to stage their day of destruction with the craft
of a master manager. She had had to take certain officials into her
confidence and get the chief to sign such orders as had never been
issued in a hospital before. But in the end Fate staged it, and did it
infinitely better than the nurse had even conceived it. The hour of
doom struck a full half-day too soonthe children were playing in the
gardens, under Monsieur Satan's window instead of being in the cellar
of the crêche as he had decreed; and Sheila was helping another
head nurse do dressings in the ward outside.
There were only a few minutes after the siren blew before the first
of the great Fokkers appeared over the city. Monsieur Satan's mind went
strangely blank; the children stopped their play and gaped stupidly
into the sky; Sheila did nothing but listen. Then the bombs began to
rain down on the city. The noise was terrific. The children ran
aimlessly about, shrieking pitifully. It was this that set Monsieur
Satan's mind to working again. He broke out of the little room like the
madman he was. He might have been Lucifer himself as he stumbled along
on his bandaged foot, his hair erect, his eyes blazing a thousand
inextinguishable fires. In the corridor he came upon Sheila, with other
nurses and doctors, hurrying to gather in the out-of-door patients. As
he overtook them a bomb struck the hospital.
Sacrebleu! he shouted. You bungler! you fool of a destroyer! It
was not the hourand the childrenFirst I go to save them. Afterward
I come to kill you, ma'am'selle.
He was out before them all, through the entrance and down the steps,
when another bomb struck. The doorway and the pillars were crushed to
gravel and Monsieur Satan was hurled headlong across the gardens. In an
instant he was up, stumbling frantically toward the children, his arms
outstretched in appealing vindication to those small, quivering faces
turned to him in their hour of annihilation. Mes enfants, have no
fear. I comeI come.
A third bomb fell. The children were tumbled in a heap like a pile
of jackstraws. Monsieur Satan had time enough to see them go down
before a fourth followed with the quick precision of an automatic. Yes,
he saw; and in that horror-smiting moment believed it all a part of his
great scheme of destruction; then the universe went to pieces about him
and something crumbled inside his brain. He stood transfixed to the
earth, staring helplessly in front of him, as immovable as a graven
It is one of the anomalies of war that the things that apparently
destroy sometimes re-create. The gigantic impact of exploding masses
may destroy a man's hearing, his sight, his memory, or his mercy, and
leave him thus maimed for all time. But it happens, sometimes, that the
first shock is followed by another which restores with the suddenness
of a miracle and makes the man whole again. That delicate bit of human
mechanism which has been battered out of place is battered in, by the
So it was with Monsieur Satan; and when Sheila and the chief found
him he was rubbing his eyes as children will who wake and find
themselves in strange places. He saw only the chief at first and tried
to pull himself together.
Ah, monsieur, I think some things have happenedbut I cannot as
yet make the full report. I am Bertrand Fauchet, Chasseur Alpin, and
he tried to click his bandaged heel against his shoe. Then he looked
beyond and saw Sheila. It was as if he was seeing her for the first
time since they had separated at the French quay. Bon Dieu! It is
Ma'am'selle O'Leary. He held out a shaking hand. We meet in the thick
of waris it not so?
His eyes left Sheila and traveled apprehensively to the children.
They were wriggling themselves free of one another; frightened and
bruised, but not hurt, barring one. The smallest of them all lay on the
outskirts of the heap, quite motionless.
If you will permit, Monsieur Satan stumbled on and gently picked
up Madeline. He looked all compassion and bewilderment. I do not
altogether understand, ma'am'selle. But this little girl, I should like
to carry her to some hospital and see that all is well with her. I seem
to remember that she belongs to me. He smiled apologetically at the
two watching him, then stumbled ahead with his burden.
At the base hospital they gave Sheila O'Leary full credit for the
curing of Bertrand Fauchet, which, of course, she flatly denied. She
laid it entirely to the interference of Fate and a child. But the
important thing is that Bertrand Fauchet left the hospital a sound
manand that Madeline went with him, each holding fast to the hand of
She is mine now, he said, as he took leave of Sheila. Le bon Dieu
saw fit to send me in the place of that other papa. Eh, p'tite? He
stroked the hair back from the little face that looked worshipfully up
at him. It is for us who remember to make these little ones forget.
N'est-ce pas, ma'am'selle? And we are going back to the world together,
to find somewhere the happiness and the great love for Madeline.
Chapter VII. THE LAD WHO OUTSANG THE
In the American Military Hospital No. 10 one could always count on
Ward 7-A beginning the day with a genuine fanfare of good spiritsthat
is to say, ever since that ward had acquired a distinction and
personality of its own. On this particular morning the doors of the
wards were open, for orderlies were scrubbing floors, and Sheila
O'Leary in the operating-room above could catch the words of the third
chorus that had rung through the hospital since the ban of silence had
Gra-ma-cree ma-cruiskeen, Slainte-geal ma-vour-neen,
Gra-ma-cree a-coolin bawn, bawn, bawn,
As usual, Larry's crescendo boomed in the lead. How those lads could
In the regular order of things it was time for dressings; but the
regular order of things was so often broken at No. 10 that it had
nearly become a myth. The operating staff had been steadily at it since
eleven the night before. If nothing more came in, they might be through
by eleven now and the dressings come only two hours late. That would be
rare good luck. Under the spell of the singing the tired backs of
surgeons and nurses straightened unconsciously; cramped muscles seemed
to lose some of their kinks; everybody smiled without knowing itdown
to the last of the boys who were waiting their turn in the corridor
outside. The boys had not been in the hospital long enough to know
anything about Ward 7-A, but the challenge to courage and good spirits
in that chorus of voices was too dominant to be denied, even among the
sorest wounded of them. One after another rallied to it like veterans.
Gra-ma-cree ma-cruiskeen bawn, boomed Larry's voice to the finish.
The chief of the Surgical Staff looked at Sheila as she handed him
the sutures he was reaching for. They're the best we've had yet, eh?
Not one with half a fighting chance, and just listen to the ones who
are pulling through.
They're Irish. There was a tinge of pride in the nurse's voice.
The chief smiled. It's like flipping a coin to find out whether
you're more Irish or American. Sometimes it's heads, sometimes it's
tails. Which is it, honestly?
Honestly, both! Sheila laughed softly. Then the door opened to
admit the last of the stretchers, and she sobered for an instant until
she saw the faces of the boys. She knew why they were smiling, and her
eyes shone in the old luminous, Leerie fashion as she greeted them,
each as if he had been an old friend.
There's a welcome for you. Those lads you hear have gone through
what you are going through, only a lot worse. Listen, and think of that
as you go under. They'll be singing again in a moment. And as she
slipped the ether cone over the face of the first, up from Ward 7-A in
rollicking cadences came another chorus:
Wi' me bundle on me shoulder, sure, there's not a man that's
I am leavin' dear old Ireland without warnin'.
For I've lately took the notion for to cross the briny ocean,
An' I'm off for Philadelphia in the mornin'.
The smile on the face of the first boy spread to a grin under its
covering of gauze. I'm off for Philadelphia, too, he mumbled,
thickly, and the eyes that looked into Sheila's for a few last nebulous
seconds showed all the comfortable security of a child's.
They were hard at it for another hour, and while Sheila O'Leary's
hands flew from sterilizer to ether cone, from handing instruments and
holding forceps to tying sutures and packing wounds, her mind was busy
with something that lay far beyond. To this girl, who had come across
to do her bit, life had become a jumble of paradoxes. She had come to
give, out of the bounty of her skill and her womanhood; instead she had
received far more abundantly from the largess of universal brotherhood
and sacrifice. She had come to minister, and she had been ministered
unto by every piece of human wreckage swept across the door-sill of the
hospital. She had thought to dispense life, and to her ever-increasing
wonder she had been given a life so boundless that it reached beyond
all previous dreams of space or time. She was learning what thousands
had been learning since the war began, those who had thrown their
fortunes into its crucible, and that is that if anything comes out at
all, it comes out in the form of spirit and not of flesh.
Back in the old days at the sanitarium she had felt herself bound
only to the problems and emergencies of war. It had never occurred to
her then that in an incredibly short time she would be bothering about
matters of adjustment afterward. With peace already on the horizon, she
was troubled a hundredfold more than she had been when indefinite war
was the promise for the future. From the beginning she had marveled at
the buoyancy and optimism of the men who were focusing their lives
within the limits of each day. Many of them never thought in terms of
more than twenty-four hours; often it was less. They had learned the
knack of intensive living. World-old truths were flashed into their
minds like spot-lights; friends were made and lost in a few hours;
eternity was visioned and compassed in a minute. The last words Jerry
Donoghue of Ward 7-A had said before he went west came back to Sheila
with a curious persistence.
When all's said and done, miss, it's been a grand lifeBrave lads
for comradesa lass who kept faith to the enda good fight an'
somethin' good to fight forNear five years of itwi' perdition
grinnin' ye in the face an' the Holy Mother walkin' at your backSure,
I might ha' lived fifty year in Letterkenny an' never tasted life half
That was the strange part of it; they had all found life plentiful
an' sweetnurses, surgeons, soldiers alike. They might be homesick,
worn out with the business of fighting and patching up afterward,
eternally aching in body and heart with the long stretches of horror
and work with little sleep and less food, and yet not a handful out of
every thousand of them would have chosen to quit if they could.
