The nurse was a plain little thing, very competent, very quiet. She was, perhaps, no more competent than Hilda in the mechanics of her profession, but she had qualities which Hilda lacked. She was not very young, and there were younger nurses under her. Yet in spite of her plainness and quietness, she wielded an influence which was remarkable. The whole hospital force was feeling the effect of that influence. It was as if every nurse had in some rather high and special way dedicated herself—as nuns might to the conventual life, or sisters of charity to the service of the poor. There was indeed a heroic aspect to it, a spiritual aspect, and this plain little woman was setting the pace.
And Hilda, coming in, would spoil it all. Oh, he knew how she would spoil it. With her mocking laugh, her warped judgments, her skeptical point of view.
No, he did not want Hilda. The best in him did not want her, and please God, he was giving his best to this cause. However he might fail in other things, he would not fail in his high duty towards the men who came out of battle shattered and broken, holding up their hands to him for help.
“I am going to let Miss Shelby have the case,” the plain little nurse was saying, “when he begins to come back. She will give him what he needs. She is so strong and young, so sure of the eternal rightness of things—and she’s got to make him sure.”
The Doctor nodded. “Some of us are not sure—”
She agreed gravely. “But we are learning to be sure, aren’t we, over here? Don’t you feel that all the things you have ever done are little compared to this? That men and women are better and bigger than you have believed?”
“If anyone could make me feel it,” he said, “it would be you.”
When she had gone, he wrote letters.
He wrote to Jean—he wrote every day to Jean.
He wrote to Hilda.
“You are splendidly fitted for just the thing that you are doing. Men come and go and you care for their wounds. But we have to care here for more than men’s bodies, we care for their minds and souls—we piece them together, as it were. And we need women who believe that God’s in his Heaven. And you don’t believe it, Hilda. I fancy that you see in every man his particular devil, and like to lure it out for him to look at—”
He stopped there. He could see her reading what he had written. She would laugh a little, and write back:
“Are you any better than I? If I am too black to herd with the white sheep, what of you; aren’t you tarred with the same brush—?”
He tore up the letter and sent a brief note. Why explain what he was feeling to Hilda? She was of those who would never know nor understand.
And he felt the need tonight of understanding—of sympathy.
And so he wrote to Emily.