E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE PRIMROSE RING
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York & London
The Little Mother this book in memory of the Primrose Ring she wove for me once on a time
DEAR PEOPLE,—Whoever you are and wherever you may be when you take up this book—I beg of you not to feel disturbed because I have let Fancy and a faery or two slip in between the covers. You will find them quite harmless and friendly—and very eager to become acquainted.
Furthermore, please do not search about for Saint Margaret's; it does not exist. I shamelessly confess to the building of it myself, using my right of authorship to bring a stone from this place, and a cornice from that, to cap the foundation I discovered long ago—when I was a child. In a like manner have I furnished its board of trustees. Do not misjudge them; remember that when one is so careless as to let Fancy and faeries into a book she is forced to let the stepmothers be unkind and the giants cruel.
I should like to remind those who may be forgetting that Tir-na-n'Og is the land of eternal youth and joyousness—the Celtic "Land of Heart's Desire." It is a country which belongs to us all by right of natural heritage; but we turned our backs to it and started journeying from it almost the instant we stepped out of our cradles.
As for the primrose ring—reach across it to Bridget and let her give you back again the heart of a child which you may have lost somewhere along the road of Growing-Old-and-Wise.
THE PRIMROSE RING
CONCERNING FANCY AND SAINT MARGARET'S
Would it ever have happened at all if Trustee Day had not fallen on the 30th of April—which is May Eve, as everybody knows?
This is something you must ask of those wiser than I, for I am only the story-teller, sitting in the shadow of the market-place, passing on the tale that comes to my ears. But I can remind you that May Eve is one of the most bewitched and bewitching times of the whole year—reason enough to account for any number of strange happenings; and I can point out to your notice that Margaret MacLean, in charge of Ward C at Saint Margaret's, found the flower-seller at the corner of the street that morning with his basket full of primroses. Now primroses are "gentle flowers," as everybody ought to know—which means that the faeries have been using them for thousands of years to work magic; and Margaret MacLean bought the full of her hands that morning.
And this brings us back to Trustee Day at Saint Margaret's—which fell on the 30th of April—and to the beginning of the story.
Saint Margaret's Free Hospital for Children does not belong to the city. It was built by a rich man as a memorial to his son, a little crippled lad who stayed just long enough to leave behind as a legacy for his father a great crying hunger to minister to all little ailing and crippled bodies. There are golden tales concerning those first years of the hospital—tales passed on by word of mouth alone and so old as to have gathered a bit of the misty glow of illusion that hangs over all myths and traditions. They made of Saint Margaret's an arcadian refuge, where the Founder wandered all day and every day like a patron saint. Tradition endowed him with all the attributes of all saints belonging to childhood: the protectiveness of Saint Christopher, the tenderness of Saint Anthony, the loving comradeship of Saint Valentine, and the joyfulness of Saint Nicholas.
But that was more than fifty years ago; and institutions can change marvelously in half a century. Time had buried more than the Founder.
The rich still support Saint Margaret's. Society gives bazars and costumed balls for it annually; great artists give benefit concerts; bankers, corporation presidents, and heiresses send liberal checks once a year—and from this last group are chosen the trustees. They have made of Saint Margaret's the best-appointed hospital in the city. It is supplied with everything money and power can obtain; leading surgeons are listed on its staff; its nurses rank at the head. It has outspanned the greatest dream of the Founder—professionally. And twelve times a year—at the end of every month—the trustees hold their day; which means that all through the late afternoon, until the business meeting at five-thirty, they wander over the building.
Now it is the business of institutional directors to be thorough, and the trustees of Saint Margaret's, previous to the 30th of April, never forgot their business. They looked into corners and behind doors to see what had not been done; they followed the work-trails of every employee—from old Cassie, the scrub-woman, to the Superintendent herself; and if one was a wise employee one blazed conspicuously and often. They gathered in little groups and discussed methods for conservation and greater efficiency, being as up to date in their charities as in everything else. Also, they brought guests and showed them about; for when one was rich and had put one's money into collections of sick and crippled children instead of old ivories and first editions, it did not at all mean that one had not retained the same pride of exhibiting.
There are a few rare natures who make collections for the sheer love of the objects they collect, and if they can be persuaded to show them off at all it is always with so much tenderness and sympathy that even the feelings of a delicately wrought Buddha could not be bruised. But there were none of these natures numbered among the trustees of Saint Margaret's. And because it was purely a matter of charity and pride with them, and because they never had any time left over from being thorough and business-like to spend on the children themselves, they never failed to leave a shaft of gloom behind them on Trustee Day. The contagious ward always escaped by virtue of its own power of self-defense; but the shaft started at the door of the surgical ward and went widening along through the medical and the convalescent until it reached the incurables at an angle of indefinite radiation. There was a reason for this—as Margaret MacLean put it once in paraphrase:
"Children come and children go, but we stay on for ever."
Trustee Day was an abiding memory only with the incurables; which meant that twelve times a year—at the end of every month—Ward C cried itself to sleep.
Spring could not have begun the day better. She is never the spendthrift that summer is, but once in a while she plunges recklessly into her treasure-store and scatters it broadcast. On this last day of April she was prodigal with her sunshine; out countryward she garnished every field and wood and hollow with her best. Everywhere were flowers and pungent herby things in such abundance that even the city folk could sense them afar off.
Little cajoling breezes scuttled around corners and down thoroughfares, blowing good humor in and bad humor out. Birds of passage—song-sparrows, tanagers, bluebirds, and orioles—even a pair of cardinals—stopped wherever they could find a tree or bush from which to pipe a friendly greeting. Yes, spring certainly could not have begun the day better; it was as if everything had said to itself, "We know this is a very special occasion and we must do our share in making it fine."
So well did everything succeed that Margaret MacLean was up and out of Saint Margaret's a full half-hour earlier than usual, her heart singing antiphonally with the birds outside. Coatless, but capped and in her gray uniform, she jumped the hospital steps, two at a time, and danced the length of the street.
Now Margaret MacLean was small and slender, and there was nothing grotesque in the dancing. It had become a natural means of expressing the abundant life and joyousness she had felt ever since she had been free of crutches and wheeled chairs; and an impartial stranger, had he been passing, would have watched her with the same uncritical delight that he might have bestowed on any wood creature had it suddenly appeared darting along the pavement. She reached the corner just in time to bump into the flower-seller, who was turning about like some old tabby to settle himself and his basket.
"Oh!" she cried in dismay, for the flower-seller was wizened and unsteady of foot, and she had sent him spinning about in a dizzy fashion. She put out a steadying hand. "Oh . . . !" This time it was in ecstasy; she had spied the primroses in the basket just as the sunshine splashed over the edge of the corner building straight down upon them. Margaret MacLean dropped to one knee and laid her cheek against them. "The happy things—you can hear them laugh! I want all—all I can carry." She looked up quizzically at the flower-seller. "Now how did you ever happen to think of bringing these—to-day?"
A pair of watery old eyes twinkled, thereby becoming amazingly young in an instant, and he wagged his head mysteriously while he raised a significant finger. "Sure, wasn't I knowin', an' could I be afther bringin' anythin' else? But the rest that passes—or stops—will see naught but yellow flowers in a basket, I'm thinkin'." And the flower-seller set to shaking his head sorrowfully.
"Perhaps not. There are the children—"
"Aye, the childher; but the most o' them be's gettin' too terrible wise."
"I know—I know—but mine aren't. I'm going to take my children back as many as I can carry." She stretched both hands about a mass of stems—all they could compass. "See"—she held up a giant bunch—"so much happiness is worth a great deal. Feel in the pocket of my apron and you will find—gold for gold. It was the only money I had in my purse. Keep it all, please." With a nod and a smile she left him, dancing her way back along the still deserted street.
"'Tis the faeries' own day, afther all," chuckled the flower-seller as he eyed the tiny gold disk in his palm; then he remembered, and called after the diminishing figure of the nurse: "Hey, there! Mind what ye do wi' them blossoms. They be's powerful strong magic." And he chuckled again.
The hall-boy, shorn of uniform and dignity, was outside, polishing brasses, when Margaret MacLean reached the hospital door. She stopped for an interchange of grins and greetings.
"Mornin', Miss Peggie."
He was "Patrick" to the rest of Saint Margaret's; no one else seemed to realize that he was only about one-fifth uniform and the other fifths were boy—small boy at that.
She eyed his work critically. "That's right—polish them well, Patsy. They must shine especially bright to-day."
"Why, what's happenin' to-day?"
"Oh—everything, and—nothing at all."
And she passed on through the door with a most mysterious smile, thereby causing Patsy to mentally comment:
"My, don't she beat all! More'n half the time a feller don't know what she's kiddin' about; but, gee! don't he like it!"
As it happened the primroses did not get as far as Ward C then. Margaret MacLean found the door of the board-room ajar, and, glancing in, looked square into the eyes of the Founder of Saint Margaret's, where he hung in his great gold frame—silent and questioning.
"If all the tales they tell about you are true, you must wonder what has happened to Saint Margaret's since you turned it over to a board of trustees."
She went in and stood close to him, smiling wistfully. "Perhaps you would like me to leave you the primroses until after the meeting—they would be sure to cheer you up; and they might—they might—" Laughing, she went over to the President's desk and put the flowers in the green Devonshire bowl.
She was sitting in the President's chair, coaxing some of the hoydenish blossoms into place, when the House Surgeon looked in a moment later.
"Hello! What are you doing? I thought you detested this room." He spoke in a teasing, big-brother way, while his eyes dwelt pleasurably on the small gray figure in the President's chair. For, be it said without partiality or prejudice, Margaret MacLean was beautiful, with a beauty altogether free from self-appraisement.
