’They’d simply torn themselves to pieces. Their bits of frock things were in strips, and they were scratched deep from top to toe. The Chinese had never troubled their heads about them at all, although they must have known it meant death. You may bet there was a row. The Japanese authorities make you search ship before sailing, now.’
‘Well, I shan’t die like that. That’s all.’
He stretched himself out once more, and for ten minutes neither spoke. The park-keeper strolled up again.
‘Get up, there!’ he said shortly and gruffly.
‘Up ye get, mate,’ added Darkey, but the man on the bench did not stir. One look at his face sufficed to startle the keeper, and presently two policemen were wheeling an ambulance cart to the hospital. Darkey followed, gave such information as he could, and then went his own ways.
In the afternoon the patient regained full consciousness. His eyes wandered vacantly about the illimitable ward, with its rows of beds stretching away on either side of him. A woman with a white cap, a white apron, and white wristbands bent over him, and he felt something gratefully warm passing down his throat. For just one second he was happy. Then his memory returned, and the nurse saw that he was crying. When he caught the nurse’s eye he ceased, and looked steadily at the distant ceiling.
He tried to speak boldly, decisively, nonchalantly. He was filled with a sense of physical shame, the shame which bodily helplessness always experiences in the presence of arrogant, patronizing health. He would have got up and walked briskly away if he could. He hated to be waited on, to be humoured, to be examined and theorized about. This woman would be wanting to feel his pulse. She should not; he would turn cantankerous. No doubt they had been saying to each other, ’And so young, too! How sad!’ Confound them!
‘Have you any friends that you would like to send for?’
The girl—she was only a girl—looked at him, and there was that in her eye which overcame him.
‘None at all?’
‘Not that I want to see.’
‘Are your parents alive?’
‘My mother is, but she lives away in the Five Towns.’
‘You’ve not seen her lately, perhaps?’
He did not reply, and the nurse spoke again, but her voice sounded indistinct and far off.
When he awoke it was night. At the other end of the ward was a long table covered with a white cloth, and on this table a lamp.