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What Katy Did Next(chapter10)

2006-08-22 19:17



  When the first shock is over and the inevitable realize and accepted, those who tend a long illness are apt to fall into a routine of life which helps to make the days seer short. The apparatus of nursing is got together. Ever day the same things need to be done at the same hour and in the same way. Each little appliance is kept at hand and, sad and tired as the watchers may be, the very monotony and regularity of their proceedings give certain stay for their thoughts to rest upon.

  But there was little of this monotony to help Mrs Ash and Katy through with Amy's illness. Small chance was there for regularity or exact system, for something unexpected was always turning up, and needful things were often lacking. The most ordinary comforts of the sic room, or what are considered so in America, were hard to come by, and much of Katy's time was spent in devising substitutes to take their places.

  Was ice needed? A pailful of dirty snow would be brought in, full of straws, sticks, and other refuse, which had apparently been scraped from the surface of the street after a frosty night. Not a particle of it could be put into milk or water; all that could be done was to make the pail serve the purpose of a refrigerator, and set bowls and tumblers in it to chill.

  Was a feeding cup wanted? It came of a cumbrous and antiquated pattern, which the infant Hercules may have enjoyed, but which the modern Amy abominated and rejected. Such a thing as a glass tube could not be found in all Rome. Bed rests were unknown. Katy searched in vain for an india-rubber hot-water bottle.

  But the greatest trial of all was the beef tea. It was Amy's sole food, and ast her only medicine, for Dr Hilary believed in leaving nature pretty much to herself in cases of fever. The kitchen of the hotel sent up, under that name, a mixture of grease and hot water, which could not be given to Amy at all. In vain Katy remonstrated and explained the process. In vain did she go to the kitchen herself to translate a carefully written recipe to the cook, and to slip a shining five-franc piece in his hand, which, it was hoped, would quicken his energies and soften his heart. In vain did she order private supplies of the best of beef from a separate market. The cooks stole the beef and ignored the recipe, and day after day the same bottle of greasy liquid came upstairs, which Amy would not touch, and which would have done her no good had she swallowed it all. At last, driven to desperation, Katy procured a couple of stout bottles, and every morning slowly and carefully cut up two pounds of meat into small pieces, sealed the bottle with her own seal ring, and sent it down to be boiled for a specified time. This proved better, for the thieving cook dared not tamper with her seal; but it was a long and toilsome process, and consumed more time than she well knew how to spare - for there were continual errands to be done which no one could attend to but herself, and the interminable flights of stairs taxed her strength painfully, and seemed to grow longer and harder every day.

  At last a Good Samaritan turned up in the shape of an American lady with a house of her own who, hearing of their plight from Mrs Sands, undertook to send each day a supply of strong, perfectly-made beef tea from her own kitchen for Amy's use. It was an inexpressible relief, and the lightening of this one particular care made all the rest seem easier of endurance.

  Another great relief came, when, after some delay, Dr Hilary succeeded in getting an English nurse to take the places of the unsatisfactory Sister Ambrogia and her substitute, Sister Agatha, whom Amy, in her half-comprehending condition, persisted in calling `Sister Nutmeg-Grater'. Mrs Swift was a tall, wiry, angular person, who seemed made of equal parts of iron and whalebone. She was never tired; she could lift anybody, and anything, and for sleep she seemed to have a sort of antipathy, preferring to sit in an easy chair and drop off into little dozes, whenever it was convenient, to going regularly to bed for a night's rest.

  Amy took to her from the first, and the new nurse managed her beautifully. No one else could soothe he half so well during the delirious period, when the little shrill voice seemed never to be still, and went on all day and all night in alternate raving or screaming, or, what was saddest of all to hear, low pitiful moans. There was no shutting in these sounds. People moved out of these rooms below and on either side, because they could get no sleep, and until the arrival of Nurse Swift, there was no rest for poor Mrs Ashe, who could not keep away from her darling for a moment while that mournful wailing sounded in her ears.

  Somehow the long, dry Englishwoman seemed to have a mesmeric effect on Amy, who was never quite so violent after she arrived. Katy was more thankful for this than can well be told, for her great underlying dread - a dread she dared not whisper plainly even to herself - was that `Polly dear' might break down before Amy was better, and then what should they do?