"I do—I hate it!" Then she wagged her head and raised a significant finger in perfect imitation of the flower-seller. "I am dabbling in—magic. I am starting here a terrible and insidious campaign against gloom."
The House Surgeon looked amused. "You make me shiver, all right; but I haven't the smallest guess coming. Would you mind putting it into scientific American?"
"I'm afraid I couldn't. But I can make a plain statement in prose—this is Trustee Day."
"Hell!" The House Surgeon walked over to the calendar on the desk to verify the fact. "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
Margaret MacLean spread her hands over the primroses, indicatively. "I told you—magic." She wrinkled up her forehead into a worrisome frown. "Let me see; I counted them, up last night, and I have had two hundred and twenty-eight Trustee Days in my life. I have tried about everything else—philosophy, Christianity, optimism, mental sclerosis, and missionary fever; but never magic. Don't you think it sounds—hopeful?"
The House Surgeon laughed. "You are the funniest little person I ever knew. On duty you're as old as Methuselah and as wise as Hippocrates, but the rest of the time I believe your feet are eternally treading the nap off antique wishing-carpets. I wonder how many you've worn out. As for that head of yours, it bobs like a penny balloon among the clouds looking for—"
"Faeries?" suggested Margaret MacLean.
"That just about hits it. Will you please tell me how you, of all people, ever evolved these—ideas—out of Saint Margaret's?"
A grim smile tightened the corners of her mouth while she looked across the room to the portrait that hung opposite the Founder's—the portrait of the Old Senior Surgeon. "I had to," she said at last. "When a person is born with absolutely nothing—nothing of the human things a human baby is entitled to—she has to evolve something to live in; a sort of sea-urchin affair with spines of make-believe sticking out all over it to keep prodding away life as it really is. If she didn't the things she had missed would flatten her out into a flabby pulp—just skin and feelings."
"And so you make believe that Trustee Day isn't really bad?"
"Oh dear, no! But I keep believing it's going to be much better. Did you ever think what it could be like—if the trustees would only make it something more than—a matter of business? Why, it could be as good as any faery-tale come true, with a dozen god-parents instead of one; and think of the wonderful things they could do it they tried. Think—think—and, oh, the fun of it!"
She broke off with a little shivering ache. When the picture became so alive that it pulled at one's heart-strings, it was time to stop. But the next moment she was laughing merrily.
"Do you know, when I was a little tad and couldn't sleep at night with the pain, I used to make believe I was a 'truster' and say over to myself all the nice, comforting things I wished they would say. It began to sound so real that one day I answered—just as if some one had said something pleasant."
"Well?" interrogated the House Surgeon, much amused.
"Well, it was the Oldest Trustee, of course; and she raised those lorgnettes and reminded me that a good child never spoke unless she was spoken to. I suppose it will take lots and lots of magic to turn them into god-parents."
"Look here," and the House Surgeon reached across the desk and took a firm, big-brother grip of her hands, "faery-tales have to have stepmothers as well as godmothers—think of it that way. And remember that those kiddies of yours were never born to ride in pumpkin coaches."
"But I'm not reaching out for faery luxuries for them. I want them to be children—plain, happy, laughing children—with as normal a heritage as we can scrape together for them. All it needs is the magic of a little human understanding. That's the most potent magic in the whole world. Why, it can do anything!"
A little-girl look came into Margaret MacLean's face. It always did when she was wanting anything very much or was thinking about something very intensely. It was the hardest kind of a look to resist. She had often threshed this subject out with the House Surgeon before; for it was her theory that when a body's material condition was rather poor and meager there was all the more reason for scraping together what one could of a spiritual heritage and living thereby.
"And don't you see," she had urged, at least a score of times, "if we could only teach all the cripples to let their minds run—free-limbed—over hilltops and pleasant places, their natures would never need to warp and wither after the fashion of their poor bodies. And the time to begin is in childhood, when the mind is learning to walk alone."
Usually the House Surgeon was easily convinced to the Margaret MacLean side of any argument; but this time, for reasons of his own, he turned an unsympathetic and stubborn ear. He was coming to believe very strongly that all this fanciful optimism was so much laughing-gas, with only a passing power, and when the effect wore off there would be the Dickens to pay. He did not want to see Margaret MacLean turn into a bitter-minded woman of the world—stripped of her trust and her dreams. He—all of them—had need of her as she was. Her belief in the ultimate good of things and persons, however, was beyond power of human achievement; and the surest cure for disappointments was to amputate all expectations. So the House Surgeon hardened his heart and became as professionally severe as he knew how to be.
"It's absolutely impossible to expect a group of incurable children in an institution to be made as normal and happy as other children. It can't be done. Those kiddies are up against a pretty hard proposition, I know; but the kindest thing you can do for them is to toughen them into not feeling—"
The nurse in charge of Ward C wrenched away her hands fiercely. "You're just like the Senior Surgeon. He thinks the whole dependent world—the sick and the poor and the incompetent—have no business with ideas or feelings of their own. He's always saying, 'Train it out of them; train it out of them; and it will make it easier for institutions to take care of them.' It's for ever the 'right of the strong' with him. Unless you are able to take care of yourself you are not entitled to the ordinary privileges of a human being."
"I'm not at all like the Senior Surgeon. I don't mean that, and you know it. What I am trying to make you understand is that these kiddies can't keep you always; some time they will have to learn to do without you. When that happens it will come tough on them. It would come tough on anybody; and the square thing for you to do is to stop being—so all-fired adorable." The House Surgeon flung back his head and marched out of the board-room, slamming the door.
Behind the slammed door Margaret MacLean eyed the primroses suspiciously. "I wonder—is your magic working all right to-day? Please—please don't weave any charms against him, little faery people. He is the only other grown-up person who has ever understood the least bit; and I couldn't bear to lose him, too."
For the second time that morning she nestled her cheek against the blossoms. Then the clock on the hospital tower struck eight. She jumped with a start. "Time to go on duty." Once again her eyes met the eyes of the Founder and sparkled witchingly. She raised high the green Devonshire bowl from the President's desk as for a toast.
"Here's to Saint Margaret's—as you founded her; and the children—as you meant them to be; and here's to the one who first understood!" She turned from the Founder to the portrait hanging opposite, and bowed most worshipfully to the Old Senior Surgeon.
IN WHICH MARGARET MACLEAN REVIEWS A MEMORY
As Margaret MacLean climbed the stairs to Ward C—she rarely took the lift, it was too remindful of the time when she could not climb stairs—her mind thought back a step for each step she mounted. When she had reached the top of the first flight she was a child again, back in one of the little white iron cribs in her own ward; and it was the day when the first stringent consciousness came to her that she hated Trustee Day.
The Old Senior Surgeon—the present one, of whom Saint Margaret's felt inordinately proud, was house surgeon then—had come into Ward C for a peep at her, and had called out, according to a firmly established custom, "Hello, Thumbkin! What's the news?"
She had been "Thumbkin" to him ever since the night he had carried her into the hospital, a tiny mite of a baby; and he had woven out of her coming a marvelous story—fancy-fashioned. This he had told her at least twice a week, from the time she was old enough to ask for it, because it had popped into his head quite suddenly that this morsel of humanity would some day insist on being accounted for.
The bare facts concerning her were rather shabby ones. She had been unceremoniously dumped into his arms by a delegate from the Foundling Asylum, who had found him the most convenient receptacle nearest the door; and he had been offered the meager information that she belonged to no one, was wrong somehow, and a hospital was the place for her.
One hardly likes to pass on shabby garments, much less shabby facts, to cover another's past. So the Old Senior Surgeon had forestalled her inquisitiveness with a tale adorned with all the pretty imaginings that he, "a clumsy-minded old gruffian," could conjure up.
Margaret MacLean remembered the story—word for word—as we remember "The House That Jack Built." It began with the Old Senior Surgeon himself, who heard a pair of birds disputing in one of the two trees which sentineled the hospital. They had built a nest therein; it was bedtime, and they wished to retire, only something prevented. Upon investigation he discovered the cause—"and there you were, my dear, no bigger than my thumb!"
This was the nucleus of the story; but the Old Senior Surgeon had rolled it about, hither and yon, adding adventure after adventure, until it had assumed gigantic proportions. As she grew older she took a hand in the adventure-making herself, he supplying the bare plot, she weaving the threads therefrom into a detailed narrative which she retold to him later, with a few imaginings of her own added. This is what had established the custom for the Old Senior Surgeon to take a peep into Ward C at day's end and call across to her: "Hello, Thumbkin! What's the news?" or, "What's happened next?" And until this day the answer had always been a joyous one.
Margaret MacLean, grown, could look back at tiny Margaret MacLean and see her very clearly as she straightened up in the little iron crib and answered in a shrill, tense voice: "I'm not Thumbkin. I'm a foundling. I don't belong to anybody. I never had any father or mother or nothing, but just a hurt back; they said so. They stood right there—two of them; and one told the other all about me."
This was the end of the story, and the beginning of Trustee Days for Margaret MacLean.
She soon made the discovery that she was not the only child in the ward who felt about it that way. Her discovery was a matter of intuition rather than knowledge; for—as if by silent consent—the topic was carefully avoided in the usual ward conversation. One does not make it a rule to talk about the hobgoblins that lurk in the halls at night, or the gray, creeping shapes that come out of dark corners and closets after one has gone to bed, if one is so pitifully unfortunate as to possess these things in childhood. Instead one just remembers and waits, shivering. Only to old Cassie, the scrub-woman, who was young Cassie then, did she confide her fear. From her she received a charm—compounded of goose eggshells and vinegar—which Cassie claimed to be what they used in Ireland to unbewitch changelings. She kept the charm hidden for months under her pillow. It proved comforting, although absolutely ineffectual.
