Black & White on White paper
“Aunt Jane, what are you thinking of?” The young man turned his head a little on the pillow to look inquiringly toward the door.
It was the door of Room 24 leading into the Men’s Ward. Aunt Jane had been standing there for five minutes, gazing intently before her into space. The serene face framed in the white muslin cap had a rapt, waiting look. It reminded the young man of a German madonna that he had run across last summer in an old gallery corner, whose face had haunted him. “Aunt Jane, what are you thinking about?” he repeated gently.
She turned slowly toward him, the placid look breaking into twinkles. “I was thinking I’d better turn Mr. Ketchell’s mattress the other end to, and put a bolster under the upper end. It kind of sags.”
For a moment the young man on the pillow looked a little bewildered. Then he lay back and laughed till the iron bedstead rang and the men in the ward pricked up their ears and smiled in sympathy.
Aunt Jane smiled too, stepping leisurely toward him.
“There, there,” she said as she adjusted the sheet and lowered his pillow a trifle: “I don’t know as I’d laugh any more about that. ‘Tisn’t so very funny to change a mattress the other end to.”
He raised a hand and wiped the laughter from either eye. “But you looked as if you were thinking of angels and cherubim and things, Aunt Jane.”
She nodded placidly. “I generally do,” she responded, “but that doesn’t hinder knowing about mattresses and bolsters…. I wouldn’t laugh any more for a day or two if I was you. The bandages might get loose.” She slipped a careless hand along his forehead, gathered up a cup and plate from the stand beside him, and slid plumply from the room.
His eyes followed her through the door, down the long ward as she stopped here and[Pg 3] there for a word or a question. Once she raised her hand sternly at a bed and sniffed. The cap strings bristled fiercely.
“He’s catching it,” muttered the young man from the private room. “I knew he would. You can’t keep a baccy-pouch in the same room with Aunt Jane.” He sighed a little and glanced, without turning his head, toward the window where the spring clouds sailed and filled with swelling whiteness. A breath of freshness stole in softly. On the sill was a bowl of pansies. He lay looking at them idly. His lids fluttered and closed—and lifted again and fell shut.
Out in the ward the men were laughing and talking. Sanderson, robbed of his baccy-pouch, was sullen and resentful and the men were chaffing him. Aunt Jane drifted through the swing-door at the end of the ward. She placed the cup and plate on a dumb-waiter and crossed the hall to the Women’s Ward. A nurse met her as she came in the door. “Mrs. Crosby is worse. Temperature a hundred and four,” she said in a low voice.
Aunt Jane nodded. She went slowly down the ward. White faces on the pillows greeted[Pg 4] her and followed her. Aunt Jane beamed on them. She stopped beside a young girl and bent over to speak to her. The girl’s face lighted. It lost its fretted look. Aunt Jane had told her that she was to have a chop for her dinner if she was a good girl, and that there was a robin out in the apple-tree. She turned her gaunt eyes toward the window. Her face listened. Aunt Jane went on…. A nurse coming in handed her a slip of paper. She glanced at it and tucked it into her dress. It was a telephone message from Dr. Carmon, asking to have the operating-room ready for an appendicitis case in ten minutes.
The girl with the gaunt eyes called to her:
“Aunt Jane!” The voice was weak and impatient.
Aunt Jane turned slowly back. She stood by the bed, looking down with a smile.
The girl thrust an impatient hand under her cheek: “Can I hear him in here?” she demanded.
Aunt Jane glanced toward the window.
“The robin? Like enough, if he flies this way. I’ll go out and chase him ’round by and by when I get time.”
The girl laughed—a low, pleased laugh. Aunt Jane’s tone had drawn a picture for her: The robin, the flying cap strings in swift pursuit, and all outdoors—birds and trees and sky. She nestled her face on her hand and smiled quietly. “I’m going to be good,” she said.
Aunt Jane looked at her with a severe twinkle. “Yes, you’ll be good—till next time,” she remarked.
The nurse by the door waited, impatient. Aunt Jane came across the room.
“Get 15 ready…. Find the new nurse,” she said. “Send her to the operating-room…. Send Henry to the ambulance door…. Tell Miss Staunton to have things hot, and put out the new ether cones. It wants fresh carbolic and plenty of sponges.”
The nurse sped swiftly away.
Aunt Jane looked peacefully around. She gave one or two instructions to the ward nurse, talked a moment with one of the patients, smiled a kind of general benediction on the beds and faces and sun-lit room, and went quietly out…. At the door of the operating-room she paused a moment and gave[Pg 6] a slow, comfortable glance about. She changed the position of a stand and rearranged the ether cones.
The next minute she was standing at the side door greeting Dr. Carmon. The ambulance was at the door.
“It’s a bad case,” he said. “Waited too long.”
“Woman, I suppose,” said Aunt Jane. She was watching the men as they put the trestles in place.
He looked at her. “How did you know?”
“They’re ‘most always the ones to wait. They stand the pain better’n men.” She stepped to one side with a quiet glance at the litter as the men bore it past. “She’ll come through,” she said as they followed it up the low stairway.
“I wish I felt as sure,” responded Dr. Carmon.
Aunt Jane glanced back. A man was standing at the door, his eyes following them. She looked inquiringly toward the doctor.
“Her husband,” he said. “He’s going to wait.”
The little procession entered the operating-room, and the door was shut.
Categories: English Literature