An Unconscious Intruder

“Docterr Ste-earling, Junyior, Doct-terr Eth-err-ridge Ste-earling,
Junyior. Calling Doct-terr….”

The loud speaker whined through laboratories, permeated kitchens, rasped
in corridors. In the service corridor of Medicine Clinic the orderly
rolling the laundry bin halted to listen and expectorate. Four floors
above, Cub Sterling pulled in his long stride and reached for a nurse’s
desk ’phone. His voice pushed through the mouthpiece and almost
immediately severed the monotonous breathing of the loud speaker. He
said:

“Doctor Ethridge Sterling, Junior, is answering from Ward D, Medicine
Clinic.”

The dead voice of the operator responded:

“Doc-terr Ste-earling, Jun…?”

Cub’s patience and his ear were closely allied. He cocked his head and
barked:

“Well, what is it?”

Her voice dropped several octaves. She cooed:

“Justa minnit, Docterr Sterrling. Docterr Barton’s calling….”

Barton’s voice intervened:

“Cub? Harold Barton. Will you go over to Weber’s and telephone me at my
home, please? Right away.”

Five minutes later, Doctor Ethridge Sterling, Junior, turned from an
elevator on the first floor of the Medicine Clinic of the Elijah Wilson
Hospital, gave a vacant nod to two internes and shambled through the
door, into the accident corridor and out into Beeker Street.

In Weber’s restaurant he folded himself into a telephone booth and said:

“Riverside 7863.”

While waiting for the connection his long fingers manipulated a
cigarette. He was more excited than he dared to admit.

What the hell could Dr. Barton, a life-long friend of his father and
Pediatrician-in-Chief of the Elijah Wilson even before he was born, have
to say which was too confidential to transmit over a hospital telephone?

The operator invaded his curiosity.

“Deposit a nickel. Five cents, please.”

Cub Sterling’s rangy legs began untwisting. He begged:

“Hey! Wait a minute!”

Folding back the door of the booth he bellowed:

“Gimme some nickels, quick, Otto!”

Otto Weber had been bartender, confidant, and advisor to the staff of
the Elijah Wilson when Cub Sterling was in short pants. He waddled from
his bar:

“Sure, Cub!”

The temporary Physician-in-Chief gave the bartender a boyish grin and
arrayed the nickels in front of the telephone box. Then he said:

“Here are two nickels, lady. If I talk up a dollar don’t you interrupt
me. This is Wilson 7390. I’ll pay you after I’m through.”

“It is against the rules….”

“Lots of things are! Thank you, mam!”

A slight giggle was her response and Dr. Barton’s voice drowned that.

“Cub?”

“Yessir.”

“Ethridge Sterling, Junior?”

“Yessir!”

“Harold Barton. I had to make sure. I’m in a terrible mess, son. I need
your help! If I take time to come over to the hospital … it’ll be too
late!”

With his left little finger Cub gave the interior of his ear a violent
shake and transferred the receiver. He moistened his lips, but Dr.
Barton forestalled his words:

“Don’t interrupt me, Cub! Time is valuable! My brother, the
Attorney-General, is slated to be elected senator next fall. The cards
are stacked. Today the Governor gave a political barbecue at his camp.
Half an hour ago, while returning, Herb had an automobile accident …
out on Lincoln Highway. No, he wasn’t hurt. Much too drunk for that! But
the girl was. A newspaper reporter. What? Couldn’t tell you. Never saw
her.

“Another car of newspaper people came by. They had an A. P. man along.
Of course Herb could ‘hush’ it locally, but the A. P. man refused to
kill the story nationally unless Herb promised to get the lady into the
Elijah Wilson and foot all bills.

“She’s in an ambulance now. On the way. Internal injuries. No, you miss
the point! The man insists her reputation as well as her … organs …
must be intact. Will you take her under an assumed name … in case she
dies? Say her father is a friend of yours, and you recognized her.
Anything! If that won’t do, think up another one. Awfully unethical, I
know! But I can’t stand behind any more relatives … right now…!”

The last sentence contained a note Cub had never heard in Barton’s
speech. A helplessness….