And for months there had been a strained relationship between the Old Senior Surgeon and herself, causing them both much embarrassment. She resented the story he had made for her with all her child soul; he had cheated her—fooled her. She felt much as we felt toward our parents when we made our first discovery concerning Santa Claus.
But after a time—a long time—the story came to belong to her again; she grew to realize that the Old Senior Surgeon had told it truthfully—only with the unconscious tongue of the poet instead of the grim realist. She found out as well that it had done a wonderful thing for her: it had turned life into an adventure—a quest upon which one was bound to depart, no matter how poorly one's feet might be shod or how persistently the rain and wind bit at one's marrow through the rags of a conventional cloak. More than this—it had colored the road ahead for her, promising pleasant comradeship and good cheer; it would keep her from ever losing heart or turning back.
A day came at last when she and the Old Senior Surgeon could laugh—a little foolishly, perhaps—over the child-story; and then, just because they could laugh at it and feel happy, they told it together all over again. They made much of Thumbkin's christening feast, and the gifts the good godmothers brought.
"Let me see," said the Old Senior Surgeon, cocking his head thoughtfully, "there was the business-like little party on a broomstick, carrying grit—plain grit."
"And the next one brought happiness—didn't she?" asked little Margaret MacLean.
He nodded. "Of course. Then came a little gray-haired faery with a nosegay of Thoughts-for-other-folks, all dried and ready to put away like sweet lavender."
"And did the next bring love?"
Again he agreed. "But after her, my dear, came a comfortable old lady in a chaise with a market-basket full of common-sense."
"And then—then— Oh, couldn't the one after her bring beauty? Some one always did in the book stories. I think I wouldn't mind the back and—other things so much if my face could be nice."
Margaret MacLean, grown, could remember well how tearfully eager little Margaret MacLean had been.
The Old Senior Surgeon looked down with an odd, crinkly smile. "Have you never looked into a glass, Thumbkin?"
She shook her head.
Children in the wards of free hospitals have no way of telling how they look, and perhaps it is better that way. Only if it happens—as it does sometimes—that they spend a good share of their life there, it seems as if they never had a chance to get properly acquainted with themselves.
For a moment he patted her hand; after which he said, very solemnly: "Wait for a year and a day—then look. You will find out then just what the next faery brought."
Margaret MacLean had obeyed this command to the letter. When the year and a day came she had been able to stand on tiptoe and look at herself for the first time in her life; and she would never forget the gladness of that moment. It had appeared nothing short of a miracle to her that she should actually possess something of which she need not be ashamed—something nice to share with the world. And whenever Margaret MacLean thought of her looks at all, which was rare, she thought of them in that way.
She took up the memory again where she had dropped it on the second flight of stairs, slowly climbing her way to Ward C, and went on with the story.
They came to the place where Thumbkin was pricked by the wicked faery with the sleeping-thorn and put to sleep for a hundred years, after the fashion of many another story princess; and the Old Senior Surgeon suddenly stopped and looked at her sharply.
"Some day, Thumbkin, I may play the wicked faery and put you to sleep. What would you say to that?"
She did not say—then.
More months passed, months which brought an ashen, drawn look to the face of the Old Senior Surgeon, and a tired-out droop to his shoulders and eyes. She began to notice that the nurses eyed him pityingly whenever he came into the ward, and the house surgeon shook his head ominously. She wondered what it meant; she wondered more when he came at last to remind her of his threatened promise.
"You remember, Thumbkin, about that sleep? Would you let an old faery doctor put you to sleep, for a little while, if he was very sure you would wake up to find happiness—and health—and love—and all the other gifts the godmothers brought?"
She tried her best to keep the frightened look out of her eyes. By the way he watched her, however, she knew some of it must have crept in. "Operation?" she managed to choke out at last.
Operation was a fairly common word in Ward C, and not an over-hopeful one.
"It's this way, Thumbkin; and let's make a bargain of it. I think there's a cure for that back of yours. It hasn't been tried very much; about often enough to make it worth while for us to take a chance. I'll be honest with you and tell you the house surgeon doesn't think it can be done; but that's where the bargain comes in. He thinks he can mend my trouble, and I don't; and we're both dreadfully greedy to prove we're right. Now if you will give me my way with you I will give him his. But you must come first."
"A hundred years is a long time to be asleep," she objected.
"Bless you, it won't be a hundred minutes."
"And does your back need it, too?"
"Not my back; my stomach. It's about the only chance for either of us, Thumbkin."
"And you won't unless I do?"
The Old Senior Surgeon gave his head a terrific shake; then he caught her small hands in his great, warm, comforting ones. "Think. It means a strong back; a pair of sturdy little legs to take you anywhere; and the whole world before you!"
"And you'll have them, too?"
He smiled convincingly.
"All right. Let's." She gave his hand a hard, trustful squeeze.
She liked to remember that squeeze. She often wondered if it might not have helped him to do what he had to do.
Her operation was record-making in its success; and after he had seen her well on the mend he gave himself over to the house surgeon and a fellow-colleague, according to the bargain. He proved the house surgeon wrong, for he never rallied. Undoubtedly he knew this would be the way of it; for he stopped in Ward C before he went up to the operating-room and said to her:
"I shall be sleeping longer than you did, Thumbkin; but, never fear, I shall be waking some time, somewhere. And remember this: Never grow so strong and well that you forget how tiresome a hospital crib can be. Never be so happy that you grow blind to the heartaches of other children; and never wander so far away from Saint Margaret's that you can't come back, sometimes, and make a story for some one else."
She puzzled a good bit over this, especially the first part of it; but when they told her the next day, she understood. Probably she grieved for him more than had any one else; even more than the members of his own family or profession. For, whereas there are many people in the world who can give life to others, there are but few who can help others to possess it.
What childhood she had had she left behind her soon after this, along with her aching back, her helpless limbs, and the little iron crib in Ward C.
On the first Trustee Day following her complete recovery she appeared, at her own request, before the meeting of the board. In a small, frightened voice she asked them to please send her away to school. She wanted to learn enough to come back to Saint Margaret's and be a nurse.
The trustees consented. Having assumed the responsibility of her well-being for over fifteen years, they could not very easily shirk it now. Furthermore, was it not a praise-worthy tribute to Saint Margaret's as a charitable institution, and to themselves as trustees, that this child whom they had sheltered and helped to cure should choose this way of showing her gratitude? Verily, the board pruned and plumed itself well that day.
All this Margaret MacLean lived over again as she climbed the stairs to Ward C on the 30th of April, her heart glowing warm with the memory of this man who had first understood; who had freed her mind from the abnormality of her body and the stigma of her heritage; who had made it possible for her to live wholesomely and deeply; and who had set her feet upon a joyous mission. For the thousandth time she blessed that memory.
It had been no disloyalty on her part that she had closed her lips and said nothing when the House Surgeon had questioned her about her fancy-making. She could never get away from the feeling that some of the sweetness and sacredness might be lost with the telling of the memory. One is so apt to cheapen a thing when one tries hastily to put it into words, and ever afterward it is never quite the same.
On the second floor she stopped; and by chance she looked over, between spiral banisters, to the patch of hallway below. It just happened that the House Surgeon was standing there, talking with one of the internes.
Margaret MacLean smiled whimsically. "If there is a soul in the wide world I could share it with, it is the House Surgeon." And then she added, aloud, softly apostrophizing the top of his head, "I think some day you might grow to be very—very like the Old Senior Surgeon; that is, if you would only stop trying to be like the present one."
A welcoming shout went up from Ward C as Margaret MacLean entered. It was lusty enough to have come from the throats of healthy children, and it would have sounded happily to the most impartial ears; to the nurse in charge it was a very pagan of gladness.
"Wish you good morning, good meals, and good manners," laughed Margaret MacLean; and then she went from crib to crib with a special greeting for each one. Oh, she firmly believed that a great deal depended on how the day began.
In the first crib lay Pancho, of South American parentage, partially paralyzed and wholly captivating. He had been in Saint Margaret's since babyhood—he was six now—and had never worn anything but a little hospital shirt.
"Good morning, Brown Baby," she said, kissing his forehead. "It's just the day for you out on the sun-porch; and you'll hear birds—lots of them."
"Yes, and bluebirds, too. I've heard them already."
Next came Sandy—merry of heart—a humpback laddie from Aberdeen. His parents had gone down with the steerage of a great ocean liner, and society had cared for him until the first horror of the tragedy had passed; then some one fortunately had mentioned Saint Margaret's, and society was relieved of its burden. In the year he had spent here his Aberdonian burr had softened somewhat and a number of American colloquialisms had crept into his speech; but for all that he was "the braw canny Scot"—as the House Surgeon always termed him—and he objected to kisses. So the good-morning greeting was a hearty hand-shake between the two—comrade fashion.
"It wad be a bonnie day i' Aberdeen," he reminded her, blithely. "But 'tis no the robins there 'at wad be singin'."
"Shall I guess?"
"Na, I'll tell ye. Laverocks!"
"Really, Sandy?" And then she suddenly remembered something. "Now you guess what you're going to have for supper to-night."
"Bully!" And Sandy clapped his hands ecstatically.