  She took every care that was possible of her friend. She made her eat; she made her lie down. She forced daily doses of quinine and port wine down her throat, and saved her every possible step. But no one, however affectionate and willing, could do much to lift the crushing burden of care, which was changing Mrs Ashe's rosy fairness to wan pallor, and laying such dark shadows under the pretty grey eyes. She had taken small thought of her looks since Amy's illness. All the little touches which had made her toilette becoming, all the crimps and fluffs, had disappeared; yet somehow never had she seemed to Katy half so lovely as now in the plain black gown which she wore all day long, with her hair tucked into a knot behind her ears. Her real beauty of feature and outline seemed only enhanced by the rigid plainness of her attire, and the charm of true expression grew in her face. Never had Katy admired and loved her friend so well as during those days of fatigue and wearing suspense, or realized so strongly the worth of her sweetness of temper, her unselfishness and power of devoting herself to other people.

  `Polly bears it wonderfully,' she wrote her father. `She was all broken down for the first day or two, but now her courage and patience are surprising. When I think now precious Amy is to her, and how lonely her life would be if she were to die, I can hardly keep the tears out of my eyes. But Polly does not cry. She is quiet and brave an almost cheerful all the time, keeping herself busy wit what needs to be done; she never complains, and she looks - oh, so pretty! I think I never knew how much she had in her before.'

  All this time no word had come from Lieutenant Worthington. His sister had written him as soon as Amy was taken ill, and had twice telegraphed since, but no answer had been received, and this strange silence added to the sense of lonely isolation and distance from horn and help which those who encounter illness in a foreign land have to bear.

  So, first one week and then another wore themselves away somehow. The fever did not break on the fourteenth day, as had been hoped, and must run for another period, the doctor said, but its force was lessened, and be considered that a favourable sign. Amy was quieter now and did not rave so constantly, but she was very weak. All her pretty hair had been shorn away, which made her little face look tiny and sharp. Mabel's golden wig was sacrificed at the same time. Amy had insisted upon it and they dared not cross her.

  `She has got a fever too, and it's a great deal badder than mine is,' she protested. `Her cheeks are as hot as fire. She ought to have ice on her head, and how can she when her bang is so thick? Cut it all off, every bit, and then I will let you cut mine.'

  `You had better give ze child her way,' said Dr Hilary. `She's in no state to be fretted with triffles [trifles, the doctor meant], and in ze end it will be well, for ze fever infection might harbour in zat doll's head as well as elsewhere, and I should have to disinfect it, which would be bad for ze skin of her.'

  `She isn't a dolly,' cried Amy, overhearing him, `she's my child, and you shan't call her names.' She hugged Mabel tight in her arms, and glared at Dr Hilary defiantly.

  So Katy, with pitiful fingers, slashed away at Mabel's blond wig till her head was as bare as a billiard ball, and Amy, quite content, patted her child while her own locks were being cut, and murmured, `Perhaps your hair will all come out in little round curls, darling, as Johnnie Carr's did,' then she fell into one of the quietest sleeps she had yet had.

  It was the day after this that Katy, coming in from a round of errands, found Mrs Ashe standing erect and pale, with a frightened look in her eyes, and her back against Amy's door, as if defending it from somebody. Confronting her was Madame Frulini, the padrona of the hotel. Madame's cheeks were red, and her eyes bright and fierce; she was evidently in a rage about something, and was pouring out a torrent of excited Italian, with now and then a French or English word slipped in by way of punctuation, and all so rapidly that only a trained ear could have followed or grasped her meaning.

  `What is the matter?' asked Katy, in amazement.

  `Oh, Katy, I am so glad you have come!' cried poor Mrs Ashe. `I can hardly understand a word that this horrible woman says, but I think she wants to turn us out of the hotel, and take Amy to some other place. It would be the death of her - I know it would. I never, never will go, unless the doctor says it is safe. I oughtn't to - I couldn't. She can't make me, can she, Katy?'

  `Madame,' said Katy - and there was a flash in her eyes before which the landlady rather shrank - `what is all this? Why do you come to trouble madame while her child is so ill?'

  Then came another torrent of explanation which didn't explain, but Katy gathered enough of the meaning to make out that Mrs Ashe was quite correct in her guess, and that Madame Frulini was requesting, nay, insisting that they should remove Amy from the hotel at once There were plenty of apartments to be had now that the carnival was over, she said - her own cousin had room close by - it could easily be arranged, and people were going away from the Del Mondo every day because there was fever in the house. Such a thing could not be, should not be; the landlady's voice rose to a shriek, The child must go!'