Outside in Becker Street an ambulance screamed up the long hill. Cub’s
cigarette was adding another hole to the already scarred floor of the
booth.

He said, and his voice had its steel under which he buried real emotion:

“Certainly, Doctor Barton, I’ll take her in. But everything is occupied
except a dying patient room off Ward B. Will the Attorney-General pay
for frills? Private nurses … so on?”

“For anything, son! And Cub … please … you know MacArthur and Herb
admire each other. If you don’t mind…?”

The clanging bell vibrated down Cub’s free ear. He snapped:

“Between ourselves, Doctor. Suppose we leave it that way? Hear an
ambulance now! Report to you later, sir. Not at all! ’By!”

Otto Weber flicked his towel and shouted when Dr. Ethridge Sterling,
Junior, flung open the door of the telephone booth:

“Stoop, Cub! Stoop!”

As the tall, angular body shot across Beeker Street, Otto plodded into
the booth, picked up three nickels, stomped out the cigarette and
replaced the receiver upon the hook.

Across Beeker Street two firemen were lifting the padded stretcher from
a municipal ambulance. One of them ceased pulling for a second and
changed his tobacco wad to the other side.

A big man bent over him and snapped:

“Did you get this accident out the Lincoln Highway?”

“Yeah … looks like them dolls in the wax-works down to Holiday Park.”

Cub Sterling’s left shoulder rose abruptly. His voice ascended, too:

“Be careful. Take it easy … easy … these steps are high!”

While the stretcher was rolling into the Accident corridor, Cub lurched
into both accident rooms, saw that the tables were occupied, and turned
to the internes:

“I’ll take her up to Medicine Clinic, myself. Internal injuries. Just
got a telephone message. Father’s a friend of mine in the East. ’Phone
Miss Kerr to prepare Room Two off Ward B.”

Halfway up the corridor to the Medicine Clinic a student nurse and an
orderly stepped briskly. The orderly gripped the handle bar of a
swishing stretcher. Upon the stretcher, completely covered, lay an inert
figure.

Five feet behind, his shoulders stooped, his body tense, slouched Dr.
Ethridge Sterling, Junior. Upon either side of him, like stubby pencils,
a fireman tiptoed. Cub bit his lips and said:

“Who called you?”

“Where? When? For what?” the one with the cud growled.

Cub threw his hand forward, motioning.

The younger fireman answered:

“Fellow used to do fire chasing for _The Call_. And say, Doc, he
promised us a new stretcher, but he didn’t say when … if it’s the same
to you…?”

The student nurse and orderly pranced out of sight. Cub Sterling moved
toward the fireman and said:

“It’s still yours! I’m scared to move her more than necessary. Send it
down in the elevator as soon as she’s transferred. You wait at this
door.”

Inside the door of Medicine Clinic, Miss Roenna Kerr, head nurse,
accosted Dr. Sterling. The pompadour which overhung her long face was a
blueing-water white.

Beside her with the quiet diffidence of a poodle, a fat interne was
anchored. Miss Kerr said:

“Dr. Mattus, and Dr. Sarah James, the floor interne on B are off this
afternoon, Dr. Sterling, so I brought the interne from A…. And am I
correct in understanding that you ordered this patient into a dying
patient room off Ward B?”

Dr. Sterling’s voice was crisp and ominous:

“Room Two. You are.”

“But Dr. Ethridge….”

Her bust began to inflate. His reply corroded her vanity:

“I’ll see you later, Miss Kerr.”

The student nurse, the orderly, the stretcher swished aboard the
elevator, Dr. Sterling and the interne followed. Dr. Sterling, the
professor, made the interne forget the friction. He snapped:

“Give you instructions after examination, Doctor. One of the most
interesting things in Internal Medicine. Possible fractures, concussion,
heart involvement … anything….”

As the stretcher passed through the ward on into the room, the interne
trembled behind. Dr. Sterling’s last sentence had been, “Done many
decompressions?” Gosh! Those older fellows hadn’t performed many …
yet…. Lucky! Had wanted to go to the Thursday matinee himself, but Dr.
Mattus and Dr. James off…. Damn those blood sugars on Ward A. What was
a sugar content compared to a decompression?

