“I—I don’t want to hold her,” he protested.
“She—isn’t mine!” argued the White Linen Nurse.
“But I can’t talk while I’m holding her!” insisted the Senior Surgeon.
“I can’t listen—while I’m holding her!” persisted the White Linen Nurse.
Freely now, though cross-legged like a Turk, she jerked herself forward on the grass and sat probing up into the Senior Surgeon’s face like an excited puppy trying to solve whether the gift in your up-raised hand is a lump of sugar—or a live coal.
“You’re trying to hire—me?” she prompted him nudgingly with her voice. “Hire me—for money?”
“Oh my Lord, no!” said the Senior Surgeon. “There are plenty of people I can hire for money! But they won’t stay!” he explained ruefully. “Hang it all,—they won’t stay!” Above his little girl’s white, pinched face his own ruddy countenance furrowed suddenly with unspeakable anxiety.
“Why, just this last year,” he complained, “we’ve had nine different housekeepers—and thirteen nursery governesses!” Skilfully as a surgeon, but awkwardly as a father, he bent to re-adjust the weight of the little iron leg-braces. “But I tell you—no one will stay with us!” he finished hotly. “There’s—something the matter—with us! I don’t seem to have money enough in the world to make anybody—stay with us!”
Very wryly, very reluctantly, at one corner of his mouth his sense of humor ignited in a feeble grin.
“So you see what I’m trying to do to you, Miss Malgregor, is to—hire you with something that will just—naturally compel you to stay!”
If the grin round his mouth strengthened a trifle, so did the anxiety in his eyes.
“For Heaven’s sake, Miss Malgregor,” he pleaded. “Here’s a man and a house and a child all going to—rack and ruin! If you’re really and truly tired of nursing—and are looking for a new job,—what’s the matter with tackling us?”
“It would be a job!” admitted the White Linen Nurse demurely.
“Why, it would be a deuce-of-a-job!” confided the Senior Surgeon with no demureness whatsoever.
Very soberly, very thoughtfully then, across the tangled, snuggling head of his own and another woman’s child, he urged the torments—and the comforts of his home upon this second woman.
“What is there about my offer—that you don’t like?” he demanded earnestly. “Is it the whole idea that offends you? Or just the way I put it? ‘General Heartwork for a Family of Two?’ What is the matter with that? Seems a bit cold to you, does it, for a real marriage proposal? Or is it that it’s just a bit too ardent, perhaps, for a mere plain business proposition?”
“Yes, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse.
“Yes what?” insisted the Senior Surgeon.
“Yes—sir,” flushed the White Linen Nurse.