But when the quitting-time came, when war was over, what was going
to happen then? Sheila wondered it about the boys who lay unconscious
on their stretchers, packed in the room about her. She wondered it
about the boys conscious in their cots below. Most of all she wondered
it about Ward 7-A. It was going to hurt so many to have to look beyond
the immediate day into a procession of numberless days stretching into
years and years. The sudden relaxing from big efforts to little ones,
that would hurt, too, like the uncramping of over-strained muscles. And
the being thrown back on oneself to think, to act, to feel for oneself
againwhat of that? It was like dismembering a gigantic machine and
scattering the infinitesimal parts of it broadcast over the earth to
function alone. Only many of the parts would be imperfect, and all
would have souls to reckon with.
But of the puzzle of it one fact stood out grippingly vital to
Sheila. No soul must be thrown out of the melting-pot back into the old
accustomed order of life and be left to feel unfit or unnecessary.
There must be a big, compelling place for every man who came home. Of
all the tragedies of war, she could conceive no greater one than to
have these men who had put no limit to the price they were willing to
pay to make the world safe for democracy sent back useless, to mark
time to eternity.
But who was going to keep this from happening? How were the
thousands of mutilés to be made free of the burden of dependence and
toleration? Who was going to guard them against atrophy of spirit? The
nurse gathered up the last of the instruments and threw them in the
sterilizer. As she took off her apron and wiped the beads of sweat from
her face, her chief eyed her suspiciously.
Get your coffee before you touch those dressings in 7-A.
Understand? When did you have your clothes off last? He growled like a
good-natured but spent old dog.
The girl gave her uniform a disgusted look. Pretty bad, isn't it? I
put it on fourno, five days ago, but I've had my shoes off twice.
She laid an impulsive hand on the chief's arm. Promise about the
coffee if you'll promise to do the dressings with me instead of Captain
Griggs. He calls them the 'down-and-outers.' I can't quite stand for
Well, what would you call 'em?
The invincibles, she declared. Wouldn't you?
But for all her promise, Sheila O'Leary did not get past the door of
7-A without putting in her head and calling out a good morning.
Whereupon twelve Irish tongues, dripping almost as many brogues, flung
it back at her with a vengeance.
There were thirteen of them, all told, the remnants of a company of
Royal Irish that had crossed the Scheldt with Haig. As Larry Shea had
put it on the day of their arrival, they made as grand leavin's as one
could expect under the circumstances. The ambulances that had brought
them, along with the additional seven who had gone west, had pivoted
wrong at one of the crossroads, so that the American Military Hospital
No. 10 had fallen heir to them instead of the B. H. T. It is recorded
that even the chief showed consternation when he looked them over, and
Larry, catching the look and being the only man conscious at the time,
Well, sir, if ye think we're a mess, ye should have seen the
Fritzies we left behind. Furninst them we're an ordther of perfectly
decent lads. And Larry had crumpled up into a grinning
It was Larry who led the singing; it was Larry now who, with an eye
on the one silent figure in the ward and another on the nurse in the
doorway, threw a wheedling remark to hold her with them a moment by
way of heartenment to Jamie. Wait a bit, miss. Patsy MacLean was just
askin' were ye a good hand at layin' a ghost?
Before Sheila could answer, Harrigan, an Irish-American orderly,
stepped over the threshold and shook a fist at 7-A.
Aw, cut it out. The way this bunch works Miss O'Leary makes me
sick. Don't cher know she hasn't been off duty for twenty-four hours?
Let her go, can't cher?
Johnnie O'Neil, from the far end of the room, smiled the smile of a
cherub. An' don't ye know, laddie, that it's always the saints in
heaven that has the worst sinners on their hands? 'Tis jealous ye are,
not being wicked enough to get a bit more of her attention yerself.
Sheila smiled impartially at them both, and with a parting promise
of dressings to come she hurried off. Ward 7-A settled itself to wait
for the worst and the best that the day had to offer. The room was a
very small one, and the thirteen cots barely crowded into it, with
space at the foot for Jamie O'Hara's wheel-chair to go the length and
turn. They had been kept together by Sheila's urgent plea that they
should be given a ward to themselves instead of scattering them through
the larger wards, and it is doubtful if in all the war a more quietly
merciful act had been executed. Not one of the thirteen but would have
scorned to show any sign of dependence on the others, yet intuitively
the girl had guessed what they would be able to give one another in the
matter of spiritual succor. The way they continually hectored and
teased, matched wits and good humor, as they had matched strength and
daring in the old fighting-days before the hospital, was meat and drink
to the souls struggling for dominance over mutilated bodies. United,
they were men; separatedSheila had often shuddered to think what
pitiful, pain-tortured beings they might have been.
When she returned to the ward the chief was with her, and their
combined arrival brought forth a prolonged, fortissimoed wail shammed
forth in good Gaelic fashion. Larry's great hairy arm shot out, and a
vindictive forefinger was wagged in the direction of the third cot.
Ye'd best begin with Patsy MacLean this day. He hasn't been laid
out first in a fortnight.
The others, taking the words from Larry's tongue, chorused, Aye,
begin wi' Patsy, the devil take him!
Why the devil? Wouldn't Fritzie do as well? The chief smiled
indulgently upon them all.
'Tis a case for the devil, this time. Tell the colonel what you
were putting over us last night, Michael Kenney, lance-corporal,
growled through an undercurrent of chuckle.
Patrick MacLean, the color-sergeant, grinned as he reached out a
welcoming hand to both surgeon and nurse. He was a prime favorite with
them, as with his own lads. When pain wrestled for the upper hand, when
things went wrong, moods turned black, or nights stretched interminably
long and unendurable, Patsy could always turn the trick and produce
something so absorbingly interesting or ridiculous that the pain and
the long nights were forgotten. How well Sheila remembered that first
time they had dressed his wounds! The muscles had stood out on his arms
like whipcords; sweat poured down his face. He fainted twice, each time
coming round to drawl out his story in that unforgetable Irish way:
We were dthrivin' them afore us like sheep, all so tame an'
sociable I was forgettin' where I was. Somehow the notion took me I was
back on the moorlan' drivin' the flocks for my father, when a Fritzie
overhead drops a bomb on our captain.... It spatters the mud in my eyes
somethin' terrible, an' when I rubs them clean again the machine-guns
were cacklin' all round us like a parcel o' hens layin' eggs; we'd
stumbled on a nest of them. Holy Pether, I was mad! I was for stickin'
the colors in the muzzle o' one o' their bloody guns, an' I sings out
as I rush 'em, 'Erin go bragh!' Then down I goes. Culmullen, there,
comes staggerin' up. 'Take the colors,' says I. 'I've got no legs to
carry 'em on.' 'I can't,' says he; 'I've got no arms to shoulder
'em.'... A bit aftherwards I sees Jamiehe's second in commandcome
runnin' up wild, but his arms an' legs is still in pairs, so I shouts
afore things go black, 'The colors, Jamie, ye take the colors.' 'Wish
to God, Patsy, I could,' says he, 'but I can't see.'... Faith, weren't
we a healthy lot, miss? An' we the Royal Irish! He had grinned then as
he was grinning now.
Culmullen in the next cot, a schoolmaster from Ballygowan, raised
his head. Miss O'Leary, Patsy's the worst liar in Ulster. Ye might
keep that in mind whenever he has anything to tell. If I had had the
schooling of ye, I'd have thrashed the thruth into ye, ye rascal! Will
ye kindly lean over and brush the hair out of my eyes, and if ye tickle
my nose this time, I'll have Larry thrash ye for me the instant he's
The color-sergeant pulled himself over and gently brushed back the
straggling hair. Such a purty lad! he murmured, sarcastically.
What's an arm or two so long's the Fritzies didn't ruin one o' them
handsome featuresnor shorten the length o' your tongue.
What is it this time, Sergeant? Sheila spoke coaxingly as she bent
to the dressings.
Well, ye know I've said from the beginnin' 'twas no ways natural
havin' them legs o' mine twistin' an' achin' same as if they were still
hangin' onto me. I leave it to both of yez. If they'd been anyways
decent legs an' considerate o' the kindness I've always shown them,
wouldn't they have quit pestherin' me when they took Dutch leave?
Stop moralizin', shouted Johnnie O'Neil, the piper from Antrim.
Get down to the p'int o' your tale.
It hasn't any point: it's flat, growled the lance-corporal.
Unembarrassed, Patsy MacLean went on: I was a-thinkin' this all
over again last night, a-listenin' to the ambulances comin' in, when a
breath o' wind pushes the door open a bit, an' in walks, as natural as
life, the ghost o' them two legs. 'Tis the gospel truth I'm tellin' ye.
They walked a bit bowlegged, same as they always did, straight through
the door an' down the ward. An' the queer thing is they never stopped
by Larry's cot or Casey Ryan'sthe heathen!but came right on to me.
Faith, they wouldn't have had the nerve to stop. The leg Casey lost
was as straight as a hazel wand, same as mine. Larry snorted
The two of yez are jealous. Patsy lowered his voice to a mock
whisper and confided to the chief and Sheila, They know they'll have
to be buyin' a good pair o' shoes an' throwin' the odd away, while I'll
be savin' enough from the shoes I'll never have to be buyin' to keep
mysel' in cigars for the rest o' my life.