In the dying patient room off Ward B, a hospital bed stood halfway
between the outside window and the door which opened onto the short
corridor. In the far corner of the oblong room was a stationary washbowl
with chromium fixtures. Over this basin was a glass shelf. Upon the
shelf was a stack of paper towels. Two Windsor chairs, one straight, one
a rocker, and a bedside table completed the equipment. The floor was
covered with battleship linoleum and highly polished.

In the Ward B wall was a glass inset through which the dying patient bed
was visible to a standing nurse. On the room side of the inset was a
window shade, always lowered during examination.

Cub Sterling went over to the stationary basin and turned back the cuffs
of his white hospital coat. Then he took a cake of soap and lathered his
hands thoroughly. The interne followed him and Cub instructed:

“Lather. Rinse. Lather. Dry. Best sterilization in the world. After the
examination wash it off.”

He was silhouetted against the outside window. His carriage and
angularity portrayed his nerves. His spreading fingers were tapering and
full of conscious strength; the joints were oiled with mental precision.
Occasionally his teeth measured the outer rim of his controlled lips.
His mind twitched with his mouth muscles. Poor old Barton! He had never
understood his mild manners before. They were a cover up….

The floor nurse interrupted:

“The patient is ready, Doctor.”

Cub Sterling veered in time to see the interne, thumbs together, rocking
his hands to and fro through space. Fat people irritated him. He barked:

“Quit that foolishness, and take this history!”

He strode to the bed and his left shoulder, which he raised in the way
some men do an eyebrow, began rising.

The interne lifted an offended pencil. Sterling was crazy as a bedbug
… but he knew his guts!

Then Cub’s fingers automatically began the manual examination and his
mind revolved and rushed.

“Beauty! … A nose and mouth which balanced. Hair as fine as a baby’s
and filled with sunshine. Skin so transparent you could almost poke your
finger through it. The eyes should be … blue … brown…? No!
Something else….”

He lifted a lid gently.

“Ah, violet … of course! Only violet eyes could go with lips that
curved that way…. She was too swell to be true…! Something must ruin
her … the teeth, probably….”

His fingers actually hesitated as he pulled back the lips; then, as they
relaxed again, he drew his right forefinger down the cheek, as though
examining the jawbone. The motion was soft and utterly gentle. It
carried a sense of private approval…. The teeth were perfect….

To cover up this sudden finding of a live flesh and blood perfect
person, his dictation clipped and became intricately anatomical.

During the chest examination he noted the nasty bruises against the
cup-like breasts, and decided it was time to pull himself together. She
probably murdered the English language and slept with all comers. The
Attorney-General, for instance….

His irritation vibrated into her leg, when he felt for torn tendons. The
girl roused herself momentarily and screamed:

“I don’t give a damn what kind of general you are! I’ll slap your face
again! Take y’ dirty hands off me!”

The interne had been called away over the loud speaker; the floor nurse
was busy at the ward telephone. Cub Sterling tiptoed to the door and
closed it swiftly.

The tired wrinkles around his eyes began to crinkle, a fine humor
relaxed his brittle body. He came back to the bed and squeezed the curly
head of the unconscious figure against his long leg.

Then he leaned over and whispered in the little ear:

“You are all right, kiddo! But for God’s sake, wake up!”

Then he went back to methodically examining her legs and laughed shortly
at the downy patches where the calves curved behind the small ankles; at
the lopsided little V’s in the big-toe nails….

Never before in all of his medical experience had he had a devastating,
unconscious, perfectly private patient…. He lifted a foot and laid it
from the nape of his palm to the ends of his fingers. It was half an
inch short of his nail tips and the little finger of his left hand could
extend entirely under the instep without touching flesh….

The girl groaned deeply and Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior,
intervened….

He took her pulse again. Noted the excellent heart action. Began
carefully going over the abdomen. Once or twice she cried distantly, and
he decided the best thing to do was to put her out of her pain. The
heart action was so splendid that the wisest way to keep her from
babbling to the nurses would be to narcoticize her.