Beside Sandy lay Susan—smart, shrewd, and American, with braced legs and back, and a philosophy that failed her only on Trustee Days. But as calendars are not kept in Ward C no one knew what this day was; and consequently Susan was grinning all over her pinched, gnome-like little face. Margaret MacLean kissed her on both cheeks; the Susan-kind hunger for affection, but the world rarely finds it out and therefore gives sparingly.
"Guess yer couldn't guess what I dreamt last night, Miss Peggie?"
"About the aunt?" This was a mythical relation of Susan's who lived somewhere and who was supposed to turn up some day and claim Susan with open arms. She was the source of many dreams and of much interested conversation and heated argument in the ward, and the children had her pictured down to the smallest detail of person and clothes.
"No, 'tain't my aunt this time. I dreamt you was gettin' married, Miss Peggie." And Susan giggled delightedly.
"An' goin' away?" This was groaned out in chorus from the two cots following Susan's, wherein lay James and John—fellow-Apostles of pain—bound closely together in that spiritual brotherhood. They were sitting up, holding hands and staring at Margaret with wide, anguish-filled eyes.
"Of course I'm not going away, little brothers; and I'm not going to get married. Does any one ever get married in Saint Margaret's?"
The Apostles thought very hard about it for a moment; but as it had never happened before, of course it never would now, and Miss Peggie was safe.
The whole ward smiled again. But in that moment Margaret MacLean remembered what the House Surgeon had said, and wondered. Was she building up for them an ultimate discontent in trying to make life happy and full for them now? Could not minds like theirs be taught to walk alone, after all? And then she laughed to herself for worrying. Why should the children ever have to do without her—unless—unless something came to them far better—like Susan's mythical aunt? The children need never leave Saint Margaret's as long as they lived, and she never should; and she passed on to the next cot, content that all was well.
As she stooped over the bed a pair of thin little arms flew out and clasped themselves tightly about her neck; a head with a shock of red curls buried itself in the folds of the gray uniform. This was Bridget—daughter of the Irish sod, oldest of the ward, general caretaker and best beloved; although it should be added in justice to both Bridget and Margaret MacLean that the former had no consciousness of it, and the latter took great care to hide it.
It was Bridget who read to the others when no one else could; it was Bridget who remembered some wonderful story to tell on those days when Sandy's back was particularly bad or the Apostles grew over-despondent; and it was Bridget who laughed and sang on the gray days when the sun refused to be cheery. Undoubtedly it was because of all these things that her cot was in the center of Ward C.
Concerning Bridget herself, hers was a case of arsenical poisoning, slowly absorbed while winding daisy-stems for an East Broadway manufacturer of cheap artificial flowers. She had done this for three years—since she was five—thereby helping her mother to support themselves and two younger children. She was ten now and the Senior Surgeon had already reckoned her days.
In the shadow of Bridget's cot was Rosita's crib—Rosita being the youngest, the most sensitive, and the most given to homesickness. This last was undoubtedly due to the fact that she was the only child in the incurable ward blessed in the matter of a home. Her parents were honest-working Italians who adored her, but who were too ignorant and indulgent to keep her alive. They came every Sunday, and sat out the allotted time for visitors beside her crib, while the other children watched in a silent, hungry-eyed fashion.
Margaret MacLean passed her with a kiss and went on to Peter—Peter—seven years old—congenital hip disease—and all boy.
"Hello, you!" he shouted, squirming under the kiss that he would not have missed for anything.
"Hello, you!" answered back the administering nurse, and then she asked, solemnly, "How's Toby?"
"He's—he's fine. That soap the House Surgeon give me cured his fleas all up."
Toby was even more mythical than Susan's aunt; she was based on certain authentic facts, whereas Toby was solely the creation of a dog-adoring little brain. But no one was ever inconsiderate enough to hint at his airy fabrication; and Margaret MacLean always inquired after him every morning with the same interest that she bestowed on the other occupants of Ward C.
Last in the ward came Michael, a diminutive Russian exile with valvular heart trouble and a most atrocious vocabulary. The one seemed as incurable as the other. Margaret MacLean had wrestled with the vocabulary on memorable occasions—to no avail; and although she had long since discovered it was a matter of words and not meanings with him, it troubled her none the less. And because Michael came the nearest to being the black sheep of this sanitary fold she showed for him always an unfailing gentleness.
"Good morning, dear," she said, running her fingers through the perpendicular curls that bristled continuously.
"Goot mornun, tear," he mimicked, mischievously; and then he added, with an irresistible smile, "Und Got-tam-you."
"Oh, Michael, don't you remember, the next time you were going to say 'God bless you'?"
Margaret MacLean sighed unconsciously. Michael's "next time" was about as reliable as the South American manana; and he seemed as much an alien now as the day he was brought into the ward. And then, because she believed that kindness was the strongest weapon for victory in the end, she did the thing Michael loved best.
Ward C was turned into a circus menagerie, and Margaret MacLean and her assistant were turned into keepers. Together they set about the duties for the day with great good-humor. Two seals, a wriggling hippopotamus, a roaring polar bear, a sea-serpent of surprising activities, two teeth-grinding alligators, a walrus, and a baby elephant were bathed with considerable difficulty and excitement. It was Sandy who insisted on being the elephant in spite of a heated argument from the other animals that, having a hump, he ought to be a camel. They forgave him later, however, when he squirted forth his tooth-brush water and trumpeted triumphantly, thereby causing the entire menagerie to squirm about and bellow in great glee.
At this point the head keeper had to turn them all back instantly into children, and she delivered a firm but gentle lecture on the inconsiderateness of soaking a freshly changed bed.
Sandy broke into penitent tears; and because tears were never allowed to dampen the atmosphere of Ward C when they could possibly be dammed, Margaret MacLean did the "best-of-all-things." She pushed the cribs and cots all together into a "special" with observation-cars; then, changing into an engineer, and with a call to Toby to jump aboard, she swung herself into the caboose-rocker and opened the throttle. The bell rang; the whistle tooted; and the engine gave a final snort and puff, bounding away countryward where spring had come.
Those of you who live where you can always look out on pleasant places, or who can travel at will into them, may find it hard to understand how wearisome and stupid it grows to be always in one room with an encompassing sky-line of roof-tops and chimneys, or may fail to sound the full depths of wonder and delight over the ride that Ward C took that memorable day.
The engineer pointed out everything—meadows full of flowers, trees full of birds, gardens new planted, and corn-fields guarded by scarecrows. She slowed up at the barnyards that the children might hear the crowing cocks and clucking hens with their new-hatched broods, and see the neighboring pastures with their flocks of sheep and tiny lambs.
"A ken them weel—hoo the wee creepits bleeted hame i' Aberdeen!" shouted Sandy, bleeting for the whole pastureful.
And when they came to the smallest of mountain brooks the engineer followed it, down, down, until it had grown into a stream with cowslipped banks; and on and on until it had grown into a river with little boats and sandy shore and leaping fish. Here the engineer stopped the train; and every one who wanted to—and there were none who did not—went paddling; and some went splashing about just as if they could swim.
Back in the "special," they climbed a hilltop, slowly, so that the engineer could point out each farm and pasture and stream in miniature that they had seen close by.
"That's the wonder of a hilltop," she explained; "you can see everything neighboring each other." And when they reached the crest she clapped her hands. "Oh, children dear, wouldn't it be beautiful to build a house on a hilltop just like this to live in always!"
Afterward they rode into deep woods, where the sunlight came down through the trees like splashes of gold; and here the engineer suggested they should have a picnic.
As Margaret MacLean stepped out into the hall to look up the dinner-trays she met the House Surgeon.
"Dreading it as much as usual?" he asked, in the teasing, big-brother tone; but he looked at her in quite another way.
She laughed. "I'm hoping it isn't going to be as bad as the time before—and the time before that—and the time before that." She pushed back some moist curls that had slipped out from under her cap—engineering was hard work—and the little-girl look came into her face. She looked up mischievously at the House Surgeon. "You couldn't possibly guess what I've been doing all morning."
The House Surgeon wrinkled his forehead in his most professional manner. "Precautionary disinfecting?"
Margaret MacLean laughed again. "That's an awfully good guess, but it's wrong. I've been administering antitoxin for trusteria."
In spite of her gay assurance before the House Surgeon, however, it was rather a sober nurse in charge of Ward C who sat down that afternoon with a book of faery-tales on her knee open to the story of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." As for Ward C, it was supremely happy; its beloved "Miss Peggie" was on duty for the afternoon with the favorite book for company; moreover, no one had discovered as yet that this was Trustee Day and that the trustees themselves were already near at hand.
A shadow fell athwart the threshold that very moment. Margaret MacLean could feel it without taking her eyes from the book, and, purposefully unmindful of its presence, she kept reading steadily on:
"'The paper boat was rocking up and down; sometimes it turned round so quickly that the Tin Soldier trembled; but he remained firm, he did not move a muscle, and looked straight forward, shouldering his musket.'"
"Ah, Miss MacLean, may I speak with you a moment?" It was the voice of the Meanest Trustee.
The nurse in charge rose quickly and met him half-way, hoping to keep him and whatever he might have to say as far from the children as possible.
The Meanest Trustee continued in a little, short, sharp voice: "The cook tells me that the patients in this ward have been having extra food prepared for them of late, such as fruit and jellies and scones and even ice-cream. I discovered it for myself. I saw some pineapples in the refrigerator when I was inspecting it this afternoon, and the cook said it was your orders."
Margaret MacLean smiled her most ingratiating smile. "You see," she said, eagerly, "the children in this ward get fearfully tired of the same things to eat; it is not like the other wards where the children stay only a short time. So I thought it would be nice to have something different—once in a while; and then the old things would taste all the better—don't you see? I felt sure the trustees would be willing."