But Patsy's wondtherin' can ye lay the ghost, miss? Timothy
Brennan, who had lost the cream of his face, repeated the question
Larry had asked a half-hour before. The rest of the ward tittered
Let me see The Irish blood in her steadied the nurse's hands,
while she drew her lips into quizzical solemnity and winked at
Culmullen over her shoulder. I always thought it was restlessness that
sent ghosts walking. Maybe these have come back, looking for their
The titter broke into a roar of delight. Thrue for ye! shouted
Parley-voo Flynn, pounding the arm of Jamie's chair with his one fist.
All ye've got to do, Patsy, is to be puttin' your boots beside your
chair onct more, an' them legs will scrooch comfortably into them an'
never haunt ye again. The lass is right, isn't she, Jamie?
Eleven pairs of eyes and an odd one shifted apprehensively from the
lad who was being dressed to the lad in the wheel-chair, and the eyes
all showed varying degrees of trouble, uncertainty, and sorrow. They
had a way of searching Jamie out in this fashion many times a day,
while he sat very still, with eyes bandaged and lips that never
flinched but never broke to a smile.
Larry shook a hairy fist at Parley-voo and answered the question
Of course she's right! Isn't she always? An' who but a heathen
would be doubtin' the manners of a ghost?
Aye, but where will I be gettin' the boots? Patsy made a sour
grimace. Me own purty ones had Christian burial somewhere back in that
tremendous mud-puddle. Would any gentleman, now, still havin' two good
legs, give me the loan of his boots for one night? Size eleven, if I
That's Teig's number. Lend him yours, Teig, like a good lad, or
we'll never be rid o' them ghosts. Mat O'Shaughnessy, at the other end
of the line, fairly shook with the depth of his wail.
Teig Magee chuckled. He had lost an inch or so of back and was
waiting the glad day when they could mend it with an inch or so of
shin-bone; in the mean time he was paralyzed. Say, Docthor, would ye
mind reachin' undther my pillow an' fetchin' them out for me? The lads
have a way of forgettin' my hands are temporarily engaged. Thank ye. Ye
can have them, Patsy, but ye'll have to go bail your ghosts won't up
an' thramp off wi' them entirely.
It ended by the schoolmaster giving securitya half-crown with a
bullet hole through it. Sheila was appointed custodian, and the boots
were placed beside the color-sergeant's cot against the comin' night.
As the chief and Sheila passed on from cot to cot, the spirits of
Ward 7-A never wavered. Johnnie, who had piped the lads into battle and
out for four years, and who daily rejoiced over the fact that Fritzie
had shown the good sense to take a foot instead of a hand, told them
that he was in rare luck now, for there would be time to make wee
Johnnie at home the grandest piper in all of Irelandan honor he could
never have promised himself before.
There was Bertha Milliken, named for the big gun he had put out of
commission and the gun crew he had captured. He had been given the V.
C. for that. His pet joke was telling how the Fritzies grudged him its
possession by shooting it away on the Scheldt along with a good bit
that was under it. The nurse and surgeon handled Bertha very
carefully; there was no knowing just what was going to happen to him.
Casey Ryan had lost the odd of 'most everything the Lord had started
him with, as he put it. An eye, an ear, a lung, and a leg were gone,
and he was beating all the others at getting well. Mat O'Shaughnessy
had it in the vital. He was continuously boasting that it was the
handiest place of all, and if it didn't get him he'd be the only
perfect specimen invalided home.
Parley-voo, the only one of them who essayed French, had wounds
many but inconspicuous. He was given to counting a hypothetical fortune
that might be his if the Empire would give him a shilling for every
time he had been hit. Joseph Daly and Gospel Smith, the one
Methodist, carried head wounds, while Granny Sullivan, the oldest,
wisest, and most comforting of the company, had one smashed hip and a
hole through the other, the devil of a combination. Never had the
atmosphere of 7-A been keener or spicier. Jamie alone sat still and
Jamie was the last to be dressed, and because there was little to do
the chief slipped away and left him to Sheila. As the nurse passed from
Mat's cot to the wheel-chair, eleven pairs of eyes and an odd one
followed her. A hush fell suddenly on the ward. The lads never intended
this should happen, but somehow, at the same time everyday, the silence
gripped them, and they seemed powerless to stay it. It was Granny
Sullivan who first threw it off.
'Tis a grand day outside, Jamie. Maybe ye're feeling the sun, now,
comin' through the window?
The nurse had lifted the bandage from the eyes. There was nothing
there but empty sockets, almost healed. One could hear the quick intake
of breath from the watching twelve, while every face registered an
agony it had scorned to show for its own disablement. But for Jamie,
the singing lad from Derry as they lovingly called him, it was
different. They could face their own conditions with amazing
jocularity, but they writhed daily under the torment of Jamie's. They
could brave it no better than could he. For to put eternal darkness on
the lad who loved the light, who would sit spellbound before the play
of colors in the east at dawn or the flash of moonlight across troubled
water, who could make a song out of the smile of a child or the rhythm
of flying birds in the sky, that was damnable. An arch-fiend might have
conceived it, but where was God to let it happen? A crippled Jamie
without an arm or a leg was endurablethat cried out for no
blasphemybut a Jamie without eyesGod in heaven, how could it be!
The face of the singing lad was the face of a dreamer, as exquisite
as a piece of marble that might have been fashioned by Praxiteles for a
sun god. Since the battle on the Scheldt it had become a white mask,
shorn of all dreams. Almost it might have been a death-mask for the
soul of Jamie O'Hara. It showed no response now when Granny spoke;
only the lad's hands fluttered a moment toward the window, then dropped
heavily back into his lap.
Aye, maybe I feel it. The voice was colorless and tired. I can't
be remembering clear sunlight any more. The last days of the fighting,
smoke was too thick in the sky, or the rains fell.
Eleven pairs of eyes and one odd one cast about for some
inspiration. Sure, think o' somethin' pleasanter nor cannon smoke an'
rain. Think o' Granny floundered for a moment, then gave up in
That's all I see when I look up. When I look down, it's worsean
everlasting earth, covered with mud and dying men! Jamie shivered.
Larry struggled out of his torment. I say, Jamie, don't ye mind the
song ye were makin' for us the day we fell back from Cambrai? 'Twas an
Irish one, full o' the sun an' the singin' birds of Donegal. Wi' the
Fritzies risin' like a murdtherous tide behind us, 'twas all that kept
the heart in us that day. Ye say it for Miss O'Leary. Sure, ye've never
said a song for her yet.
Jamie shook his head. I'm sorry, lad; I've lost it. I was making so
many songs those daysye couldn't be expecting a body to carry them
all about in his head. Now could ye? The lips tried bravely to smile,
and failed again.
But Larry grinned triumphantly. Sure 'Granny' has it wrote down. He
showed it to me once. Fetch it, 'Granny,' an' let Jamie be re He
broke off, aghast; the lads about him were staring in absolute horror.
Only the singing lad showed nothing. He might not have heard, or,
hearing, the words were meaningless.
So Sheila took matters into her own hands. She covered the eyes with
fresh gauze, wrapped Jamie up, and bundled him out in his chair to
Harrigan with the remark that the day was too fine to miss and there
was more of it outside the hospital than in. She watched until she had
seen Harrigan take him to a sunny, wind-sheltered corner of the
gardens, and then she came back to 7-A. She was thinking of Peter
Brooks, her man at the front, and she was trying to fathom with all her
heart what manner of healing she would give had Peter come back to her
as Jamie O'Hara had come. She closed the door of the ward behind her
and faced the twelve.
Lads, what are we going to do for Jamie?
Larry groaned out loud. It was the first luxury of expression he had
indulged in since Jamie had been wheeled out. Aye, what are we goin'
to do? That's what every man of us has been askin' himself sincesince
We act like a crowd o' half-wits, a-thryin' to boost his spirits a
bit, an' all the time he grows whiter an' quieter. Patsy turned his
head away; his lips were twitching.
Aye, that's God's truth. Bertha's hoarse croak was heavy with
despair. Ye can see for yourself, miss, it's noways nat'ral for
Jamiethat's the worst of it. It's been Jamie, just, that always put
heart back in us when things went blackest. Wasn't it him that made it
easy goin' for them that went west? Can one of us mind the time he
wasn't ready with a song to fetch us over the top, or through the
mudor straight to death, if them was the orders? No matter how loud
the guns screeched, we could always hear Jamie above them.
We could hear him when we couldn't have heard another sound,
Gospel Smith raised a bandaged head and leveled piercing eyes at
Sheila. You know what the Gospel says about the stars singing in the
morningall together like? Well, Jamie was the lad who could outsing
them. You know how it feels at that gray, creepy hour o' dawn, when a
man's heart jumps to his throat and sticks there, and his hands shake
like a girl's? Often's the time we'd be waiting orders to attack just
like that. The stars might have shouted themselves clear o' the sky,
for all the good they'd have done us; but Jamie was different. He'd
make us a couplet or a verse to sing low under our breath, something
you could put your teeth into. And when the orders came our hearts were
always back where the Lord had put them.
Granny Sullivan plucked nervously at his blanket. An' now, when
we want to hearten him, we're hurtin' instead. Seems as if the devil
took hold of our tongues an' spilled the wrong words off.
Shall I tell you what I would try to do, if I were one of you Irish
lads who had fought with him? Sheila's face was as drawn as any of the
In God's name tell us! Johnnie, the piper, spoke as reverently as
if he were at mass.