So he took her head in his hands and went, painstakingly, over the
skull. There were no masses, no abrasions, no visible signs of anything
extraordinary. She was in shock, of course. But an accident coupled with
an endeavor to make old Herb Barton keep his distance…. That
recollection killed his critical faculty for an instant. He lifted the
head slightly forward and massaged the curls which nestled in the hollow
at the base of the skull.

The fat interne and Miss Kexter, the floor nurse, returned
simultaneously. Dr. Sterling resolutely replaced the head among the
pillows and said, shortly:

“No signs of concussions, or injuries; with the exception of that
abdominal sensitivity. Case of extreme shock. Acute pain is from
strained ligaments and bruises. Nurse, give her an eighth of morphia
injection. Doctor, keep your eye on her respiration and notify me at
ten. I’ll be in my rooms, probably. Main thing is to keep her quiet.”

The nurse’s flat voice replied:

“Yes, Doctor. Do you wish a night nurse, Doctor Sterling?”

“Depends. Let you know later.”

She blocked his exit. Her voice was embarrassed:

“They called from the Admitting Office, Doctor, to complete her history.
They said Miss Kerr told them you knew her name. Miss Jaunts asked
me…?”

Cub Sterling swirled and glanced swiftly over the face of the patient.

“Thank you. I’ll call by the Admitting Office, myself.” Then he shot at
the mouse-haired woman a barrage of questions about the ward patients.

The interne gave the Sleeping Beauty a pouty stare. There would be no
decompression. By now the blood sugars would have increased to six. They
must be done before supper, too!

The nurse followed Dr. Sterling onto the wards and he began his rounds
and gave his instructions. At the patient in Bed 11 he stared carefully
and turning, snapped:

“How was that thyroid’s basal?”

After her response he walked over to the bed, took the woman’s pulse and
said very absently:

“You are doing splendidly. Keep it up!”

The nurse followed him to the elevator and begged:

“You _are going_ by the Admitting Office, Doctor? Will you return the
blanks, or shall I keep them until tomorrow?”

He scowled and his black eyebrows met. Then he pushed the elevator
button with precision.

“Fill out the details, hair, eyes, that bunk, and give them to me
tomorrow. The Admitting Office can wait … for once…. I’ll telephone
over the important particulars. ’Night!”

His “’Night!” was another way of saying, “That’s all! And no more
questions, madam!”

The elevator began ascending and the girl operator asked timidly:

“What floor, Doctor?”

Cub Sterling appraised her vacantly:

“Huh?”

The girl’s voice quavered:

“Where to, Doctor?”

“Top floor!”

“Yes, sir.”

When the elevator halted, he quickly raised his head:

“By the way, how’s your cold?”

“What cold, Doctor?”

“Haven’t you a cold?” he growled.

“No, Dr. Sterling. Thank you. I haven’t.”

“You’re welcome. Other operator, I guess.”

He stepped from the elevator and began his rounds. A whole avalanche of
nurses galloped down the hall and he realized it must be time for the
shift. He squinted at his watch and saw that it was almost seven.

“Damn it to hell!” he muttered.

Hot hash was bad enough. By now it would be slime. Better finish the
rounds and eat at Otto’s. Herbie’s hands had messed things up! Damned
old spider! His memory was focusing upon the girl when the floor interne
hurried forward and began to report.

One hour and a half later Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior, tilted back in
the swivel chair in his private office. His left heel held the edge of
the seat, the telephone was balanced upon his left knee, the receiver
wedged between his left shoulder and ear. His eyebrows were parted; he
had just given his pants a comforting jerk. His mouth twitched
occasionally; in his free hands he held a copy of “The Love Books of
Ovid” and his eyes measured a familiar illustration. He decided that the
legs weren’t up to hers. His father’s voice centered his attention,
again.

“Yes, son?”

“Your thyroid, sir. Did a remarkable basal. Pulse is down to 110. Lowest
… so far….”

“Fine! I’ll operate tomorrow if you advise. Drop around later and give
her a final once-over. Be there in half an hour.”

“But Father, I’m hungry … I missed….”

“All right. All right! You always were! Go get your supper. I don’t need
you dancing attendance on me! Still know an operative patient when I see
one. Don’t interrupt me! You talk too much! Always did! Goodnight, son!”