  `You are a cruel woman,' said Katy indignantly, when she had grasped the meaning of the outburst. `It wicked, it is cowardly, to come thus and attack a poor lady under your roof who has so much already to bear. It is her only child who is lying in there - her only one, do you understand, madame? - and she is a widow. What you ask might kill the child. I shall not permit you or any of your people to enter that door till the doctor comes, and then I shall tell him how you have behaved, and we shall see what he will say.' As she spoke she turned the key of Amy's door, took it out and put it in her pocket, then faced the padrona steadily, looking her straight in the eyes.

  `Mademoiselle,' stormed the landlady, `I give you my word, four people have left this house already because of the noises made by little miss. More will go. I shall lose my winter's profit - all of it - all; it will be said there is fever at the Del Mondo - no one will hereafter come to me. There are lodgings plenty, comfortable - oh, so comfortable! I will not have my season ruined by a sickness.

  Madame Frulini's voice was again rising to a scream.

  `Be silent!' said Katy sternly. `You will frighten the child. I am sorry that you should lose any customers, madame, but the fever is here and we are here, and here we must stay till it is safe to go. The child shall not be moved till the doctor gives permission. Money is not the only thing in the world! Mrs Ashe will pay anything that is fair to make up your losses to you, but you must leave this room now, and not return till Dr Hilary is here.'

  Where Katy found French for all these long coherent speeches, she could never afterward imagine. She tried to explain it by saying that excitement inspired her for the moment, but that as soon as the moment was over the inspiration died away and left her as speechless and confused as ever. Clover said it made her think of the miracle of Balaam, and Katy merrily rejoined that it might be so, and that no donkey in any age of the world could possibly have been more grateful than was she for the sudden gift of speech.

  `But it is not the money - it is my prestige,' declared the landlady.

  `Thank Heaven! Here is the doctor now,' cried Mrs Ashe.

  The doctor had, in fact, been standing in the doorway for several moments before they noticed him, and had overheard part of the colloquy with Madame Frulini. With him was someone else, at the sight of whom Mrs Ashe gave a great sob of relief. It was her brother at last.

  When Italian meets Italian then comes the tug of expletive. It did not seem to take one second for Dr Hilary to whirl the padrona out into the entry, where they could be heard going at each other like two furious cats. Kiss, roll, sputter, recrimination, objurgation! In five minutes Madame Frulini was, metaphorically speaking, on her knees, and the doctor standing over her with drawn sword, making her take back every word she had said and every threat she had uttered.

  `Prestige of thy miserable hotel!' he thundered, `where will that be when I go and tell the English and Americans - all of whom I know, every one! - how thou hast served a countrywoman of theirs in thy house! Dost thou think thy prestige will help thee much when Dr Hilary has fixed a black mark on thy door? I tell thee no; not a stranger shalt thou have next year to eat so much as a plate of macaroni under thy base roof! I will advertise thy behaviour in all the foreign papers - in Figaro, in Galignani, in the Swiss Times, and the English one which is read by all the nobility, and the Heraldo of New York, which all Americans peruse——'

  `Oh, doctor - pardon me - I regret what I said - I am afflicted - !'

  `Ik will post thee in the railway stations,' continued the doctor implacably. `I will bid my patients to write letters to all their friends, warning them against thy flea-ridden Del Mondo. I will apprise the steamboat companies at Genoa and Naples. Thou shalt see what comes of it - truly, thou shalt see.'

  Having thus reduced Madame Frulini to powder, the doctor now condescended to take breath and listen to her appeals for mercy, and presently he brought her in with her mouth full of protestations and apologies, and assurances that the ladies had mistaken her meaning; she had only spoken for the good of all; nothing was further from her intention than that they should be disturbed or offended in any way, and she and all her household were at the service of `the little sick angel of God'. After which the doctor dismissed her with an air of contemptuous tolerance, and laid his hand on the door of Amy's room. Behold, it was locked!

  `Oh, I forgot!' cried Katy laughing, and she pulled the key out of her pocket.

  `You are a hee-roine, mademoiselle,' said Dr Hilary. `I watched you as you faced that tigress, and your eyes were like a swordsman's as he regards his enemy's rapier.'

  `Oh, she was so brave, and such a help!' said Mrs Ashe, kissing her impulsively. `You can't think how she has stood by me all through, Ned, or what a comfort she has been.'