You heard what he said just now about seeing nothing but mud and
dying men? Well, that's the trouble. He can't see any longer things he
loves, the things he has always carried in his heart. All the beautiful
memories have been lost, and all he has left are the horrors of those
last days. He's got nothing left to make into songs any more. Don't you
see? You've got to bring that back to him, that power to seehere.
The girl's hand pressed her heart.
Aye, but how? Patsy asked it breathlessly.
Bring him back his memoriesmemories of Ireland, of the things he
loved best to sing about. You have eyes; make him see.
A hush fell on Ward 7-A. Then Timothy Brennan muttered as a man
alone: 'Tis the words of a woman. God's blessin' on her!
All through the day there rang through Sheila's ears the last words
Jamie had said to her that morning. He had turned his face back, as
Harrigan had wheeled him away, to answer her All right, Jamie? with
As right as ever I'll be. Do ye know, the O'Haras are famous for their
long living? My grandfather lived to be ninety-eight, and his father to
be over a hundred. That leaves me seventy-five years, maybe.
Seventy-five years! And already I'm fearin' the length of a day. She
was still hearing them when she came back to the ward at day's end to
find Jamie in his old accustomed place by the window. His face was as
masklike as ever, and Larry was talking:
Sure, I mind often an' often how the neighbors used to tell me if
I'd lie asleep with my ear to a fairy rath I'd be hearin' their music
an' seein' their dancin'. But I never did. But I saw a sight as grand,
the flight o' the skylark at ring-o'-day. Many's the time I've seen
them leave the marsh an' go liltin' into the blue.
And the lilting! Culmullen closed his eyes the better to recall
it. I mind the last time I heard one. The sky was turned orange, and
the lough turned gold. The marsh was glistening with mist, and out of
the reeds where her nest was she flew. It was like a feathered bundle
of song thrown skyward.
Aye, what a song! Johnnie, the piper, spoke with ecstasy. Hark! I
can make it. He puckered his lips, and through them came the sweet,
lilting notes of the lark's matin song.
Make it again. Jamie was leaning forward in his chair, his hands
gripping the arms.
Again the piper whistled it through, and then again and again. A
smile brushed Jamie's lips, and the others, watching, breathless, saw.
What is it? asked Granny, softly.
Naught. Only for the moment I was thinking I could be smelling the
dew on the bogs, yonder. Can ye pipe for the blackbirds, Johnnie?
And Johnnie piped.
So a new order of things was established in Ward 7-A, and as
heretofore the lads had vied in witty derision of their calamities they
vied now with one another in telling tales of Ireland. Each marshaled
forth his dearest, greenest memory, clothed in its best, to fill the
ears and heart of Jamie O'Hara. Sometimes he smiled, and then there was
a great, silent rejoicing among the twelve; sometimes he asked for
more, and then tongues tripped over one another in mad effort to
furnish forth a memory more wonderful than all that had gone before.
But more often he sat still and white, as if he heard nothing. And in
the midst of it all, as the lads drew each day nearer to health, Sheila
noted a new uneasiness among them. It was Larry who spoke the trouble
while the nurse was doing his dressings. He whispered it, so the others
should not hear.
By rights we don't belong here. Well, they'll be movin' us soon as
we're mended, won't they?
The nurse nodded.
Invalided home. Ye know what that means?
Again the nurse nodded.
Mind ye, there's been never a word dropped atween us, but we're all
fearin' it like Larry rubbed his sleeve over his mouth twice before
he went on. While we've got Jamie to think about, we can manage, but
when he's packed off somewheresto learn readin' an' writin' for the
blindan' we're scattered to the four winds o' Ireland, we'll be
realizin' for the first time what we are, just. Then what are we goin'
to do? I ask ye it honest, miss.
And honestly Sheila answered, I don't know.
A day later Granny whispered over his dressings: Faith there's a
shadow creeping over the sill. Can't ye be feeling it? And the
color-sergeant's spirits failed to rise that day at all.
Yet for all their fears the inevitable day came upon them unawares
and caught them, as you might say, red-handed. Sheila had stolen a
half-hour from rest and was sitting with them, listening to Casey Ryan,
the Galway lad, tell of the fishing in Kilkieran Bay.
Larry took the words out of his mouth. 'Twill be the proud day for
us all when we cast our eyes on Irish wather again, whether 'tis in
Dublin Bay or off the Skerries.
Aye, and smelling the thorn bloom and hearing the throstles sing!
Granny's rejoicing followed on the heels of Larry's, while he shook
his fist at him in warning.
Larry threw a helpless look at Jamie and sank back on his pillow,
while Patsy roared his ultimatum: I'd a deal sight rather hear a
throstle sing than see all the bloody wather in the world. Larry's fair
mad about wather ever since he went dirty for a fortnight at Vimy.
Sure, the thing I'm most wantin', croaked Bertha, is to hear
the wind in the heather again, deep o' the night. There isn't a sweeter
sound than that, so soft an' croony-like.
Yes, an' I'll be wantin' to hear the old cracked voice o' Biddy
Donoghue callin' cockles at the Antrim fair. Faith, she's worth
thravelin' far to be hearin'. An' think o' gettin' your tooth on a live
cockle! Johnnie moistened his lips in anticipation as he broke forth
in a falsetto:
Cocklesgood cockleshere's some for your dad,
An' some for your lassiean' more for your lad.
Amid the appreciative chuckle of the listeners, the door of Ward 7-A
opened and the chief stood on the threshold. He smiled as a man may
when he has a hurting thing to do and grudges the doing of it. He
saluted the remnants of Companyof the Royal Irish:
Orders, lads. You'll be leaving to-morrow forBlighty.
There was nothing but silence, a silence of agony and apprehension,
until Patsy whispered, Leavin' together, sir?
Thravelin'the same? It was Timothy Brennan this time.
I don't know.
Will we be afther makin' the same hospital yondtherdo ye think?
It took all Larry's fighting soul to keep his voice steady.
IIt isn't likely.
Thank ye, sir.
That was all. The chief left, and Sheila sat on in the stillness of
Ward 7-A, wondering wherein lay the value of theories when in the face
of the first crucial need one sat stunned and helpless. The mask of
good spirits had dropped from the lads like a camouflaged screen;
behind it showed the naked, bleeding souls of twelve terror-stricken
men. For Jamie's mask was still upon him. If the orders had brought any
added misery to him, no one could have told.
As Sheila looked into their faces and saw all that was written
there, she gripped her hands behind her and tried to tell them what she
had thought out so clearly in the operating-room days and days before.
But the message she had thought was hers to give had somehow become
meaningless. What guarantee had she to make that their lives would go
on being vital, necessary to the big scheme of humanity? How could she
promise that out of their share in the war and the price they had paid
would be wrought something so fine, so strong and eternal, that the
years ahead must needs hold plenty for their hearts and souls? She
could not get beyond the realization that it was all only theory, the
theory of one glowingly healthy mind in a sound body. If such a promise
could be given at all, it must not come from such as she; if it was to
bear faith, it must be spoken by one who had gone through the crucible
as they had gone throughand come out even as they had come.
She looked at Jamie. If Jamie had only had eyes to catch the meaning
of the thing she was trying to say! If he who had sung courage into
their hearts in the old days could sing it once again! A message from
Jamie would bring it home.
But there was nothing in that blank, white face Sheila could reach.
He seemed as he had seemed from the beginning, a soul apart, so wrapped
in its own despair that no human cry of need could shake it free. In
desperation she looked at Larry. His eyes were closed; his face had
gone almost as white as Jamie's. Patsy was gazing at the ceiling; the
veins on his arms stood out as they had on that first day when he had
fainted twice from the pain of his dressing. Down the line of cots the
nurse's eyes traveled, and back again. Every lad was past speaking for
another; each lay transfixed with his own personal fear.
The minutes seemed intolerable. The silence grew heavy with so much
muffling of despair. Sheila found herself praying that the men would
groan, cry out, curse, anything to break the ghastly hush. Then
suddenly Bertha propped himself as best he could on an elbow and
croaked: For the love of Mary, miss, can't ye cram us with morphine
the night? 'Twould save the British Empire a few shillin's' expense and
them at home a deal o' misery.
And the color-sergeant choked out, Aye, in God's mercy send us
west, along wi' them lucky seven that has gone already!
Without knowing why she did it, Sheila reached over and gripped one
of Jamie's hands. Help, can't you? she whispered. The late afternoon
sun was shining through the window back of him. The glory of it was
full on his face, so that every lad in the ward saw plainly the smile
that crept into the lips, a tender, whimsical smile that belonged to
the Jamie of old. And the deep, vibrating voice was the voice of the
Jamie of fighting days.
Patsy, ye rascal! I'm thinking it was like yourself to come
breaking into the first song I've had on my lips in a month. You've
nearly ruined it for me, lad.
Amazement, incredulity, thanksgiving swept over the faces like puffs
of wind over young wheat. Unnoticed, Sheila turned to the window and
wept a scattering of tears that could no longer be held back. Jamie
pulled himself out of the wheel-chair and found his way down the space
at the foot of the cots to the door. He was very straight, and his head
Just a minute, lads. He dug his hands deep into his pockets.