His gruff affection blacked out the illustration. Cub placed his right
foot against the center drawer of his desk and began wondering what he
wanted to eat. Shad roe? Lamb chops? Roast beef?

His telephone bell jangled sharply:

He propped open a recent copy of the _New Yorker_ and read four passable
cartoons, turned the page, then lifted the receiver.

Dr. Barton’s voice begged:

“Cub?”

“Yes, sir. Yes, Dr. Barton. Been trying to get you all evening, sir.
Think she’s all right. Pull through. Can’t tell for a certainty yet.
Mostly shock. What’s that? Aw, she’s average. Kinda tinselly. By the
way, better say none of those paper people can see her for a week. No
beaus and no flowers. Righto! Not at all! See you tomorrow, sir.”

Cub replaced the receiver, rose, straightened his tie, changed to a blue
serge coat, tore three wedding invitations on his desk to shreds, slung
the shreds into the waste basket, slammed the door and slouched up the
stairs, whistling.

The jingling of a telephone bell followed him. That’s why he whistled.

Five minutes later, the woman in the Admitting Office wrote Thursday,
May 12th for the fourth time, and Sophie Merriweather, Newark, N. J.,
for the tenth time, and Cub Sterling barged into Weber’s deserted
restaurant and said, pathetically:

“Otto, fill me up.”

Otto said:

“Sit down, Cubbie!”

Then he lifted the hose of a talking tube and ordered:

“Three-minut-steak-two-vrench-vrys-asparaggus-on-toas-celler-y- an’-
ollivs- VRIGH-TER-VAY!”

He slid the tube onto its hook, filled two steins with Schlitz, blew the
foam, carefully refilled them, and with a “from the heart” motion,
pushed them across the counter and soothed:

“Y’tired, son?”

“Yeah.”

Cub raised a stein and drained it.

Otto eased it away, refilled it and stood it beside the full one. Then
he lifted his belly onto a stool, leaned his arms against the bar and
said, earnestly:

“Fut you need, son … iss to get marriet…. Tonight you see you haf
vent viddout your supper. No vivfe allows dat…. No! Fut you need
iss….”


Cub put down the empty stein and lifted the third one.

“Oh hush, Otto…. I’ll get married when I want to!”

A bell tinkled in the kitchen, below. Otto disengaged his stomach, threw
back his head to balance it, and before he turned, announced:

“Dat’s it! You _don’t vant to_!”

Cub set down the stein and laughed.

“What are you going to do about it, Otto?”

The little German drew himself slowly erect. His words were carefully
chosen:

“Cub Steerlink, I _von’t_ stand-hit!”

Cub laughed again and begged:

“Aw, Otto!”

Otto turned his back and began lifting the food off the dumbwaiter. His
dignity surrounded him.

He placed the platters in front of the doctor, re-filled the empty stein
and announced placidly:

“You are as fin as dried-herrink!”

Cub cocked his head seriously and replied:

“So you advise marriage, Doctor. Is that how you got prolapsus of the
stomach?”

With three quick “Ach! Ach! Ach!” Otto blew himself to the far end of
the bar and turned his back. But he was careful to turn it so that he
could still see Cub’s thick curly black hair and the way he jerked his
head. So the internes said he was crazy! Otto rolled his own head,
proudly…. You had to know Cub Sterling to understand him…. All the
really famous doctors … like Semmelweiss … were queer. Dr.
MacArthur, himself, said that Cub Sterling had the flare…!

Cub slid off the stool and started for the door, and Otto relented:

“Vus it satissfact’ry, Docturr?”

Cub jerked his head and grinned:

“Yeah. Always is. Send me a bill soon, Otto.”

“Sure, Cubbie. Sure!”

Outside, the sky was a pincushion of diamonds. So reachable, and yet so
distant. An unexplained joy, that was ribbed with restlessness, pulled
Cub’s feet away from the hospital. He began strolling down Beeker
Street. A silent, tuneless whistle tickled his lips. The recesses of his
brain squirmed over the flat vacant center which was usually crowded
with sick people. The way he used to coast this hill on a bicycle when
he was in medical school! Whew! Lucky there were so few automobiles,
then, or he’d have busted up a sight more test tubes.

