The New Arcadia/Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII.

THE SCREEN OF DEATH.

"Cheer the weak ones who are bending
'Neath this weary burden now;
Lift the pallid faces upward,
Smooth the careworn troubled brow;
Send a bright and hopeful message
To each tried and tempted heart,
That the thick and gloomy shadows
At that sunshine may depart."
Ada Cambridge.

For a moment the doctor stood on the threshold of the ward surveying the rows of white beds ranging on the polished floors. A few patients were sitting about talking quietly or reading, some lay in the beds asleep or suffering in silence—seeming to read their destinies on the high, white-washed ceiling. The neatest of nurses moved with softest tread as about a sanctuary consecrated by sorrow and death to resurrection and recovery.

"A good large cheque," the doctor mused, "drawn by the rich on account of their heavy indebtedness to the poor. Amongst the fairest fruits of our faith and civilization. What, in the place of temples such as these, would a wild commune set up? How would the poor and suffering fare if leaders of the mob were ministers of charity?" He shuddered at the thought.

"Well, Willie, and how's the leg?" inquired the doctor, approaching the bed on which the street-arab had lain many weeks.

"I'm all right now, sir, thank ye. The blooming splinter-boards is off now, and my leg's gettin' strong as a cab-horse's. They say I may leave next week. God knows where I'm a-going."

"Would you like to come with me," said the doctor, "if I never run over you again?"

"If I never get under your horse's feet again, sir. But may I go with you, sir? The only thing is——"

He paused.

"Well, what's the difficulty?"

"I would like to go into the country. The flowers they brought me here—I never seed such a lot before—makes me think of them I picked that one day I was there. They've been readin' to me about gardens and horses and cows and the green grass and the' sweet hay. I'm allus thinking of them."

"But there's rain and cold, hard work and dry seasons in the country, lad. Life there is not all flower-picking and rollicking in hay-fields."

"I know that, sir, and I could work. They allus said I slaved like a brick in town; sure there I could, and I might——"

"Might what?"

The little man whispered, while he brushed away a tear—

"I might find father. He's somewhere there."

The doctor was moved.

"You shall go into the country next week," he promised.

"But I should like to be with you, sir. You've been so good to me—all the times you've been here these two months."

"You shall have both your desires. You shall go with me, and live in the country too."

The lad could not speak, but burst into tears.

"Poor little man, he's weak still," said the doctor.

"May I ask one thing more?" said Willie, after a time. "They've read to me 'bout Abr'um. He asked and asked, and God wern't angry; and you're almost as good as he were."

"Don't say that, boy, we are none of us much to talk about."

"Well, sir, could you take she with we?" nodding his head towards the end of the ward." The young lady over there. Nurse Maggie, what's reading to the old man that's dying there, with the screen round his bed. The screen's the last thing they sees here. They'd oughter put jolly fine pictures on 't! I allus thinks how small the world's got for he when I sees the screen put round a poor cove's bed. But they sees into another world, a mighty big and good 'un, all flowers in a blessed country, so th' old parson with the long grey beard says."

"Why do you want Nurse Maggie to go? To take care of you?".

"I can look after myself, never fear. She's got a cough; I heard th' doctor say she'd ought get into the country. T'other nurse said she couldn't 'ford."

"I fear we cannot take the nurses and the hospitals with us."

"Leastways will you think on it, sir? You can do what you has a mind for, I believes."

Next day Dr. Courtenay returned and said—

"Willie, you can have your third wish too. I did think of what you said, and have arranged that Nurse Maggie and ten of the patients who are getting better——"

"Conv'lescents, they calls 'em."

"Yes, that ten convalescents shall stop for a while where we are going, and do a little gardening and looking after the fowls, and so on." "Oh, my, that will be fine! You can't take the old man, sir, 'cos God's took'd him. The screen's gone round 'nother chap now. But there's many says they don't know where they'll go when they gets better, and it will be fun to have 'em in the flowers and the hay."