‘Please don’t misunderstand me,’ said Selwyn wearily. ’It is only the feeling that I have no right here. This cot should be for a soldier, and I’m a civilian. I’m an American, and—and if you only knew’——
’Just a minute, now, until we get this temperature, and then you can tell me all about it.’
With his lips silenced, but his doubts by no means so, he watched her move down the ward in commencement of the countless duties of her day. She was a woman of thirty-three or thirty-four years, still young, and possessed of a womanliness that softened her whole appearance with a tranquil restfulness. But beneath her eyes and in the texture of the skin faint wrinkles were showing, thinly pencilled protests against overwork, that no treatment could ever eradicate. On the red collar of her uniform was a badge which told that she had gone to France with the first little army of Regulars in 1914.
Noting her calloused hands and the too rapid approach of life’s midsummer, Selwyn watched her, and wondered what recompense could be offered for those things. In ordinary life, given the privileges and the opportunities which she deserved, she would have been another of those glorious English women whose beauty is nearest the rose. She would have been a wife to grace any home, and as a mother her charm would have been twofold. But for more than two years incessant toil and endless suffering had been the companions of her days, and the not over-strong body was giving to the ordeal.
But as his heavy thoughts drifted slowly through this channel, he saw grinning patients who were well enough get out of bed to help her. As if she carried some magic gem of happiness, her soft voice and deft touch brought smiles to eyes that had been scorched in the flames of hell. Men looked up, and seeing her, believed once more in life; and hope crept into their hearts. Men in the great shadowy valley murmured like a child in its sleep when a ray of morning sunshine, stealing through the curtains, plays upon its face.
And of the many things which Selwyn learned that day, one was that those ministering angels, those women of limitless spirit and sympathy, have memories of mute, unspoken gratitude, beside which the proudest triumphs of the greatest beauties are but the tawdry, tinsel glory of a pantomime queen.
After the nurse had taken the thermometer from Selwyn and marked his temperature on a chart which she placed beside him, breakfast was brought in, and he was propped up with pillows.
‘Guid-mornin’,’ said the Highlander. ‘I hope ye’re nane the waur o’ your expeerience.’
’Not ‘im,’ broke in the Cockney, eating his porridge with great relish. ’It done ‘im good.’
‘I am very well,’ said Selwyn haltingly. ’I hope my arrival did not disturb any of you last night.’
At the sound of his carefully nuanced Bostonian accent there was a violent dumb-play of smoothing the hair and arranging the coats of pyjamas, while one Tommy placed a penny in his eye in lieu of a monocle.