She asked a question or two, in search of Sister Margaret and the new case. It was “located,” an assistant surgeon told her, in Private Ward Number Two. She went more and more slowly toward Private Ward Number Two.
The door was open; she stood in it for an instant with eyes nerved to receive the tragedy. The room seemed curiously empty of any such thing, a door opposite was also open, with an arched verandah outside; the low sun streamed through this upon the floor with its usual tranquillity. Beyond the arches, netted to keep the crows away, it made pictures with the tops of the trees. There was the small iron bed with the confused outline under the bedclothes, very quiet, and the Sister—the whitewashed wall rose sharp behind her black draperies—sitting with a book in her hands. Some scraps of lint on the floor beside the bed, and hardly anything else except the silence which had almost a presence, and a faint smell of carbolic acid, and a certain feeling of impotence and abandonment and waiting which seemed to be in the air. Arnold moved on the pillow and saw her standing in the door. The bars of the bed’s foot were in the way, he tried to lift his head to surmount the obstruction, and the Sister perceived her too.
“I think absolutely still was our order, wasn’t it, Mr. Arnold?” she said, with her little pink smile. “And I’m afraid Miss Howe isn’t in time to be of much use to us, is she?” It was the bedside pleasantry that expected no reply, that indeed forbade one.
“I’m sorry,” Hilda said. As she moved into the room she detached her eyes from Arnold’s, feeling as she did so that it was like tearing something.
“There was so little to do,” Sister Margaret said; “Surgeon-Major Wills saw at once where the mischief lay. Nothing disagreeable was necessary, was it, Mr. Arnold? Perfect quiet, perfect rest—that’s an easy prescription to take.” She had rather prominent very blue eyes, and an aquiline nose, and a small firm mouth, and her pink cheeks were beginning to be a little pendulous with age. Hilda gazed at her silently, noting about her authority and her flowing draperies something classical. Was she like one of the Fates? She approached the bed to do something to the pillow—Hilda had an impulse to push her away with the cry, “It is not time yet— Atropos!”
“I must go now for an hour or so,” the Sister went on. “That poor creature in Number Six needs me; they daren’t give her any more morphia. You don’t need it—happy boy!” she said to Stephen, and at the look he sent her for answer she turned rather quickly to the door. Dear Sister, she was none of the Fates, she was obliged to give directions to Hilda standing in the door with her back turned. Happily for a deserved reputation for self-command they were few. It was chief and absolute that no one should be admitted. A bulletin had been put up at the hospital door for the information of inquiries; later on when the doctor came again there would be another.