  `Yes, I can,' said Ned Worthington, with a warm, grateful look at Katy. `I can believe anything good of Miss Carr.'

  `But where have you been all this time?' said Katy, who felt this flood of compliment to be embarrassing. `We have so wondered at not hearing from you.

  `I have been off on a ten-days' leave to Corsica for moufflon-shooting, replied Mr Worthington. `I only got Polly's telegrams and letters the day before yesterday, and I came away as soon as I could get my leave extended. It was a most unlucky absence. I shall always regret it.'

  `Oh, it is all right now that you have come!' his sister said, leaning her head on his arm with a look of relief and rest which was good to see. `Everything will go better now, I am sure.'

  `Katy Carr has behaved like a perfect angel,' she told her brother when they were alone.

  `She is a trump of a girl. I came in time for part of that scene with the landlady, and upon my word she was glorious! I didn't suppose she could look so handsome.'

  `Have the Pages left Nice yet?' asked his sister, rather irrelevantly.

  `No - at least they were there on Thursday, but I think that they were to start to-day.'

  Mr Worthington answered carelessly, but his face darkened as he spoke. There had been a little scene in Nice which he could not forget. He was sitting in the English garden with Lilly and her mother when his sister's telegrams were brought to him. He had read them aloud, partly as an explanation for the immediate departure which they made necessary, and which broke up an excursion just arranged with the ladies for the afternoon. It is not pleasant to have plans interfered with, and as neither Mrs Page nor her daughter cared personally for little Amy, it is not strange that disappointment at the interruption of their pleasure should have been the first impulse with them. Still, this did not excuse Lilly's unstudied exclamation of `Oh, bother!', and though she speedily repented it as an indiscretion, and was properly sympathetic, and `hoped the poor little thing would soon be better', Amy's uncle could not forget the jarring impression. It completed a process of disenchantment which had long been going on, and as hearts are sometimes caught on the rebound, Mrs Ashe was not so far astray when she built certain little dim sisterly hopes on his evident admiration for Katy's courage and this sudden awakening to a sense of her good looks.

  But no space was left for sentiment or match-making while still Amy's fate hung in the balance, and all three of them found plenty to do during the next fortnight. The fever did not turn on the twenty-first day, and another weary week of suspense set in, each day bringing a decrease of the dangerous symptoms, but each day as well marking a lessening in the childish strength which had been so long and severely tested. Amy was quite conscious now, and lay quietly, sleeping a great deal and speaking seldom. There was not much to do but to wait and hope, but the flame of hope burned low at times, as the little life flickered in its socket, and seemed likely to go out like a wind-blown torch.

  Now and then Lieutenant Worthington would persuade his sister to go with him for a few minutes' drive or walk in the fresh air, from which she had so long been debarred, and once or twice he prevailed on Katy to do the same, but neither of them could bear to be away long from Amy's bedside.

  Intimacy grows fast when people are thus united by a common anxiety, sharing the same hopes and fears day after day, speaking and thinking of the same thing. The gay young officer at Nice, who had counted so little in Katy's world, seemed to have disappeared, and the gentle, considerate, tender-hearted fellow who now filled his place was quite a different person in her eyes. Katy began to count on Ned Worthington as a friend who could be trusted for help and sympathy and comprehension, and appealed to and relied upon in all emergencies. She was quite at ease with him now, and asked him to do this and that, to come and help her, or to absent himself, as freely as if he had been Dorry or Phil.

  He, on his part, found this easy intimacy charming. In the reaction of his temporary glamour for the pretty Lilly, Katy's very difference from her was an added attraction. This difference consisted, as much as anything else, in the fact that she was so truly in earnest in what she said and did. Had Lilly been in Katy's place, she would probably have been helpful to Mrs Ashe and kind to Amy so far as she could; but the thought of self would have tinctured all that she did and said, and the need of keeping to what was tasteful and becoming would have influenced her in every emergency, and never have been absent from her mind.