Before I give ye the song I've made for ye, there's something I have
to be saying first. Miss O'Leary was right when she said a man has more
than one pair of eyes to see with. He can see grand with his heartif
he's shown the way. That's what I have to thank ye for this day, the
wiping of my memory clean of those last days, and the showing me how to
see anew. Ye've given Ireland back to me with her lark songs, her blue,
dancing water, her wind-brushed heather like a purple sea. Ye've made
the world beautiful for me again, and ye've given me the heart to
He stopped a minute and smiled again. I was thinking all this when
the chief came in, and after that I was so busy with the song that
sprang into my mind that I came near forgetting the lot o' ye. If that
rascal Patsy hadn't interrupted me, faith, I might have made the song
Sheila turned back from the window. There was a grin on the face of
every lad, and on the face of Jamie was the look of a man who had found
his dreams again. The song being new to his tongue, he gave it slowly:
They say the earth's a bit shot upwell, we can say the same,
But, praise to every lad that's fought, the scars they show no
And for those who have prayed for uswhy, here's an end to
Sure, God can do much healing in the next handful of years.
So, Johnnie, set your chanter and blow your pipes full strong,
And, Larry, raise your voice again and lead our marching song.
Let Mac unfurl the colorstill they sweep yon crimson west,
For we're still the Royal Irish, a-fighting with the best.
And that is precisely the way they went when they left the American
Military Hospital No. 10 the next morning. The color-sergeant led.
Jamie walked beside the stretcher to give a hand with the staff.
Johnnie sat bolt upright, bolstered with many pillows, to enable him to
get a firm grip on the pipes, and he skirled the Shule Aroon as he
had never skirled before. Larry's voice again boomed in the lead, and
every man in the hospital that had breath to spare cheered them as they
passed. And for every one who saw or heard the going of the Royal
Irish, that day, was left behind a memory green enough to last till the
end of time.
Chapter VIII. INTO HER OWN
The last big drive was on. Somewhere on the road between what had
been the line of defense and what was the line of farthest advance
rumbled a hospital camion with its nose to the war trail like an old
dog on a fresh scent. In the camion sat Sheila O'Leary, late of the old
San and later yet of the American Military Hospital No. 10. She was in
field uniform; a pair of the chief's own boots were strapped over two
pairs of woolen stockings. She was contemplating those boots now with a
smile of rare contentment that showed its inwardness even in the gray
light of early morning.
Never thought I should step into the shoes of a great surgeon. They
ought to pass me through to the front if everything else fails, don't
The chief eyed her quizzically. They'll carry you as far as you'll
care to go and for as long as you'll stand. What's troubling me is what
your man will say when he knows?
WhoPeter? Sheila's smile deepened. He'll understand; he'll be
glad. Something both of us will remember always, something big to
share. Oh, I know it's going to be life and death, heaven and hell,
rolled into a minute, but I wouldn't be missing this chance She
broke off suddenly, and when she spoke again there was a great
reverence in her voice. I feel as the littlest angel might have felt
if God had asked him to be at the Creation.
Rather different, this. Griggs, the chief's assistant, spoke.
There were just the three of them in the ambulance.
Not so very. It's another big primal happening, the hurling
together of elemental things and impulses and watching something more
solid and lasting come out. A new heaven and a new earth.
What we see coming out won't be so solid or so lasting. We may not
be ourselves. Griggs was a pessimist, a heroic one, with an eye ever
keen for the grimmest and most disappointing in life and a courage to
meet it squarely.
The chief's glance brushed him on its way to the nurse; Griggs's
share of it was plainly commiserating. And I say, blessed be those who
shall inherit it. But, girl, this doesn't settle the question of your
man. I've had to duck orders a bit to bring you along. Women aren't
wanted at the front. He may hold it up stiff against me for it.
But I can help. Any woman who can stand it will be needed. They
shouldn't bar us out. That's all Peter'll think about. Don't worry.
There was no question in the girl's mind as to the wisdom or right
in her comingor Peter's verdict in the matter. He would not fuss over
this plunge into danger any more than he had misunderstood her giving
away her wedding back at the old San and coming over at the eleventh
hour. The last words Peter had said when he left her for the front came
back with absolute distinctness:
Whatever happens, do what you think best, go where you feel you
must go. Don't bungle your instincts. I'd trust them next to God's
No, Peter Brooks would have been the last person to deny her this
chance, and so all was well. She was wondering now if by some rare good
luck she might stumble on Peter at the front. She had not seen him
since they separated the day after their arrival in France. A few
penciled hieroglyphics had come from time to time telling her all was
well with him. She had written when she could and when she knew enough
of an address to risk a letter reaching him. But Peter, after the
manner of all correspondents, was like Hamlet's ghosthere, there, and
gone; and Sheila had no way of knowing if her letters had ever reached
For weeks it had seemed to the girl that her love had lain dormant,
hushed under the pressure of work. So vital and eternal were both love
and happiness that in her zeal for perfect, impersonal service she had
thrust them both out of sight, as one might put seeds away in the dark
to wait until planting-time, assured of their fulfilment when the time
came. But now in the lull between the work at the hospital and the work
that would soon claim her again she discovered that in some
inexplicable manner love would no longer be shut out. She was sick for
the man she loved.
A funny little wistful droop took Sheila's lips, and her chin
quivered for an instant. It was so unlike the girl that the chief,
seeing, reached across and laid a hand on her knee.
What is it? Not sorry?
Never. But I was thinking how pleasantly easy it might have been to
stay behind at the old San. Peter and I'd be climbing that mythical
hilltop of ours, with a home of our own at the end of the climbif
we'd stayed behind.
Well, why didn't you?
The nurse laughed softly. Griggs volunteered to answer for her.
Because you were a fool, like a lot of the rest of us.
Becauseoh, because of that queer something inside us all that
pries us away from our determinations just to be contented and happy
all our lives and hustles us somewhere to do something for somebody
else. Remember in the old fairy-tales they were always cleaning the
world of dragons or giants or chimeras before they married and lived
happy ever after.
Bosh! Remember that it's only in the fairy-tales that the giants or
the monsters don't generally get you, and you get an epitaph instead of
a wedding. You romantic idealists make me sick, and Griggs snarled
Their mobile unit was held up that day in a little ruined city. Only
one other dressing-station was there, and the wounded were passing
through so fast and so wounded that many could not go on. So they set
up another dressing-station and worked through the night until the
stars went out and their orders came to hurry on. They caught two
hours' sleep and by noon of another day they were as close to the front
as a hospital unit could go.
A dugout had been portioned out to them, and while orderlies brought
in their equipment and the surgeons were coupling up lights and
sterilizer, Sheila started to get a hot meal in two sterilizing basins.
The nurse was just drawing in her first breath of real war. Before she
had time to exhale it a despatch-bearer climbed down into the dugout
and handed an order to the chief. It was from headquarters, and brief.
The division did not intend to have any woman's name on its casualty
list. Sheila was to be returned at once. The bearer added the
information that an ambulance was returning with wounded; she could
The chief had never seen the nurse turn so white. Her eyes spoke the
appeal her lips refused to make. He tried to put something into words
to make it easier for her, but gave it up in final despair. What was
there to say? In silence the girl put on her trench coat, jammed on her
hat, and was gone. For the first kilometer her senses were too numbed
to allow for much thinking. Mechanically she passed her canteen to one
of the wounded, readjusted a blanket over another. It was not until the
division turned loose its first barrage that day that she woke up to
what was happening to her. She was going back; she was not going to
have her chance.
The noise was terrific. It drowned everything but the mutinous
hammerings of her own heart. In the flash of an eye she changed from
the Sheila O'Leary of civilized production to a savage, primitive
woman. She had but one dominating instinct, to stand by the male of her
tribe, to succor him, fight with him, die with him. It seemed as futile
a thing to try to stay this impulse as to try to put out the burning of
a prairie when the wind blows.
The ambulance stopped with a jerk. Something was wrong with the
engine. The driver climbed down and threw back the hood, and,
unnoticed, the nurse slipped down and passed him. When he had finished
his tinkering, Sheila was fifty rods away across the meadow.
Here, you, you come back! shouted the driver.
For answer Sheila doubled her speed.
The driver watched her, uncertain what to do. A shell whizzed from
beyond the barrage and burst a hundred yards from the nurse. The shock
threw her, but she was up in an instant, her course changed toward some
deserted trenches. The driver hesitated no longer. He climbed back and
started the engine.
No use tacklin' them kind, he remarked to the empty seat beside
him. She'll get there or she won'tbut she won't turn back.
It was nightfall when Sheila came up with what she had chosen to
call her division. She intended to possess it in spite of the
commander. An outpost sentry challenged what he thought a wraith. His
tongue fumbled the words, Oh, Gawd! it's a woman!
Yes. Will you pass her? Lots to do.
He looked at the red cross on her arm and smiled foolishly. You bet
there is! Sure I'll pass you.
She came up with the first battalion, bivouacked under a shell-riven
A woman! The first boy whispered it, and the exclamation rippled
on to the next and the next like wind in dry leaves. Remembering the
exodus of the morning, the nurse knew if she was to stay she must prove
her need and prove it quickly. Her voice was as business-like as in the
old San days.
Dressing-station? Company's surgeon? Wounded? Doesn't matter which,
only get me some work.
A hand slipped out of the darkness and caught her elbow. This way,
lady, and she was drawn along the protecting shelter of the ridge.
After rods of stumbling she stumbled down irrational stairs into the
same dugout she had left that morning. She was almost as surprised as
the two surgeons.
You're a fool, muttered Griggs. Wait till they order me back.
