The trio looked happy, and Mrs. Bill’s gala attire was symbolical. When Bill was in my ward he too was on the Danger List. I remember that when he first came to us, before his operation, and before he took a turn for the worse, his wife visited him in that same magenta blouse (or another equally startling) and that for some reason she and “Sister” did not quite hit it off, “had words,” and subsequently for a period were not on speaking terms. Later, when Bill underwent his operation, and began to sink, his bed was moved out on to the ward’s verandah. Here his wife (now wearing a subdued blouse) sat beside him, hour after hour, while little Bill, the child, towed a cheap wooden engine up and down the grass patch, oblivious to the ordeal through which his parents were passing. It was my business, as orderly, to intrude at intervals upon the scene on the verandah, to bring Bill such food as he was able to tolerate. On the first occasion, after Bill’s collapse, that I prepared to take him a cup of tea, Sister stopped me. “Don’t forget to take tea, and some bread and butter, to that poor woman. She looks tired. And some milk for the child.” “Very good, Sister.” I cut bread-and-butter, and filled an extra mug of tea. “Orderly! What are you doing?” Sister had reappeared. And I was rebuked because I was going to offer Mrs. Bill her tea in a tin mug (the patients all have tin mugs) and had cut her bread-and-butter too thick. I must cut dainty slices of thin bread-and-butter, use Sister’s own china ware, and serve the whole spread on a tray with a cloth. All of which was typical of Sister, who from that day treated Bill’s wife with true tenderness; and Bill’s wife became one of Sister’s most enthusiastic adorers.
It came to pass, after a week of pitiful anxiety, that the Medical Officer pronounced Bill safe once more. “Bloke says I’m not goin’ ter peg art,” he told me. I congratulated him and remarked that his wife would be thankful when he met her, on her arrival, with such splendid news. “I’ll ’ave the larf of my missus,” said Bill. “W’en she comes, I shall tell ’er I’ve some serious noos for ’er, and she’s ter send the kid darn on the grarse ter play. Then I’ll pull a long fice and hask ’er ter bear up, and say I’m sorry for ’er, and she mustn’t tike it too rough, and all that; and she ’as my sympathy in ’er diserpointment: she ain’t ter get ’er widow’s pension arter all!”
I believe that this programme was carried through, more or less to the letter. Certain it is that I myself overheard another of Bill’s grim pleasantries. He was explaining to madame that they must apprentice their offspring to the engineering trade. “I wanter mike Lil’ Bill a mowter chap, so’s ’e can oil the ball-bearings of me fancy leg wot I’m ter get at Roehampton.” The “fancy leg” ended by being the favourite theme of Bill’s disgraceful extravaganzas. He would announce to Sister, when she was dressing his stump, that he had been studying means of earning