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PAGE 2

Twenty-Two
by [?]

In fact, after a time he felt that she was not as really interested as she might have been, so he introduced a love element. He was, as has been said, of those who believe that nurses go into hospitals because of being blighted. So he introduced a Mabel, suppressing her other name, and boasted, in a way he afterward remembered with horror, that Mabel was in love with him. She was, he related, something or other on his paper.

At the end of two hours of babbling, a businesslike person in a cap–the Probationer wears no cap–relieved Jane Brown, and spilled some beef tea down his neck.

Now, Mr. Middleton knew no one in that city. He had been motoring through, and he had, on seeing the warehouse burning, abandoned his machine for a closer view. He had left it with the engine running, and, as a matter of fact, it ran for four hours, when it died of starvation, and was subsequently interred in a city garage. However, he owned a number of cars, so he wasted no thought on that one. He was a great deal more worried about his eyebrows, and, naturally, about his leg.

When he had been in the hospital ten hours it occurred to him to notify his family. But he put it off for two reasons: first, it would be a lot of trouble; second, he had no reason to think they particularly wanted to know. They all had such a lot of things to do, such as bridge and opening country houses and going to the Springs. They were really overwhelmed, without anything new, and they had never been awfully interested in him anyhow.

He was not at all bitter about it.

That night Mr. Middleton–but he was now officially “Twenty-two,” by that system of metonymy which designates a hospital private patient by the number of his room–that night “Twenty-two” had rather a bad time, between his leg and his conscience. Both carried on disgracefully. His leg stabbed, and his conscience reminded him of Mabel, and that if one is going to lie, there should at least be a reason. To lie out of the whole cloth—-!

However, toward morning, with what he felt was the entire pharmacopoeia inside him, and his tongue feeling like a tar roof, he made up his mind to stick to his story, at least as far as the young lady with the old-fashioned watch was concerned. He had a sort of creed, which shows how young he was, that one should never explain to a girl.

There was another reason still. There had been a faint sparkle in the eyes of the young lady with the watch while he was lying to her. He felt that she was seeing him in heroic guise, and the thought pleased him. It was novel.

To tell the truth, he had been getting awfully bored with himself since he left college. Everything he tried to do, somebody else could do so much better. And he comforted himself with this, that he would have been a journalist if he could, or at least have published a newspaper. He knew what was wrong with about a hundred newspapers.

He decided to confess about Mabel, but to hold fast to journalism. Then he lay in bed and watched for the Probationer to come back.

However, here things began to go wrong. He did not see Jane Brown again. There were day nurses and night nurses and reliefs, and internes and Staff and the Head Nurse and the First Assistant and–everything but Jane Brown. And at last he inquired for her.

“The first day I was in here,” he said to Miss Willoughby, “there was a little girl here without a cap. I don’t know her name. But I haven’t seen her since.”

Miss Willoughby, who, if she had been disappointed in love, had certainly had time to forget it, Miss Willoughby reflected.

“Without a cap? Then it was only one of the probationers.”