Lord, that was long ago! Ought to begin going to debutante parties
again, just to keep his foot in. He turned the corner and made his way
back into Wilson Boulevard, and started the long climb to the hospital.

A glittery night, no dying patients, a full stomach! An interior
champagne began to flow, and then his eye caught, in front of him, the
august figure of his head nurse, Miss Kerr, sailing toward the hospital.
Walking carefully and firmly in the glare of the street lamps; her
tightly rolled umbrella protecting her virginity.

His left shoulder began to rise. He stooped quickly, picked a brick-bat
out of a trash can and slung it at the light just behind. The action was
involuntary and unpremeditated. It was an active example of his inner
abandon, and followed by all the reflexes natural to a little boy.

He ducked into a shadow. He peered. His knees trembled slightly.

Miss Kerr turned and scrutinized the street. The search showed enraged
dignity but bore no traces of fear. After a fruitless survey, she
carefully raised the umbrella and proceeded toward the hospital.

Ten minutes later Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior, strode through Ward B,
Medicine Clinic. Beside him the fat interne sweated profusely. He was
gasping:

“The morphia didn’t hold. She’s awake and raising … raising….”

“Hell?”

The interne gave a relieved nod. The night nurse rocked her heels in
tune with theirs. Cub turned to her and said:

“I understand. I understand. Nurse, you go back to your ward. Doctor,
you may return to Ward A. I’ll tend to her myself….”

The interne hesitated and a fine hope glistened:

“Doctor Sterling … are you … is there to be a decompression?”

“Not unless absolutely necessary.” Cub’s voice was very grave, “I’ll
call you if I need assistance, Doctor.”

The interne plodded helplessly off the ward. He thought the student
nurse’s haughtiness was aimed at him.

Cub Sterling entered Room Two, pulled down the window shade of the glass
inset opening onto the ward, and snapped on the wall light over the bed.

Then he gripped the bedside table and stared. Among the pillows, eyes
wide with amusement, a wispy smile tracing the pale lips, was the head
he had held in his hands three hours ago, alive, alert, intelligently
vivid.

It was as though Cleopatra’s understanding had flowed into an Egyptian
mask.

The lips moved slowly and she asked, in a monotone:

“Who are you? And where am I?”

“I’m the man who knows your father, and you are in my hospital.”

The composure ran out of her face. She muttered:

“Don’t be funny, please. My father died in the War.”

Cub Sterling straightened a pillow, slowly.

“Of course he did. Now you go to sleep again.”

A bitter wry smile began searing her lips:

“So you think I’m ‘nuts’, too. He did! He and she both did! They were
reporters on _The World_.”

Cub caught the pride of the inflection, turned his back and adjusted the
shade again.

The girl’s voice was husky and amused.

“Will you give me a cigarette, please?”

He swung around:

“Of course not! You are too sick to smoke! You’ve just been in a
horrible automobile accident. You had a narrow squeak. Be quiet and
behave yourself!”

Her pupils turned black with amusement.

She drawled:

“Used to having your way, aren’t you?”

Cub blushed slowly, then announced:

“Speaking of having your own way, the night nurse and interne say….”

“I’m a hell-raisin’-huzzy, Doctor?”

He bit his lip:

“What _have_ you been doing?”

Her eyes and voice dilated softly:

“Just asking questions. I’m a newspaper reporter, you know.”

Cub nodded grimly:

“Yes. I know.”

The girl overlooked the sarcasm. She asked levelly and with deference:

“Was it much of an accident? Did I lose my reputation or just a couple
of teeth?”

Cub moved toward the foot of the bed and fenced:

“Publicly speaking, neither.”

She shot back, “Privately speaking, the teeth are permanent.”

He stood at the end of the bed and looked at her critically. She met the
look and returned it. A short laugh finished her estimate. She said:

“Don’t you think it might be wise if we told each other the truth? You
snap like a police dog, but your eyes are honest.”

Cub’s legs collapsed under him. He sat upon the bed. The girl continued:

“How bunged up am I? I’ve got to get out of here quickly, or I’ll be
fired….”