"Well, they are not. It is an entirely unnecessary expense which I will not countenance. The regular food is good and wholesome, and the patients ought to feel grateful for it instead of finding fault."
The nurse looked anxiously toward the cots, then dropped her voice half an octave lower.
"The children have never found fault; it was just my idea to give them a treat when they were not expecting it. As for the extra expense, there has been none; I have paid for everything myself."
The Meanest Trustee readjusted his eye-glasses and looked closer at the young woman before him. "Do you mean to say you paid for them out of your own wages?"
The nurse nodded.
"Then all I have to say is that I consider it an extremely idiotic performance which had better be stopped. Children should not be indulged."
And he went away muttering something about the poor always remaining poor with their foolish notions of throwing away money; and Margaret MacLean went back to the book of faery-tales. But as she was looking for the place Sandy grunted forth stubbornly:
"A'm no wantin' ony scones the nicht, so ye maun na fetch them."
And Peter piped out, "Trusterday, ain't it, Miss Peggie?"
"Yes, dear. Now shall we go on with the story?"
She had read to where the rat was demanding the passport when she recognized the President's step outside the door. In another moment he was standing beside her chair, looking at the book on her knee.
"Humph! faery-tales! Is that not very foolish? Don't you think, Miss Margaret, it would be more suitable to their condition in life if you should select—hmm—something like Pilgrim's Progress or Lives of the Saints and Martyrs? Something that would be a preparation—so to speak—for the future." He stood facing her now, his back to the children.
"Excuse me"—she was smiling up at him—"but I thought this was a better preparation."
The President frowned. He was a much-tried man—a man of charitable parts, who directed or presided over thirty organizations. It took him nearly thirty days each month—with the help of two private secretaries and a luxurious office—to properly attend to all the work resulting therefrom; and the matters in hand were often so trying and perplexing that he had to go abroad every other year to avoid a nervous breakdown.
"I think we took up this matter at one of the business meetings," he went on, patiently, "and some arrangement was made for one of the trustees to come and read the Bible and teach the children their respective creeds and catechisms."
Margaret MacLean nodded. "There was; Miss N——"—and she named the Youngest and Prettiest Trustee—"generally comes an hour before the meeting and reads to them; but to-day she was detained by a—tango tea, I believe. That's why I chose this." Her eyes danced unconsciously as she tapped the book.
The President looked at her sharply. "I should think, my dear young lady, that you, of all persons, would realize what a very serious thing life is to any one in this condition. Instead of that I fear at times that you are—shall I say—flippant?" He turned about and looked at the children. "How do you do?" he asked, kindly.
"Thank you, sir, we are very well, sir," they chorused in reply. Saint Margaret's was never found wanting in politeness.
The President left; and the nurse in charge of Ward C went on with the reading.
"'The Tin Soldier stood up to his neck in water; deeper and deeper sank the boat, and the paper became more and more limp; then the water closed over him; but the Tin Soldier remained firm and shouldered his musket.'"
A group filled the doorway; it was the voice of the Oldest Trustee that floated in. "This, my dear, is the incurable ward; we are very much interested in it."
They stood just over the threshold—the Oldest Trustee in advance, her figure commanding and unbent, for all her seventy years, and her lorgnette raised. As she was speaking a little gray wisp of a woman detached herself from the group and moved slowly down the row of cots.
"Yes," continued the Oldest Trustee, "we have two cases of congenital hip disease and three of spinal tuberculosis—that is one of them in the second crib." Her eyes moved on from Sandy to Rosita. "And the fifth patient has such a dreadful case of rheumatism. Sad, isn't it, in so young a child? Yes, the Senior Surgeon says it is absolutely incurable."
Margaret MacLean closed the book with a bang; for five minutes the children had been looking straight ahead with big, conscious eyes, hearing not a word. Rebellion gripped at her heart and she rose quickly and went over to the group.
"Wouldn't you like to come in and talk to the children? They are rather sober this afternoon; perhaps you could make them laugh."
"Yes, wouldn't you like to go in?" put in the Oldest Trustee. "They are very nice children."
But the visitors shrank back an almost infinitesimal distance; and one said, hesitatingly:
"I'm afraid we wouldn't know quite what to say to them."
"Perhaps you would like to see the new pictures for the nurses' room?" the nurse in charge suggested, wistfully.
The Oldest Trustee glanced at her with a hint of annoyance. "We have already seen them. I think you must have forgotten, my dear, that it was I who gave them."
With flashing cheeks Margaret MacLean fled from Ward C. If she had stayed long enough to watch the little gray wisp of a woman move quietly from cot to cot, patting each small hand and asking, tenderly, "And what is your name, dearie?" she might have carried with her a happier feeling. At the door of the board-room she ran into the House Surgeon.
"Is it as bad as all that?" he asked after one good look at her.
"It's worse—a hundred times worse!" She tossed her head angrily. "Do you know what is going to happen some day? I shall forget who I am—and who they are and what they have done for me—and say things they will never forgive. My mind-string will just snap, that's all; and every little pestering, forbidden thought that has been kicking its heels against self-control and sense-of-duty all these years will come tumbling out and slip off the edge of my tongue before I even know it is there."
"They are some hot little thoughts, I wager," laughed the House Surgeon.
And then, from the far end of the cross-corridor, came the voice of the Oldest Trustee, talking to the group:
". . . such a very sweet girl—never forgets her place or her duty. She was brought here from the Foundling Asylum when she was a baby, in almost a dying condition. Every one thought it was an incurable case; the doctors still shake their heads over her miraculous recovery. Of course it took years; and she grew up in the hospital."
With a look of dumb, battling anger the nurse in charge of Ward C turned from the House Surgeon—her hands clenched—while the voice of the Oldest Trustee came back to them, still exhibiting:
"No, we have never been able to find out anything about her parentage; undoubtedly she was abandoned. We named her 'Margaret MacLean,' after the hospital and the superintendent who was here then. Yes, indeed—a very, very sad—"
When the Oldest Trustee reached the boardroom it was empty, barring the primroses, which were guilelessly nodding in the green Devonshire bowl on the President's desk.
CURABLES AND INCURABLES
No one who entered the board-room that late afternoon remembered that it was May Eve; and even had he remembered, it would have amounted to nothing more than the mental process of association. It would not have given him the faintest presentiment that at that very moment the Little People were busy pressing their cloth-o'-dream mantles and reblocking their wishing-caps; that the instant the sun went down the spell would be off the faery raths, setting them free all over the world, and that the gates of Tir-na-n'Og would be open wide for mortals to wander back again. No, not one of the board remembered; the trustees sat looking straight at the primroses and saw nothing, felt nothing, guessed nothing.
They were not unusual types of trustees who served on the board of Saint Margaret's. You could find one or more of them duplicated in the directors' book of nearly any charitable institution, if you hunted for them; the strange part was, perhaps, that they were gathered together in a single unit of power. Besides the Oldest and the Meanest Trustees, there were the Executive, the Social, the Disagreeable, the Busiest, the Dominating, the Calculating, the Petty, and the Youngest and Prettiest. She came fluttering in a minute late from her tea; and right after her came the little gray wisp of a woman, who sat down in a chair by the door so unpretentiously as to make it appear as though she did not belong among them. When the others saw her they nodded distantly: they had just been talking about her.
It seemed that she was the widow of the Richest Trustee. The board had elected her to fill her husband's place lest the annual check of ten thousand—a necessary item on Saint Margaret's books—might not be forthcoming; and this was her first meeting. It was, in fact, her first visit to the hospital. She could never bear to come during her husband's trusteeship because, children having been denied her, she had wished to avoid them wherever and whenever she could, and spare herself the pain their suggestion always brought her. She would not have come now, but that her husband's memory seemed to require it of her.
For years gossip had been busy with the wife of the Richest Trustee—as the widow she did not relax her hold. What the trustees said that day they only repeated from gossip: the little gray wisp of a woman was a nonentity—nothing more—with the spirit of a mouse. She held no position in society, and what she did with her time or her money no one knew. The trustees smiled inwardly and reckoned silently with themselves; at least they would never need to fear opposition from her on any matter of importance.
The last person of all to enter the boardroom was the Senior Surgeon. The President had evidently waited for him, for he nodded to the House Surgeon to close the doors the moment he came.
Now the Senior Surgeon was a man who used capitals for Surgery, Science, and Self, unconsciously eliminating them elsewhere. He had begun in Saint Margaret's as house surgeon; and he had grown to be considered by many of his own profession the leading man of his day. The trustees were as proud of him as they were of the hospital, and it has never been recorded in the traditions of Saint Margaret's that the Senior Surgeon had ever asked for anything that went ungranted. He seldom attended a board meeting; consequently when he came in at five-thirty there was an audible rustle of excitement and the raising of anticipatory eyebrows.
When the President called the meeting to order every trustee was present, as well as the heads of the four wards, the Superintendent, and the two surgeons. The Senior Surgeon sat next to the President; the House Surgeon sat where he could watch equally well the profiles of the Youngest and Prettiest Trustee and Margaret MacLean. His heart had always been inclined to intermit; or—as he put it to himself—he adored them both in quite opposite ways; and which way was the better and more endurable he had never been able to decide.