  Katy, on the contrary, absorbed in the needs of the moment, gave little heed to how she looked or what anyone was thinking about her. Her habit of neatness made her take time for the one thorough daily dressing - the brushing of hair and freshening of clothes, which were customary with her; but, this tax paid to personal comfort, she gave little further heed to appearances. She wore an old grey gown, day in and day out, which Lilly would not have put on for half an hour without a large bribe, so unbecoming was it; but somehow Lieutenant Worthington grew to like the grey gown as a part of Katy herself. And if by chance he brought a rose in to cheer the dim stillness of the sickroom, and she tucked it into her buttonhole, immediately it was as though she were decked for conquest. Pretty dresses are very pretty on pretty people - they certainly play an important part in this queer little world of ours - but depend upon it, dear girls, no woman ever has established so distinct and clear a claim on the regard of her lover as when he has ceased to notice or analyse what she wears, and just accepts it unquestioningly, whatever it is, as a bit of the dear human life which has grown or is growing to be the best and most delightful thing in the world to him.

  The grey gown played its part during the long, anxious night when they all sat watching breathlessly to see which way the tide would turn with dear little Amy. The doctor came at midnight, and went away to come again at dawn. Mrs Swift sat grim and watchful beside the pillow of her charge, rising now and then to feel pulse and skin, or to put a spoonful of something between Amy's lips. The doors and windows stood open to admit the air. In the outer room all was hushed. A dim Roman lamp, fed with olive oil, burned in one corner behind a screen. Mrs Ashe lay on the sofa with her eyes closed, bearing the strain of suspense in absolute silence. Her brother sat beside her, holding in his one of the hot hands whose nervous twitches alone told of the surgings of hope and fear within. Katy was resting in a big chair near by, her wistful eyes fixed on Amy's little figure seen in the dim distance, her ears alert for every sound from the sickroom.

  So they watched and waited. Now and then Ned Worthington or Katy would rise softly, steal on tiptoe to the bedside, and come back to whisper to Mrs Ashe that Amy had stirred or that she seemed to be asleep. It was one of the nights which do not come often in a lifetime, and which people never forget. The darkness seems full of meaning; the hush, full of sound. God is beyond, holding the sunrise in his right hand, holding the sun of our earthly hopes as well; will it dawn in sorrow or in joy? We dare not ask; we can only wait.

  A faint stir of wind and a little broadening of the light roused Katy from a trance of half-understood thoughts. She crept once more into Amy's room. Mrs Swift laid a warning finger on her lips; Amy was sleeping, she said with a gesture. Katy whispered the news to the still figure on the sofa; then she went noiselessly out of the room. The great hotel was fast asleep; not a sound stirred the profound silence of the dark halls. A longing for fresh air led her to the roof.

  There was the dawn just tinging the east. The sky, even thus early, wore the deep, mysterious blue of Italy, a fresh tramontana was blowing, and made Katy glad to draw her shawl about her.

  Far away in the distance rose the Alban Hills above the dim Campagna, with the more lofty Sabines beyond, and Soracte, clear cut against the sky like a wave frozen in the moment of breaking. Below lay that ancient city, with its strange mingling of the old and the new, of past things embedded in the present; or is it the present thinly veiling the rich and mighty past - who shall say?

  Faint rumblings of wheels, and here and there a curl of smoke, showed that Rome was waking up. The light insensibly grew upon the darkness. A pink flush lit up the horizon. Florio stirred in his lair, stretched his dappled limbs, and as the first sun ray glinted on the roof, raised himself, crossed the gravelled tiles with soundless feet, and ran his soft nose into Katy's hand. She fondled him for Amy's sake as she stood bent over the flower boxes, inhaling the scent of the mignonette and gillyflowers, with her eyes fixed on the distance, but her heart was at home with the sleepers there, and a rush of strong desire stirred her. Would this dreary time come to end presently, and should they be set at liberty to go their ways with no heavy sorrow to press them down, to be carefree and happy again in their own land?

  A footstep startled her. Ned Worthington was coming over the roof on tiptoe, as if fearful of disturbing somebody. His face looked resolute and excited.

  `I wanted to tell you,' he said in a hushed voice, `that the doctor is here, and he says Amy has no fever, and with care may be considered out of danger.

  `Thank God!' cried Katy, bursting into tears. The long fatigue, the fears kept in check so resolutely, the sleepless night just passed, had their revenge now, and she cried and cried as if she could never stop, but with all the time such joy and gratitude in her heart! She was conscious that Ned had his arm round her and was holding both her hands tight, but they were so one in the emotion of the moment that it did not seem strange.

  `How sweet the sun looks!' she said presently, releasing herself, with a happy smile flashing through her tears. `It hasn't seemed really bright for ever so long. How silly I was to cry! Where is dear Polly? I must go down to her at once. Oh, what does she say?'

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