Cub’s hands deprecated the statement. She sneered:

“What does a medical man know about life? Ever been poor and
discriminating?” Then she threw the gesture back at him and ordered,
“What’s the story?”

He swallowed twice and said:

“You are in this hospital because your father is supposed to be a
medical man in a distant city, Newark, New Jersey, to be exact, and a
friend of mine. You are recorded as the victim of a bus accident. The
bus went ahead with your luggage and pocketbook. Your name is Sophie
Merriweather. As for your injuries, I’m not certain myself … yet.” His
words were beginning to clip. “Does that satisfy you?”

The girl shut her eyes and lay silent. A minute later she opened them,
cocked her head upon one side and gazed critically down her chin, at her
body. Then she looked reprovingly at Cub Sterling:

“So-ph-ie. How could you? Sophie Merriweather, Newark, New Jersey! I
haven’t got the breastworks for a Sophie!”

The belligerence flew from Cub’s face and his eyes began to dance:

“Breastworks, or no breastworks, madam, Sophie you are and Sophie you
remain until you are well … or else a famous elderly medical man and I
get kicked in the pants….”

Without looking at him, she replied:

“You appeal to my finer feelings! I’ll be Sophie forever, Doctor, if
you’ll promise me that the Attorney-General gets the kick and I get a
cigarette, immediately!”

Cub’s mouth and feet twitched. He rose and became professional:

“I’m sorry, Miss Merriweather. The cigarette is forbidden. Hospitals are
pure places.”

“Rats! Ever look in the trash cans in a Nurses’ Home?”

“No, of course not, Sophie!”

She lay silent a minute and wiggled her toes. Then her voice grew small,
and she said:

“Sounds like you’ve been very nice to me. Darned nice! But you have to
know sometime and I guess you’d better know now that I haven’t any money
to pay you. I’m really a waif.”

Her eyes blacked. She finished, “Respectable though … very!”

“But you’re too loquacious! And you are pretty sick. Shut up and go to
sleep!”

“How sick?”

“I told you I’d tell you tomorrow! As for your bills, they are being
taken care of, so don’t worry.”

The mouth drew to a line, she demanded:

“Who’s paying them? The Attorney-General?”

Cub evaded:

“You were riding in his car when you were hurt, weren’t you?”

Sally Ferguson sat erect and put one hand quickly over her mouth.
Sterling caught her by the shoulders and forced her back among the
pillows.

“Where was it? Where did it hurt you?”

“Here,” she put her hand on her abdomen and groaned.

Cub began examining her carefully and thoroughly. When he stood up again
he said:

“I’m sorry, Sophie! We’ll stop it if you want us to. The bills and the
pain, too. Talk about them tomorrow. You must get some rest. Lie quiet.
Be still….”

Her mouth fell into a fighting straightness. All of the childish
freshness which had charmed him when he had first seen her was gone. She
lay tense and hard under his hands. Suddenly he knew she was trying not
to cry. Calmly he began talking again:

“Accidents knock a darned lot more out of you than you ever suspect at
the time, you know. You see, Sophie, if you don’t help me, then … if
you get terribly sick and I have a consultation over you … it’ll mean
sending for your father … and it’ll be a hell of a mess all
around….”

Her body relaxed under his grip. She smiled again and gasped:

“May-I-please-have-a-drink-of-water?”

When the glass was empty Cub eased her into the pillows and she laughed:

“I didn’t mean to hiss in your ear, Doctor, but if I hadn’t completed
the sentence in one breath, you’d have yelped: ‘NO!’”

Dr. Sterling ignored the remark and asked:

“Is that comfortable?”

Then Cub barked:

“You ought to have better sense than to antagonize your doctor!”

The patient responded:

“Extremely comfortable, thank you.”

The girl answered:

“The hair of the dog is good for his bite,” and before Cub could reply,
she relaxed her eyes into his and almost whispered:

“Thank you … for … taking me … in.”

With a brusqueness he switched off the light and bowed:

“Pleasure’s all mine! ’Night Sophie. When I look in later, please be
unconscious again!”

After he was gone, she lay for five minutes convinced that she had been
dreaming, and then she began to really dream….

You may also like