"In view of the fact," said the President, rising, "that the Senior Surgeon can be with us but a short time this afternoon, and that he has a grave and vital issue to present to you, we will postpone the regular reports until the end of the meeting and take up at once the business in hand." He paused a moment, feeling the dramatic value of his next remark. "For some time the Senior Surgeon has seriously questioned the—hmm—advisability of continuing the incurable ward. He wishes very much to bring the matter before you, and he is prepared to give you his reasons for so doing. Afterward, I think it would be wise for us to discuss the matter very informally." He bowed to the Senior Surgeon and sat down.
The Meanest Trustee snapped his teeth together in an expression of grim satisfaction. "That ward is costing a lot of unnecessary expense, I think," he barked out, sharply, "and it's being run with altogether too free a hand." And he looked meaningly toward Margaret MacLean.
No one paid any particular attention to his remark; they were too deeply engrossed in the Senior Surgeon. And the House Surgeon, watching, saw the profile of the Youngest and Prettiest Trustee become even prettier as it blushed and turned in witching eagerness toward the man who was rising to address the meeting. The other profile had turned rigid and white as a piece of marble.
Now the Senior Surgeon could do a critical major operation in twenty minutes; and he could operate on critical issues quite as rapidly. Speed was his creed; therefore he characteristically attacked the subject in hand without any prefatory remarks.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the board, the incurable ward is doing nothing. I can see no possible reason or opportunity for further observation or experimentation there. Every case in it at the present time, as well as every Case that is likely to come to us, is as a sealed document as far as science is concerned. They are incurable—they will remain incurable for all time."
"How do you know?" The question came from the set lips of the nurse in charge of Ward C.
"How do we know anything in science? We prove it by undeniable, irrevocable facts."
"Even then you are not sure of it. I was proved incurable—but I got well."
"That proves absolutely nothing!" And the Senior Surgeon growled as he always did when things went against his liking. "You were a case in a thousand—in a lifetime. Because it happened once—here in this hospital—is no reason for believing that it will ever happen again."
"Oh yes, it is!" persisted Margaret MacLean. "There is just as much reason for believing as for not believing. Every one of those children, in the ward now might—yes, they might—be a case in a thousand; and no one has any right to take that thousandth of a chance away from them."
"You are talking nonsense—stupid, irrational nonsense." And the Senior Surgeon glared at her.
The truth was that he had never forgiven her for getting well. To have had a slip of a girl juggle with the most reliable of scientific data, as well as with his own undeniable skill as a diagnostician, and grow up normally, healthfully perfect, was insufferable. He had never quite forgiven the Old Senior Surgeon for his share in it. And to have her stand against him and his great desire, now, and actually throw this thing in his face, was more than he could endure. He did not know that Margaret MacLean was fighting for what she loved most on earth, the one thing that seemed to belong to her, the thing that had been given into her keeping by the right of a memory bequeathed to her by the man he could not save. Truth to tell, Margaret MacLean had never quite forgiven the Senior Surgeon for this, blameless as she knew him to be.
And so for the space of a quick breath the two faced each other, aggressive and accusing.
When the Senior Surgeon turned again to the President and the trustees his face wore a faint smile suggestive of amused toleration.
"I hope the time will soon come," he said very distinctly, "when every training-school for nurses will bar out the so-called sentimental, imaginative type; they do a great deal of harm to the profession. As I was saying, the incurable ward is doing nothing, and we need it for surgical cases. Look over the reports for the last few months and you will see how many cases we have had to turn away—twenty in March, sixteen in February; and this month it is over thirty—one a day. Now why waste that room for no purpose?"
"Every one of those cases could get into, some of the other hospitals; but who would take the incurables? What would you do with the children in Ward C, now?" and Margaret MacLean's voice rang out its challenge.
The Senior Surgeon managed to check an angry explosive and turned to the President for succor.
"I think," said that man of charitable parts, "that the meeting is getting a trifle too informal for order. After the Senior Surgeon has finished I will call on those whom I feel have something of—hmm—importance to say. In the mean time, my dear young lady, I beg of you not to interrupt again. The children, of course, could all be returned to their homes."
"Oh no, they couldn't—" There was something hypnotic in the persistence of the nurse in charge of Ward C.
Usually keenly sensitive, abnormally alive to impressions and atmosphere, she shrank from ever intruding herself or her opinions where they were not welcome; but now all personal consciousness was dead. She was wholly unaware that she had worked the Senior Surgeon into a state where he had almost lost his self-control—a condition heretofore unknown in the Senior Surgeon; that she had exasperated the President and reduced the trustees to open-mouthed amazement. The lorgnette shook unsteadily in the hand of the Oldest; and, unmindful of it all, Margaret MacLean went steadily on:
"Most of them haven't any homes, and the others couldn't live in theirs a month. You don't know how terrible they are—five families in one garret, nothing to eat some of the time, father drunk most of the time, and filth and foul air all of the time. That's the kind of homes they have—if they have any."
Her outburst was met with a complete silence, ignoring and humiliating. After a moment the Senior Surgeon went on, as if no one had spoken.
"Am I not right in supposing that you wish to further, as far as it lies within your power, the physical welfare and betterment of the poor in this city? That you wish to do the greatest possible good to the greatest number of children? Ah! I thought so. Well, do you not see how continuing to keep a number of incurable cases for two or three years—or as long as they live—is hindering this? You are keeping out so many more curable cases. For every case in that ward now we could handle ten or fifteen surgical cases each year. Is that not worth considering?"
The trustees nodded approval to one another; it was as if they would say, "The Senior Surgeon is always right."
The surgeon himself looked at his watch; he had three minutes left to clinch their convictions. Clearly and admirably he outlined his present scope of work; then, stepping into the future, he showed into what it might easily grow, had it the room and beds. He showed indisputably what experimental surgery had done for science—what a fertile field it was; and wherein lay Saint Margaret's chance to plow a furrow more and reap its harvest. At the end he intimated that he had outgrown his present limited conditions there, that unless these were changed he should have to betake himself and his operative skill elsewhere.
A painfully embarrassing hush closed in on the meeting as the Senior Surgeon resumed his seat. It was broken by an enthusiastic chirp from the Youngest and Prettiest Trustee. She had never attempted to keep her interest for him concealed in the bud, causing much perturbation to the House Surgeon, and leading the Disagreeable Trustee to remark, frequently:
"Good Lord! She'll throw herself at his head until he loses consciousness, and then she'll marry him."
"I think," said she, beaming in the direction of the Senior Surgeon, "that it would be perfectly wonderful to be the means of discovering some great new thing in surgery. And as our own great surgeon has just said, it is really ridiculous to let a few perfectly incurable cases stand in the way of science."
The House Surgeon looked from the beaming profile to the tense, drawn outline of mouth and chin belonging to the nurse in charge of Ward C, and he found himself wondering if art had ever pictured a crucified Madonna, and, if so, why it had not taken Margaret MacLean as a model. That moment the President called his name.
The House Surgeon was still young and unspoiled enough to blush whenever he was consulted. Moreover, he hated to speak in public, knowing, as he did, that he lacked the cultured manner and the polished speech of the Senior Surgeon. He always crawled out of it whenever he could, putting some one else more ready of tongue in his place. He was preparing to crawl this time when another look at the white profile in front of him brought him to his feet.
"See here," he burst out, bluntly, "we all know the chief is as clever as any surgeon in the country, and that he can do anything in the world he sets out to do, even to turning Saint Margaret's into a surgical laboratory. But you ought to stop him—you've got to stop him—that is your business as trustees of this institution. We don't need any more surgical laboratories just yet—they are getting along fast enough at Rockefeller, Johns Hopkins, and the Mayo clinic. What we scientific chaps need to remember—and it ought to be hammered at us three times a day, and then some—is that humanity was never put into the world for the sole purpose of benefiting science. We are apt to forget this and get to thinking that a few human beings more or less don't count in the face of establishing one scientific fact."
He paused just long enough to snatch a breath, and then went racing madly on. "Institutions are apt to forget that they are taking care of the souls and minds of human beings as well as their bodies. It seems to me that the man who founded this hospital intended it for humane rather than scientific purposes. His wishes ought to be considered now; and I wager he would say, if he were here, to let science go hang and keep the incurables."
The House Surgeon sat down, breathing heavily and mopping his forehead. It was the longest speech he had ever made, and he was painfully conscious of its inadequacy. The Senior Surgeon excused himself and left the room, not, however, until he had given the House Surgeon a look pregnant with meaning; Saint Margaret's would hardly be large enough to hold them both after the 30th of April.
The trustees moved restlessly in their chairs. The unexpected had happened; there was an internal rupture at Saint Margaret's; and for forty years the trustees had boasted of its harmonious behavior and kindly feelings. In a like manner do those dwellers in the shadow of a volcano continue to boast of their safety and the harmlessness of the crater up to the very hour of its eruption. And all the while the gray wisp of a woman by the door sat silent, her hands still folded on her lap.
At last the President rose; he coughed twice before speaking. "I think we will call upon the hospital committee now for their reports. Afterward we will take up the question of the incurable ward among the trustees—hmm—alone."
Every one sat quietly, almost listlessly, during the reading until Margaret MacLean rose, the report for Ward C in her hand. Then there came a raising of heads and a stiffening of backs and a setting of chins. She was very calm, the still calm of the China Sea before a typhoon strikes it; when she had finished reading she put the report on the chair back of her and faced the President with clasped hands and—a smile.
"It's funny," she said, irrelevantly, "for the first time in my life I am not afraid here."
And the House Surgeon muttered, under his breath: "Great guns! That mind-string has snapped."