I'll not be crying for purgatory twice.
The chief smiled. I reckon you got that S O S call I've been
sending out all day. We need help like sixty. Bichloride's under that
basin. We'll be ready for you when you've washed up. Night ahead His
words trailed off into an incoherent chuckling. He was wondering how
the girl had managed it. He was wondering more what the command would
do when it found out. In the mean time he was glorying in her courage;
he would see she got full measure of the work that had claimed her in
spite of orders, while he silently thanked a merciful God for providing
No one questioned her right to be there that night. Wounded poured
in, flooded the dugout to capacity, were cared for, carried away, and
more flooded again. It was daybreak before a lull came, and then there
were orders to be ready to follow the battalion in an hour. So they ate
a snatch, packed, and rolled on in the wake of the Allies' conquest.
Again it was nightfall before they caught up with their regiment.
Even to eyes as inexperienced as theirs it was easy to see it had been
factored and factored again, and not the half of it was standing. They
found a couple of regimental surgeons floundering through a sea of
wounded. The nurse had to bite her lips to keep back the cry of horror
over the apparent hopelessness of the task that lay before them. So
manyand so few hands to do it all!
A shout went up from the men who had come through whole, when they
saw her. They were wet, covered with mud, aching in every joint and
sinew, but they forgot it all in their joyful pride over the fact that
the nurse was standing by.
Gosh durn it, it's our girl!
Stuck fast to the old bat. Whoopee!
At-a-boy! Three cheers for the pluckiest girl on the frontour
girl! and a young giant led the cheering that sprang as one yell from
those husky throats.
She's all rightour girl's all right'rah-'rah-'rah!
Sheila's own voice was too husky to more than whisper, as she
slipped behind the giant, Tell them my thanks andgood luck.
You bet I will.
From that instant there was no more helplessness in the feelings of
Sheila O'Leary. She felt empowered to move mountains, to make new a
mangled heap of boys. As she joined the chief she stopped to see how it
was with him. His eyes met hers, and in the flash she read there the
same fighting faith that was in her own heart. He patted her shoulder.
Didn't think you'd funk. Nothing like team-work when you're up
against it. Keeps you believing in the divinity of man, eh?
And who can tell if at times like these the power of the Nazarene
does not pass on to those who go fearlessly forth to minister in the
face of death! It would not be so strange if he had passed over
innumerable battle-fields and so anointed those who had come to succor
that their task was made easier and their burden at least bearable.
There was no shelter for any of them that night. They worked in the
open, and volunteers came from the ranks to do what they could. The
surgeons would have scorned them, but the nurse mustered in a score or
more to keep the fires under the kettles burning, to hold supplies and
lanterns, to make coffee when the sterilizing basins could be
surrendered for the purpose; and she showed those with pocket-knives
how to cut away the blood-soaked clothing. Caked with mud herself and
desperately hungry, she dressed and comforted as she went. The scene
was ghastlyVerestchagin might have painted itbut Sheila saw none of
it. It was for her a time exalted, even for those she helped to die.
There was no sting in this death. As she passed on and on in the
darkness the space about her seemed filled with the shadowy forms of
those whom God was mustering out, peacefully, gloriously waiting His
command to march into a land of full promise. So acutely did she feel
this that a prayer rose to her lips and stayed there, mute, half
through the night, that some time she might be given the chance to make
this clear for those who mourned at home, to make them feel that death,
here, held no sting.
In the midst of it Sheila felt a heavy hand laid on her arm, and
turned to look into the face of the commander.
Are you the nurse I ordered back two days ago?
I believe so.
Who ordered you back again?
How did you come?
The girl laughed softly. She could not resist the memory of that
flight. Engine went wrong and Ibeat it. Don't blame the driver; he
did his best to obey orders. I joined the division last night and came
on with my chief.
So there's no use in ordering you back?
None in the leastthat is, not so long as the boys are coming in
How long can you stand it?
As long as they can, sir. And then without rhyme or reason tears
sprang into the nurse's eyes, to her great mortification and terror.
That would probably finish her; a woman who cried had no place at the
front, and the general would dismiss her promptly and with scorn.
But he did not. The hand that had touched her arm reached out and
gripped her hand. She caught a whimsical smile brushing his lips in the
Good night. When you want your discharge, I'll sign it.
He went as swiftly and silently as he had come. The nurse turned
back to her work with a sigh of relief. The regiment was hers
The next day they made another little town. So quickly and
unexpectedly had the enemy been forced to evacuate it that there had
been no time to destroy or pillage, and the shells had somehow passed
it by. The town was full of liberated Frenchthe young and very
oldwho crowded the streets and shouted their welcome as the troops
passed through. The chapel was flung open to receive the wounded, and
the hospital unit was installed therein.
As Sheila O'Leary crossed the threshold of the little church a
strange feeling sprang at her, so that her throat went dry and her
heart almost stopped beating. It was as if something apart from her and
yet not apart had spoken and said: Here is where the big moment of
your life will be staged. Whatever matters for all time will happen
here, and what has gone beforethe San, the hospital, everything you
have felt, striven for, believed in, and trustedall that is but a
prologue. The real part of your life is just beginningor
Griggs broke the terror that was clutching at her. What's the
matter? Don't you know there's a war going on and about a million
wounded coming in? There are a few hundred of them up there, lying
round under the images of the saints. The saints may bless 'em, but
they won't dress 'em. The chief's growling for you. Come along!
For once she was grateful to the pessimist. She tried to brush the
strangeness away as she hurried down the aisle, but it clung in spite
of her. And at the altar more strangeness confronted her. A slightly
wounded lad suddenly reached out a hand holding a crumpled paper.
Guess you're Miss O'Leary, ain't you? He said there wasn't much of
a chance, but what you don't expect over here is what you get. You
The incoherency was lost on Sheila. She took the crumpled paper
wonderingly and found it covered with Peter's scribbled hieroglyphics:
The boys have been telling me about youto think you're really
us and standing by! It may bring its dole of horrorbound
have our turn at it. If it comes, hold to your courage and
hold of that wonder-soul of yours; that will steady you. And
remember, there is peace coming, and homeyours and mine.
eyes when the sights get too bad, and you'll see that blessed
of ours on the hilltop you've chosen; you'll see the little
shining us good cheer. Think of that. I'm with the other wing
but any day I may be shifted to yours. Until then,
The nurse thrust the paper into the front of her uniform, shook the
hand that had brought it to her, and passed up the steps to the work
that was waiting for her. The first day passed like a dream. Guns
boomed, shells screeched their way overhead and landed somewhere.
Wounded came and went. Many died, and a white-haired, tottering old
sexton helped to carry them away. The old palsied abbé came and
chanted prayers for the dying, and some one played a Dies Iræ
on the little organ. Old French mothers stole in timorously and offered
their services, the service of their hands and emptied hearts. When
they found they might help they were pathetically grateful, fluttering
down between the aisles of wounded like souls with a day's reprieve
from purgatory. They were finding panacea for their bereavement in this
care of the sons of other mothers. And as they passed Sheila, in broken
sentences, almost inarticulate, they told their sorrow:
Sixall gone, ma'm'selle.
Jean, François, Paul, and VictorVictor the lasthe fell two
Four sons and four daughtersa rich legacy from my dead husband,
ma'm'selle. And I have paid it backsoul by soulallhe has them all
So they mourned as they went their way of tender service, the words
dropping unconsciously from their quivering old lips. A few there were
who stood apart, the envied mothers with hope. Sheila learned who they
were almost from the beginning. Each had a son somewhere not reported.
Old Madame d'Arcy whispered about it as she bathed the face of the boy
who looked so much like her own.
Of course, ma'm'selle, my Lucien may beI have not heard from him
in many months. It is not for me to hope too much. But I thinkyes, I
think, ma'm'selle, he will come home to me when the war is over.
And Madame Simone, who brought fresh black coffee and little cakes
for those who could eat them, trembled with the gladness of ministering
to the boys who were fighting with hers for France. I had almost
ceased to pray when the Americans came, but nowah, ma'm'selle, now
there is hope again in this withered breast. I even dream now of mon
p'titthe youngest of them all. I feel the good God is sparing him for
And old Isabelle, who came to scrub the floor and clean, muttered,
as she bent her willing back to the labor: Moi, that is what I say,
too. The Lord will send my Jacques home to comfort my old age.
As Sheila listened, it epitomized for her the tragedy of the mothers
of France, this antiphonal chorus of the mothers who had lost all and
those who had yet one son left. To the girl's mind there came in almost
cruel contrast that chorus of Maeterlinck's mothers raised in rapturous
expectancy to the unborn; she knew she was hearing now the agonized
antithesis of it. Throughout the first day it rang incessantly, until
she could have hummed the haunting melody of it. Then night came. The
patches of reds and greens and blues that had sifted through the
stained-glass window in the chancel and played all day in grotesque
patches on the white cheeks of the wounded faded alike to gray, and the
nurse lit the tall wax candles on the altar that the work might go on
The next dayand the nextpassed much the same. There was no end
to the wounded. Griggs fainted twice the second day, and the chief and
Sheila carried the work alone for a few hours. Each of them was acutely
conscious of the strain on the other and did what he and she could to
ease the tension. For the girl her greatest comfort was in the scrap of
paper crumpled over her breast. It told her Peter was near, coming to
her soon. It seemed to transmit some of his strength and optimism.
There were moments when, but for his reassurance, the girl would have
doubted every normal, happy phase of life and acknowledged only the
unending torture and renunciation. Sometimes the horror seemed to wrap
them in like an impenetrable fog. As for the chief, it took every ounce
of will and sanity to keep him going, and he wondered how the girl
beside him could brave it through without a whimper.
Always about them roared the great guns like the last booming of a
judgment day, and under that noise the moaning chorus of the French
mothers. When the strain reached the breaking-point Sheila closed her
eyes and looked for the light on the hilltop that Peter had promised
would be thereand there it always was. Moreover, she could feel
Peter's vital presence and the marvelous reality of his love reaching
nearer and nearer to her through the darkness. So she kept her head
clear and her hands steady and forced a smile whenever the chief eyed
her anxiously. She never failed a boy going west. To the last breath
she let him see the radiating faith of her own soul that believed in
the ultimate Love above everything else. Those old illuminating smiles
that had won for her her nickname of Leerie never had to be forced, and
they lighted the way out for many a groping soul in that little church.
And the old Frenchwomen, watching above their prayers for the return of
Louis or Charles or Jacques, said:
See, for all she's so young, she knows what the mother-heart is.
That is why she feels for us. She knows how our hearts have bled.
On the 9th of November they were still there. The division had
continued its drive, but slowly, and no orders had come for the mobile
unit to go forward. And then came one of those lulls and flush-backs
which for the moment made one almost believe that the tide of battle
had turned againand for the enemy. With the coming of the first
wounded that day came orders to evacuate the town at once.
At first the townsfolk would not believe, but as the muddy columns
of the first company could be seen on the outskirts, doubt gave place
to certainty, and without moan they gathered up what few belongings
they could and set their faces toward what they prayed would hold
French soil. Before the refugees had cleared the town, the shelling
began, giving the last impelling haste to their exodus. The hospital
unit stayed in the church. They got the wounded ready to be moved and
waited for further orders. They came in another ten minutes; everybody
was to clear out. Three ambulances from the east and a half-dozen from
the west gathered up the stretcher cases, while the others piled into
the supply-trucksthat is, all but the chief and Sheila. They stood in
the church door with minds for anything but going. It came to them both
that, as the battalions fell back, each would be bringing its wounded
as far as it could. If there was a place to drop themand care waiting
until a few more ambulances could push throughmany lives might be
saved, and much suffering.
The chief looked down at the girl and saw what was in her mind.
Linking his arm in hers, he muttered under his breath, Still game,
bless you! And then aloud: Miss O'Leary and I have a liking for this
place. We'll stay until the next orders.
Griggs had climbed to the footboard of an ambulance, and he faced
them with contempt. We didn't volunteer to sit 'round and be blown to
bits. Don't be fools, you two. Come on while you've got a chance. And
then, when he saw how futile were his words: If you haven't had enough
slaughter for one while, I have. Good-by.
As they waved them off, the muddy column of the first company swung
down the street. It was even as they had thoughtwounded were with
them, and the nurse and surgeon hurried inside to make ready. The day
wound itself out in an almost ludicrous repetition of events.
Straggling companies fell back, dropped their wounded, and went on; a
few ambulances made the town, gathered up the worst cases, and went
back. Desultory shells picked off their belfry, smashed a group of
monuments in the cemetery, and wiped out a street of houses not far
away. And every half-hour or so came the orders to evacuate at once.
Regiment after regiment fell back through the city; the rest of the
division must have passed to north and south of it. By nightfall nearly
all had passed and the town was left like a delta between two dividing
They'll begin shelling in earnest by midnight. We'll get barrages
from both sides. We won't know it, but this town's going to be wiped
off the map to-night. The chief said it in his most matter-of-fact
voice, but his face showed gray.
The girl hushed him. The boys might hear, and they've been through
so much. There's no harm in letting them hope. She turned back to the
emergency kettle she was stirring. They were making cocoa and feeding
the boys out of the chalice-cups from the altar. To the nurse it seemed
like passing the last communion, and though her hands kept steady, her
heart seemed drained.
Out of the noise and the gathering gloom outside came two more
stretcher-loads. The bearers whistled when they saw the red cross on
the door. They whistled harder when they pushed it open and looked
inside. Gee! we thought all you outfits had been ordered back! The
bearers laid down their burden on a pew, and the fore one groaned out
We were, the chief spoke. Sorry we didn't go?
Dunno. Bet these chaps wouldn't be, thoughif they knew. Don't
know whether it's any use trying; they're all but gone, Doc. The
speaker jerked his head over his shoulder and thumbed a command to the
other bearers. Here you, Jake! You and Fritzie hustle along with
As the surgeon bent over to examine, the nurse stopped an instant to
listen, then went on feeding her boys.
This one's French. The chief was looking over the first stretcher.
How did you pick him up?
Got mixed up with a company of poilus in the last scrap. We
fought all together.
Hmmmm! He'll need speed or he'll make it. Give me a hand with him,
boys, over to the table there.
Wait, Doc. There's another just as bad. He'sthe other's a Yank.
The spokesman again jerked his comrades into further evidence. One
of the bearers was an American, the other a captured German, slightly
wounded. Between them lay a figure in the gray uniform of a
correspondent. A heavy growth of beard made the man almost
unrecognizable, but something tugged at the chief's memory and set him
speculating. He cast a furtive glance over his shoulder toward the
nurse, then lowered his voice.
You haven't any idea who it is, have you?
Sure. He's the A. P. man that's been with our division from the
first. His name's Brooks.
The chalice fell through Sheila's fingers and struck the altar steps
with a sharp, metallic ring. The next instant she was beside the chief,
looking down with wide, unbelieving eyes at the stretcher which held
nothing familiar but the gray uniformand there were many men wearing
the same. It could not be. This was not the way Peter was coming back
to her. In all the days of horror, of caring for the hundreds of
wounded, it had never entered her mind that war might claim the man she
loved. Her love, and the fulfilment thereof, had stood out as the one
absolute reality of life, the thing that could not fail. This simply
could not be; Peter was still far away, but coming, supreme in his
strength, invulnerable in his love and promise to her.
Youdon't know him? The chief asked it hopefully.
The girl shook her head. He can't beThe beardWait. Her hand
slipped through the opening in his uniform to an inside pocket. She
drew out a flat bundle of papers, and the first glance told her all she
needed to know. There was Peter's unmistakable scribbling on the
uppermost, and from under it showed the corner of one of her letters to
The chief's hand steadied her. No time to lose, girl, but we'll
pull him through. We've got to fight for it, but we'll do it. Easy
there, boys. Take him over to the table, there, under the light.
But Sheila O'Leary put out a detaining hand. Her eyes were no longer
on Peter; she was looking at the figure on the other stretcher. What
did you say about that French boy?
He'll have to go, poor chap! There isn't time for both. Listen,
Leerie, as a flash of pain swept the girl's face, it's a toss-up
between them who's worse, and it's down now to a matter of minutes. It
means the best team-work we've done yet to save just your man.
Still the girl made no move. Her eyes were turned away. In her ears
was ringing the chorus of the mothers, those waiting for Louis or
Jacques or Lucien to come home. Dear God, what was she to do?
The chief pulled her sleeve. Wake up, girl. There's a chance for
your man, I tell you, only in Heaven's name don't waste it! Come.
She tried to take her eyes away from the boy, tried to shut her ears
to the cry that was ringing in them. She wanted to look at Peter and
say the word that would start the bearers carrying him to that little
zone of light about the altar where they had saved so many during those
days. But her eyes clung, in spite of her, to the white boy-face and
the faded blue uniform below it. Peter had no mother, no one but
herself to face the grief and mourn the loss of him, and the hearts of
French mothers had been drainedbled almost to the last drop? Wouldn't
Peter say to save that drop? Had she the right to shed it and spare her
own heart's bleeding? The questions filtered through her mind with the
inevitableness of sands in an hour-glass. With a cry of agony she
wrenched her eyes away at last and faced the chief.
We'll let Peterwait. We'll take the boyfirst.
Dumfounded, the chief stared for the fraction of a moment; then he
shook her. For God's sake, wake up, Leerie! You've gone through so
much, your thinking isn't just clear. Get rational, girl. You'd be
deliberately killing your man, to leave him now. You don't realize his
condition, or you wouldn't be wasting time this way. By the time we
finish with the first there'll be no chance for the second; they're
both bleeding in a dozen places. Here, boys! Help me over with Mr.
But Sheila put out a quick hand and held them back. And if I put
Peter first I shall be deliberately killing the other. Don't you see? I
can't do itPeter wouldn't wish itit would meanBoys, carry over
the other. The chief's going to save a lad for France.
There was no denying her. She stood guard over Peter's stretcher
until the other had been lifted and carried away. Grimly the surgeon
followed, and Sheila turned to the two who were still holding the
Would you mind putting him down there? Now, will you leave us just
a minute? She spoke to the American, but the German must have
understood, for he led the way to the church door and stood with his
back to her.
Even the comfort of staying with Peter to the last was denied her.
The chief had said it must be team-work, the best. She mustn't waste
many seconds. She thought of the many she had helped to die, the
courage a warm grip of the hand had given, the healing strength in a
smile, and her heart cringed before this last sacrifice of giving Peter
over to a desolate, prayerless death. Hardly breathing, she slipped
down and laid her cheek to his bearded one. She could offer one prayer,
that he need never wake to know. Kneeling there, his last words came
back to her almost in mockery:
Don't bungle your instincts. I'd trust them next to God's own.