"There is more to the report than I had the courage to write down when I was making it out; but I can give it very easily now, if you will not mind listening a little longer. You have always thought that I came back to Saint Margaret's because I felt grateful for what you had done for me—for the food and the clothes and the care, and later for the education that you paid for. This isn't true. I am grateful—very grateful—but it is a dutiful kind of gratitude which wouldn't have brought me back in a thousand years. I am so sorry to feel this way. Perhaps I would not if, in all the years that I was here as a child, one of you had shown me a single personal kindness, or some one had thought to send me a letter or a message while I was away at school. No, you took care of me because you thought it was your duty, and I am grateful for the same reason; but it was quite another thing which brought me back to Saint Margaret's."
The smile had gone; she was very sober now. And the House Surgeon, still watching the two profiles, suddenly felt his heart settle down to a single steady beat. He wanted to get up that very instant and tell the nurse in charge of Ward C what had happened and what he thought of her; but instead he dug his hands deep in his pockets. How in the name of the seven continents had he never before realized that she was the sweetest, finest, most adorable, and onliest girl in the world, and worth a whole board-room full of youngest and prettiest trustees?
"I came back," went on Margaret MacLean, slowly, "really because of the Old Senior Surgeon, to stand, as he stood in the days long ago, between you and the incurable ward; to shut out—if I could—the little, thoughtless, hurting things that you are always saying without being in the least bit conscious of them, and to keep the children from wanting too much the friendship and loving interest that, somehow, they expected from you. I wanted to try and make them feel that they were not case this and case that, abnormally diseased and therefore objects of pity and curiosity to be pointed out to sympathetic visitors, but children—just children—with a right to be happy and loved. I wanted to fill their minds so full of fun and make-believe that they would have to forget about their poor little bodies. I tried to make you feel this and help without putting it—cruelly—into words; but you would never understand. You have never let them forget for a moment that they are 'incurables,' any more than you have let me forget that I am a—foundling."
She stopped a moment for breath, and the smile came back—a wistfully pleading smile. "I am afraid that last was not in the report. What I want to say is—please keep the incurable ward; take the time to really know them—and love them a little. If you only could you would never consider sending them away for a moment. And if, in addition to the splendid care you have given their bodies, you would only help to keep their minds and hearts sound and sweet, and shield them against curious visitors, why—why—some of them might turn out to be 'a case in a thousand.' Don't you see—can't you see—that they have as much right to their scraps of life and happiness—as your children have to their complete lives, and that there is no place for them anywhere if Saint Margaret's closes her doors?"
With an overwhelming suddenness she became conscious of the attitude of the trustees. She, who was nothing but a foundling and a charity patient herself, had dared to pass judgment on them; it was inconceivable—it was impertinent—it was beyond all precedent. Only the gray wisp of a woman sat silent, seeming to express nothing. Margaret MacLean's cheeks flamed; she shrank into herself, her whole being acutely alive to their thoughts. The scared little-girl look came into her face.
"Perhaps—perhaps," she stammered, pitifully, "after what I have said you would rather I did not stay on—in charge of Ward C?"
The Dominating Trustee rose abruptly. "Mr. President, I suggest that we act upon Miss MacLean's resignation at once."
"I second the motion," came in a quick bark from the Meanest Trustee, while the Oldest Trustee could be heard quoting, "Sharper than a serpent's tooth—"
The Executive Trustee rose, looking past Margaret MacLean as he spoke. "In view of the fact that we shall possibly discontinue the incurable ward, and that Miss MacLean seems wholly unsatisfied with our methods and supervision here, I motion that her resignation be accepted now, and that she shall be free to leave Saint Margaret's when her month shall have expired,"
"I second the motion," came from the Social Trustee, while she added to the Calculating, who happened to be sitting next: "So ill-bred. It just shows that a person can never be educated above her station in life."
The President rose. "The motion has been made and seconded. Will you please signify by raising your hands if it is your wish that Miss MacLean's resignation be accepted at once?"
Hand after hand went up. Only the little gray wisp of a woman in the chair by the door sat with her hands still folded on her lap.
"It is, so to speak, a unanimous vote." There was a strong hint of approval in the President's voice. He was a good man; but he belonged to that sect which holds as one of the main articles of its faith, "I believe in the infallibility of the rich."
"Can any one tell me when Miss MacLean's time expires?"
The person under discussion answered for herself. "On the last day of the month, Mr. President."
"Oh, very well." He was extremely polite in his manner. "We thank you for your very full and—hmm—comprehensive report. After to-night you are excused from your duties at Saint Margaret's."
The President bowed her courteously out of the board-room, while the primroses in the green Devonshire bowl on his desk still nodded guilelessly.
ODDS AND ENDS
Margaret MacLean walked the length of the first corridor; once out of sight and hearing, she tore up the stairs, her cheeks crimson and her eyes suspiciously moist. Before she had reached the second flight the House Surgeon overtook her.
"I wish," he panted behind her, trying his best to look the big-brother way of old—"I wish you'd wait a moment. This habit of yours of always walking up is a beastly one."
"Don't worry about it." There was a sharp, metallic ring in her voice that made it unnatural. "That's one habit that will soon be broken."
The House Surgeon smiled rather helplessly; inside he was making one of the few prayers of his life—a prayer to keep Margaret MacLean free of bitterness. "There is something I want to say to you," he began.
She broke in feverishly: "No, there isn't! And I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear you're sorry. I don't want to hear they'll be taken care of—somewhere—somehow. I think I should scream if you told me it was bound to happen—or will all turn out for the best."
"I had no intention of saying any of those things—in fact, they hadn't even entered my mind. What I was going to—"
"Oh, I know. You were going to remind me of what you said this morning. Almost prophetic, wasn't it?" And there was a strong touch of irony in her laugh. She turned on him crushingly. "Perhaps you knew it all along. Perhaps it was your way of letting me down gently."
"See here," said the House Surgeon, bluntly, "that's the second disagreeable thing you've said to-day. I don't think it's quite square. Do you?"
"No!" Her lips quivered; her hands reached out toward his impulsively. "I don't know why I keep saying things I know are not true. I'm perfectly—unforgivably horrid."
As impulsively he took both hands, turned them palm uppermost, and kissed them.
She snatched them away; the crimson in her cheeks deepened. "Don't, please. Your pity only makes it harder. Oh, I don't know what has happened—here—" And she struck her breast fiercely. "If—if they send the children away I shall never believe in anything again; the part of me that has believed and trusted and been glad will stop—it will break all to pieces." With a hard, dry sob she left him, running up the remaining stairs to Ward C. She did not see his arms reach hungrily after her or the great longing in his face.
The House Surgeon turned and went downstairs again.
In the lower corridor he ran across the President, who was looking for him. With much courtesy and circumlocution he was told the thing he had been waiting to hear: the board, likewise, had discovered that Saint Margaret's had suddenly grown too small to hold both the Senior Surgeon and himself. Strangely enough, this troubled him little; there are times in a man's life when even the most momentous of happenings shrink into nothing beside the simple process of telling the girl he loves that he loves her.
The President was somewhat startled by the House Surgeon's commonplace acceptance of the board's decision; and he returned to the board-room distinctly puzzled.
Meanwhile Margaret MacLean, having waited outside of Ward C for her cheeks to cool and her eyes to dry, opened the door and went in.
Ward C had been fed by the assistant nurse and put to bed; that is, all who could limp or wheel themselves about the room were back in their cribs, and the others were no longer braced or bolstered up. As she had expected, gloom canopied every crib and cot; beneath, eight small figures, covered to their noses, shook with held-back sobs or wailed softly. According to the custom that had unwittingly established itself, Ward C was crying itself to sleep. Not that it knew what it was crying about, it being merely a matter of atmosphere and unstrung nerves; but that is cause enough to turn the mind of a sick child all awry, twisting out happiness and twisting in peevish, fretful feelings.
She stood by the door, unnoticed, looking down the ward. Pancho lay wound up in his blanket like a giant chrysalis, rolling in silent misery. Sandy was stretched as straight and stiff as if he had been "laid out"; his eyes were closed, and there was a stolid, expressionless set to his features. Margaret MacLean knew that it betokened much internal disturbance. Susan, ex-philosopher, was sobbing aloud, pulling with rebellious fingers at the pieces of iron that kept her head where nature had planned it. The Apostles gripped hands and moaned in unison, while Peter hugged his blanket, seeking thereby some consolation for the dispelled Toby. Toby persistently refused to be conjured up on Trustee Days.
Only Bridget was alert and watchful. One hand was slipped through the bars of Rosita's crib, administering comforting pats to the rhythmic croon of an Irish reel. Every once in a while her eyes would wander to the neighboring cots with the disquiet of an over-troubled mother; the only moments of real unhappiness or worry Bridget ever knew were those which brought sorrow to the ward past her power of mending.
To Margaret MacLean, standing there, it seemed unbearable—as if life had suddenly become too sinister and cruel to strike at souls so little and helpless as these. There were things one could never explain in terms of God. She found herself wondering if that was why the Senior Surgeon worshiped science; and she shivered.
The room had become repellent; it was a sepulchral place entombing all she had lost. In the midst of the dusk and gloom her mind groped about—after its habit—for something cheerful, something that would break the colorless monotone of the room and change the atmosphere. In a flash she remembered the primroses; and the remembrance brought a smile.
"They're nothing but charlatans," she thought, "but the children will never find that out, and they'll be something bright for them to wake up to in the morning."
This was what sent her down the stairs again, just as the board meeting adjourned.
Now the board adjourned with thumbs down—signifying that the incurable ward was no more, as far as the future of Saint Margaret's was concerned. The trustees stirred in their chairs with a comfortable relaxing of joint and muscle, as if to say, "There, that is a piece of business well despatched; nothing like methods of conservation and efficiency, you know." Only the little gray wisp of a woman by the door sat rigid, her hands still folded on her lap.
The Oldest Trustee had just remarked to the Social Trustee that all the things gossip had said of the widow of the Richest Trustee were undoubtedly true—she was a nonentity—when the Senior Surgeon dropped in. This was according to the President's previous request. That gentleman of charitable parts had implied that there would undoubtedly be good news and congratulations awaiting him. This did not mean that the board intended to slight its duty and fail to consider the matter of the incurables with due conscientiousness—the board was as strong for conscience as for conservation. It merely went to show that the fate of Ward C had been preordained from the beginning; and that the President felt wholly justified in requesting the presence of the Senior Surgeon at the end of the meeting.
His appearance called forth such a laudatory buzzing of tongues and such a cordial shaking of hands that one might have easily mistaken the meeting for a successful political rally or a religious revival. The Youngest and Prettiest Trustee fluttered about him, chirping ecstatic expletives, while the Disagreeable Trustee watched her and growled to himself.
"So splendid," she chirped, "the unanimous indorsement of the board—at least, practically unanimous." And she eyed the widow of the Richest Trustee accusingly.
"The incurable ward and Margaret MacLean have really been a terrible responsibility, haven't they? I can't help feeling it will mean quite a load off our minds." It was the Social Trustee who spoke, and she followed it with a little sigh of relief.
The sigh was echoed twice—thrice—about the room. Then the Meanest Trustee barked out:
"I hope it will mean a load off our purses. That ward and that nurse have always wanted things, and had them, that they had no business wanting. I hope we can save a substantial sum now for the endowment fund."
The Oldest Trustee smiled tolerantly. "Of course it isn't as if the cases were not hopeless. I can see no object, however, in making concessions and sacrifices to keep in the hospital cases that cannot be cured; and, no doubt, we can place them most satisfactorily in state institutions for orphans or deficients."
At that moment the Youngest and Prettiest Trustee spied the primroses on the President's desk—she had been too engrossed in the surgical profession to observe much apart. "I believe I'm going to decorate you." And she dimpled up at the Senior Surgeon, coquettishly. Selecting one of the blossoms with great care, she drew it through the buttonhole in his lapel. "See, I'm decorating you with the Order of the Golden Primrose—for brilliancy." Whereupon she dropped her eyes becomingly.
"Good Lord!" muttered the Disagreeable Trustee to the President, his eye focused on the two. "She'll fetch him this time. And she'll have him so hypnotized with all this chirping and dancing business that he'll be perfectly helpless in a month, or I miss—"
The Youngest and Prettiest Trustee looked up just in time to intercept that eye, and she attacked it with a saucy little stare. "I believe you are both jealous," she flung over her shoulder. But the very next moment she was dimpling again. "I believe I am going to decorate everybody—including myself. I'm sure we all deserve it for our loyal support of Science." She, likewise, always spelled it with a capital, having acquired the habit from the Senior Surgeon.
She snatched a cluster of primroses from the green Devonshire bowl; and one was fastened securely in the lapel or frill of every trustee, not even omitting the gray wisp of a woman by the door.
And so it came to pass that every member of the board of Saint Margaret's Free Hospital for Children went home on May Eve with one of the faeries' own flowers tucked somewhere about his or her person. Moreover, they went home at precisely three minutes and twenty-two seconds past seven by the clock on the tower—the astronomical time for the sun to go down on the 30th of April. Crack went all the combination locks on all the faery raths, spilling the Little People over all the world; and creak went the gates of Tir-na-n'Og, swinging wide open for wandering mortals to come back.
As the trustees left the hospital the Senior Surgeon turned into the cross-corridor for his case, still gay with his Order of the Golden Primrose; and there, at the foot of the stairs, he ran into Margaret MacLean. They faced each other for the merest fraction of a breath, both conscious and embarrassed; then she glimpsed the flower in his coat and a cry of surprise escaped her.
He smiled, almost foolishly. "I thought they—it—looked rather pretty and—spring-like," he began, by way of explanation. His teeth ground together angrily; he sounded absurd, and he knew it. Furthermore, it was inexcusable of her to corner him in this fashion.
Now Margaret MacLean knew well enough that he would never have discovered the prettiness of anything by himself—not in a century of springtimes, and she sensed the truth.
"Did she decorate you?" she inquired, with an irritating little curl of her lips. The Senior Surgeon's self-confessed blush lent speed to her tongue. "I think I might be privileged to ask what it was for. You see, I presented the flowers to the board meeting. Was it for self-sacrifice?" Her eyes challenged his.
"You are capable of talking more nonsense and being more impertinent than any nurse I have ever known. May I pass?" His eyes returned her challenge, blazing.
But she never moved; the mind-string once broken, there seemed to be no limit to the thoughts that could come tumbling off the end of her tongue. Her eyes went back to the flower in his coat.
"Perhaps you would like to know that I bought those this morning because they seemed the very breath of spring itself—a bit of promise and gladness. I thought they would keep the day going right."
"Well, they have—for me." And the Senior Surgeon could not resist a look of triumph.
"The trustees"—she drew in a quick breath and put out a steadying hand on the banisters—"you mean—they have given up the incurable ward?"
He nodded. His voice took on a more genial tone. He felt he could generously afford to be pleasant and patient toward the one who had not succeeded. "It was something that was bound to happen sooner or later. Can't you see that yourself? But I am sorry, very sorry for you."
Suddenly, and for the first time in their long sojourn together in Saint Margaret's, he became wholly conscious of the girl before him. He realized that Margaret MacLean had grown into a vital and vitalizing personality—a force with which those who came in contact would have to reckon. She stood before him now, frozen into a gray, accusing figure.
"Are you ill?" he found himself asking.
He shifted his weight uneasily to the other foot. "Is there anything you want?"
Her face softened into the little-girl look. Her eyes brimmed with a sadness past remedy. "What a funny question from you—you, who have taken from me the only thing I ever let myself want—the love and dependence of those children. Success, and having whatever you want, are such common things with you, that you must count them very cheap; but you can't judge what they mean to others—or what they may cost them."
"As I said before, I am sorry, very sorry you have lost your position here; but you have no one but yourself to blame for that. I should have been very glad to have you remain in the new surgical ward; you are one of the best operative nurses I ever had." He added this in all justice to her; and to mitigate, if he could, his own feeling of discomfort.
Margaret MacLean smiled grimly. "Thank you. I was not referring to the loss of my position, however; that matters very little."
"It should matter." The voice of the Senior Surgeon became instantly professional. "Every nurse should put her work, satisfactorily and scientifically executed, before everything else. That is where you are radically weak. Let me remind you that it is your sole business to look after the physical betterment of your patients—nothing else; and the sooner you give up all this sentimental, fanciful nonsense the sooner you will succeed."
"You are wrong. I should never succeed that way—never. Some cases may need only the bodily care—maybe; but you are a very poor doctor, after all, if you think that is all that children need—or half the grown-ups. There are more people ailing with mind-sickness and heart-sickness, as well as body-sickness, than the world would guess, and you've just got to nurse the whole of them. You will succeed, whether you ever find this out or not; but you will miss a great deal out of your life."
Anger was rekindling in the eyes of the Senior Surgeon; and Margaret MacLean, seeing, grew gentle—all in a minute.
"Oh, I wish I could make you understand. You have always been so strong and well and sufficient unto yourself, it's hard, I suppose, to be able to think or see life through the iron slats of a hospital crib. Just make believe you had been a little crippled boy, with nothing belonging to you, nothing back of you to remember, nothing happy coming to you but what the nurses or the doctors or the trustees thought to bring. And then make believe you were cured and grew up. Wouldn't you remember what life had been in that hospital crib, and wouldn't you fight to make it happier for the children coming after you? Why, the incurable ward was my whole life—home, family, friends, work; everything wrapped up in nine little crippled bodies. It was all I asked or expected of life. Oh, I can tell you that a foundling, with questionable ancestry, with no birth-record or blood-inheritance to boast of, claims very little of the every-day happiness that comes to other people. And yet I was so glad to be alive—and strong and needed by those children that I could have been content all my life with just that."
The Senior Surgeon cleared his throat, preparatory to making some comment, but the nurse raised a silencing finger.
"Wait! there is one thing more. What you have taken from me is the smallest part. The children pay double—treble as much. I pay only with my heart and faith; they pay with their whole lives. Remember that when you install your new surgical ward—and don't reckon it too cheap."
She left him still clearing his throat; and when she came out of the board-room a few seconds later with the green Devonshire bowl in her arms he had disappeared.
Margaret MacLean found Ward C as she had left it. As she was putting down the primroses, on the table in the center of the room she caught Bridget's white face beckoning to her eagerly. Softly she went over to her cot.
"What is it, dear?"
"Miss Peggie darlin', if ye'd only give me leave to talk quiet I'd have the childher cheered up in no time."
"Would you promise not to make any noise?"
"Promise on m' heart! I'll have 'em all asleep quicker 'n nothin'. Ye see, just."
"Very well. I'll be back after supper to see if the promise has been kept." She stooped, brushed away the curls, and kissed the little white forehead. "Oh, Bridget! Bridget! no matter what happens, always remember to keep happy!"
"Sure an' I will," agreed Bridget; and she watched the nurse go out, much puzzled.
THE PRIMROSE RING
Bridget, oldest of the ward, general caretaker and best beloved, hunched herself up on her pillows until she was sitting reasonably straight, and clapped her hands. "Whist!" she called, softly. "Whist there, all o' ye! What's ailin'?"