Dear God, if she only could bungle them! If only they had not
wrenched from her this torturing, ghastly choice! She knew the meaning
now of the strangeness that had met her as she first crossed the
threshold of the little church. She knew why the chorus of mothers had
been sung so deep into her heart. The greatest moment of her life had
comea terrible, soul-rending moment. And beyond it lay nothing. She
choked out an incoherent, futile prayer into the dulled earsand left
him. Thisthis was her farewell to Peter Brooksher manher man for
The American orderly had disappeared. Sheila stumbled over to the
door and gripped the sleeve of the German.
If he opens his eyesshe opened and shut her own eyes in
pantomimecome for me, quick. Verstehen?
The German nodded.
For the next half-hour, with nerves keyed to their utmost and hands
working with the greatest speed and skill they were capable of, Sheila
O'Leary's soul went down into purgatory and stayed there. Not once did
she look beyond the boy she was helping to save; not once did she let
herself think what might be happening beyond the circle of light that
hemmed them in. With all the woman courage she could muster, she was
stifling every breath of love or longingor self-pity. If she could
have killed her body and known that when that night's work was done she
would be laid in the cemetery outside with Peter, she would have been
Suddenly she realized they had finished. The chief was repeating
something over and over again.
The boy is safe. You'd better lie down.
The bearers were moving the boy back to the pews and the chief was
leading her down the steps of the chancel. But it was Sheila who guided
their steps at the bottom. She led the way toward the German and the
thing he had been asked to watch. Terror shook her. It seemed as if she
could never look at what she knew would be waiting for her, and yet no
power on earth could have held her back.
As she reached the prisoner she saw in bewilderment a strange
scattering of things on the floor about himforceps, some knives, a
roll of gauze, and a syringe. There was an odor of a strange antiseptic
which made her faint. She tottered and would have fallen had the German
not helped the chief to steady her.
He has not gained consciousness, madam. He has lost too much blood
for that. The German spoke in English. He also spread his hands in
mute apology for what he had done. I have stanched his wounds with
what poor supplies I had with me. It has merely kept him alive. He will
require more care, better dressing.
No one answered. Words seemed the most impossible and absurd means
of expression just then.
The German smiled at the look Sheila gave him, and the smile was
arrogant. You Americans have always made such a fuss over what you
have been pleased to call our brutalities. What is war if it isn't a
consistent effort to exterminate the enemy? The women are the wives of
the enemy and the breeders of more; the wounded are still the enemyif
they recover, they fight again. But a German knows how to honor a brave
act. And when you go back, madam, you can tell how Carl Tiefmann, a
German surgeon, wounded and taken prisoner, so far forgot his Prussian
creed as to spare an enemy for a brave woman.
He bowed and went back to the church doors. Sheila watched him go
through a trailing of mist; then she dropped through the chief's arms,
unconscious, on the floor beside Peter's stretcher.
The Germans never reached the little town, and by some merciful
stroke of luck neither did any more of the shells. So it came to pass
that on the 11th of November a very white nurse, holding fast to the
hand of a man unconscious on a stretcher, followed Peace across the
threshold of the American Military Hospital No. 10. It was days before
Sheila spoke above a husky whisper or smiled, for it was days before
Peter was out of danger, but there came a morning at last when a shaven
and shorn Peter, looking oddly familiar, opened clear, sane eyes and
saw the woman he loved bending close above him.
[Illustration: He will require more care, better dressing"]
He gave the same old cry that he had given ages before when he had
come out of another nightmare of unconsciousness and fear, It's
Leeriewhy, it's Leerie!
And Sheila smiled down at him again with the old luminous smile.
When he was sufficiently mended to look about him and take reckoning
of what had happened, he asked first for the ring that he had bought
for that long-before wedding and that he had carried ever since with
him. And he asked, second, for the chaplain.
Sheila drew the gold chain from about her neck and dangled the ring
in front of his nose. I took it when we cut off your coat that night,
and I've kept it handy ever since. The chaplain's handy, too. He's
promisedany hour of the day or night. Shall we send for himnow?
The nurse turned to go, hesitated, and then came back to the cot.
Peter thought he had never seen her eyes so full of wonder.
Man o' mine, maybe you won't want me when you know I almost let you
go, that I intended to let you die to save first a French lad that came
in with you.
Peter grinned. Same old Leerie! Well, we're quits, sweetheart, and
I'm glad to have it off my conscience. Sort of did the same thing
myself. Rushed off in the shelling to bring in that same poor
chaphe'd got a bullet in his legand all the time I knew I ought to
be thinking of you first and hanging on to safety. Funny, isn't it, how
something queer gets you in the midst of it all and you do the last
thing in the world you want to do? A year or two and the whole thing
will be unexplainable.
Sheila bent over and laid her lips to Peter's. She knew that in a
yearin a centurythey would still understand why they had done these
things, and she was glad they had both paid their utmost for the love
and happiness that she knew was theirs now for all time.
Peter broke on her reverie with a chuckle. Remember old Hennessy
saying once that he believed you would give me away with everything
elseif you thought anybody else needed me more? He'd certainly wash
his hands of the pair of us.
Hennessy's an old dear. I'll get the chaplain, and afterward let's
send Hennessy the firstand the bestcable he's ever had. Sort of owe
it to him, don't we?
Without any of the original splendor of decorations, collation, and
attire, with no one but the chaplain to marry them and the chief to
bless them, Sheila O'Leary came into her own at last. As for Peterhe
looked as Hennessy described him on the day the Brookses came
homewi' one eye on the thruest lass God ever made an' the other on
I thought I had to have a better ending to the story than the scraps
of things I had made over from Leerie's letters and what Peter had told
me. So I went to Hennessy.
It was midwinter. I found him cracking the ice on the pond to let
the swans in for a cold bath.
'Tis not docthor's ordthers, he grinned by way of explanation;
but they get so blitherin' uneasy there's no housin' them. That's the
why I give them a bit of a cold nip onct the whilesure 'tis good
threatment for us allan' then they settle down.
I huddled deeper into a fur coat and tried to agree with Hennessy.
Did ye see Leerie, then, since she came home?
He shirred his lips into an ecstatic pucker and whistled
triumphantly. Wasn't I always sayin' she'd marry the finest gentleman
in the land, same as the King o' Ireland's only daughter, and go
dandtherin' off to a fine home of her own?
And she has.
She has that.
And so the story's told, Hennessy.
Told nothin'. Sure, it isn't half toldit isn't more than half
But you can't end a book that way. You have to end with an ending.
'Tis the best way to end a book, then. Haven't ye taken the lass
over the worst o' the road an' aren't ye leavin' her with the best
But what is there leftto find along the way? She's found her
workthat's over with. She's found her manthat's over with. She's
found lovethat's over
Hennessy interrupted me almost viciously. I think he wanted to prod
me instead of the ice. What kind of talkin' is that for a person who
thries to write books about real folk? Ye harken to me. Do ye think
because love is found 'tis over with? Sure, Leerie's only caught a
whiff of it yet'tis naught but budded for her. By an' by there come
the blossom of it an' the fruit of it. An' when death maybe withers it
for a spell'twill be but a winther-time promise to bud an' blossom
again in the Counthry Beyond. There's no witherin' to love like hers.
An' do ye think because she has her man found there's no pretty fancy
or adventure still waitin' them along the way? An' do ye think Leerie's
work will ever be done? Tell me that!
The shirr tightened into something like contempt. Hennessy looked
down upon me with undisguised pity.
Did ye ever know Leerie at all, at all, I'm wondtherin'to be
savin' things like that? Don't ye know for the likes o' her there'll be
childherSaint Anthony send them a nestful! He crossed himself to
further the wish. An' over an' above the time it takes tendin' an'
lovin' them an' rearin' them into the finest parcel o' youngsters God
ever madewi' the help o' their parentsthere'll be time left to
light the way for every poor, sorry soul within a hundred miles o' her.
Ye can take my word for it; an' if she never did another stroke o' work
so long as she livedbein' Leerie, just, would be enough.
You may be right, Hennessy, but it's still no way to end a book.
He came a step nearer and shook a warning finger at me. Will ye
listen? Faith, I'm wondtherin' sometimes that folk read your books when
ye have so little sense wi' the endin' o' them. Don't ye know that a
book that ends wi' the end is a dead book entirely? An' who cares to be
readin' a dead book? Tell me that.
His contempt changed to commiseration. I might have been Brian Boru,
the gray swan, the way he looked at me.
The right way of endin' is with a beginnin'the beginnin' o'
something bigger an' betther an' sweeter. 'Tis like ye were takin' a
friend with ye up a high hillshowin' him all the pretty things along
the way. Then just afore ye get to the topan' afore ye can look over
an' see what's waitin' beyondye leave him, sayin', 'Go ye alone an'
find whatever ye are most wishin' for.'
He stopped, pushed his hat back and pulled his forelock as if for
more inspiration. Do ye see? Just be leavin' it to folk the world
over. They can read in a betther endin' than ye can be writin' in in a
hundthred years. An' let Leerie be as I'm tellin' yewi' the road
windin' over the hill an' out o' sight. Sure the two of us know what
she'll be findin' there; an' do ye think the readers have less sense
than what we have?