By Beatrice R. Parsons
Synopsis: Lorna Ashton, an orphan, who has no home of her own and has lived with a cousin, marries Dr. Matthew Wire and goes to live in Westfield, Nevada. She is afraid that Matthew’s relatives and friends and even his patients, will continue to mean so much to him that he will never belong wholly to her. However, she gradually finds a place for herself in the community and in the affections of Uncle John, Nurse Hallie, and Carole, a little neighbor girl. She meets Anne Clayton and Jeanne Beatty, friends of Matthew’s, and becomes acquainted with Jim Nason, an eccentric recluse, who has been asked to help financially with the building of a much-needed hospital in Sky Valley. Two small china kittens, which Lorna has treasured since childhood, have become to her a symbol of possession, and yet she gradually learns to share herself and her husband with others.
During the days which followed one another like bright, shimmering beads in a necklace of hours, Lorna grew more and more used to living in Westfield, although she had never given up her dream of going back to Utah, and Doctors’ Center.
However, she talked little about it to Matt. Since the time Jim Nason had talked to her, she had seemed to know that Matt would not like to leave Westfield. He still had his dream of a hospital for Sky Valley. She wanted to shake Jim Nason. With all that money, he would have nothing but a foolish statue of himself to show for it!
She knew the people needed a hospital, but there was nothing she could do to help them get one. So she pushed the thought from her mind and dreamed of living in her own home town once again.
Lorna was often alone, in spite of the fact that Matt sometimes took her with him when he went to pay calls. Once in a while Matt and Lorna drove to a neighboring farm or ranch where mumps, measles, or chicken-pox held children prisoners.
Lorna amused herself by making scrapbooks from cut-outs from the pages of magazines. Matt’s office was filled with medical magazines. And there were all of Hallie’s R.N. magazines, but none of the pictures were for small children.
So Lorna bought and read the women’s magazines, then cut them up for pictures. Always, she was rewarded by a smile from some small bulging, or speckled, little countenance.
So the days cut themselves into a pattern. There were her light household duties. The old house was not hard to keep clean, and she used her wedding gifts to make it attractive. Matt said she could have lived in a barn and soon would have made it over into a home. She liked hearing him praise her, and kept the house spic-and-span for him.
She also tried to take as many burdens as she could from Hallie’s stiff, unbending shoulders. Hallie never thanked her. But Matt’s grin showed that he knew. And understood!
Matt and Uncle John tried hard to keep office hours from ten until five.
More often than not, they ran until six or seven. And aside from his duties as general practitioner, Matt was also a local health officer. Sometimes he had to drive into neighboring towns to check on complaints.
Lorna looked ruefully into his tired face. “I know how it is, Matt. Besides the physical exertion of your twelve, fourteen, and sometimes almost twenty-four-hour days, there’s the emotional strain, too. I can feel it when you’re with a sick child. or when Jeanne calls and you sit and look at her, almost probingly.”
There was an unspoken question in her tone, and Matt nodded almost imperceptibly. “She’s been complaining, lately, about tiny, shooting pains from the tips of her fingers to the back of her neck.”
“And that could mean, Matt?” prompted Lorna worriedly.
“It could mean …” he began, then shook his head as though to dispel such a notion. “It could mean nothing except that Jeanne is tired. She taught school all winter. And all summer she’s been conducting classes for those children who didn’t make their grades. She needs a rest.”
“Why not send her away, Matt?” Lorna’s voice had been eager. But it tensed as Matt glanced into her face with puzzled eyes. “Oh, no,” she cried quickly, knowing that he was remembering the wild hawk which had intruded into their tight little twosome. “Oh, no, Matt! I didn’t mean it that way …”
Matt’s eyes were deep and tender. “I’m sure you didn’t, Lorna.”
She groped for words, still flushed, a little ashamed. “If there was only some way to make her take a vacation. If you could order her to rest. Perhaps I could take over her classes until …”
She didn’t know how to finish with Matt looking at her like that. She and Jeanne hadn’t been very close since Lorna had come to Westfield, and yet she had a great sympathy for anyone who needed to leave Westfield, even for a little time.
Matt considered. “I could send her away. Somewhere. Perhaps California.” He planned swiftly. “You can suggest it …”
“Matt!” Lorna was on her feet, protesting weakly; “I couldn’t. I’d be afraid.”
“Afraid!” Matt smiled. “Why should you be afraid of Jeanne? Or anyone, for that matter? I had a feeling that you were getting over some of your shyness, your ridiculous fears.”
Lorna was flushed, miserable as she sat down. “I guess I’ll never be cured, Matt,” she said thinly.
He came over and kissed her. “Of course you will, darling,” he said reassuringly. Then he straightened up and confessed, “It’s really nothing to be afraid, Lorna. Why, plenty of times I’m scared, too. That’s one of the penalties – if there are penalties – of being a doctor. No man can study the chart of an eight-year-old pneumonia victim without wondering if the miracle drug, penicillin, can reduce temperature to normal within twenty-four hours. I can’t think of Margaret without feeling an impotent rage that I cannot cure her. I can’t think of Jeanne without imagining the worst. Brain tumor …” He broke off, saying gravely, “I’ll send her to a hospital for X-rays. If only we had our hospital.”
He stopped, as though the things that were pressing down upon him were more than he could bear. Lorna watched him pacing the room, and told herself, once more, and this time with an assurance she had never felt before, that she must talk Matt into leaving Westfield, the minute his uncle was ready to take over his patients again. Matt’s own patients, at Doctors’ Center, would have all the modern facilities, and he wouldn’t have to worry so much.
She was almost glad to hear the telephone ringing so that Matt could stop pacing and answer it. She didn’t mind the telephone so much when it rang at lunch time. besides, Matt had really been able to enjoy his sandwich and cold milk. She smiled as he picked up the phone.
“Answer it, Dr. Matthew Wire! It’s probably someone who knows we’re alone together, having a cozy little chat, and …”
Her voice drained slowly away as she watched Matt-s features change. She knew the voice on the other end was terribly urgent by the way he answered.
As he put the phone down, he spoke crisply. “An accident, Lorna. A two-car crash. Several people hurt. They want Uncle John, Hallie, and me.” He went to get his bag, adding, “Lorna, look after the office. Please telephone the afternoon patients, and tell them we won’t be here, to come in the morning, beginning at eight, if necessary.”
He left the house quickly, after speaking on the intercommunication phone to Uncle John and Hallie. Lorna stood at the door, pale and shaken by the message, as the car rolled out of the driveway and up the street.
A few minutes later, she was almost glad to see Carole running across the street, her small puppy, Chews, barking lustily at her heels.
When Carole came in, Lorna was surprised to find that she was rather pale and frightened looking, and that she was crying a little wildly.
She hurried to ask about Chews, fearing that something had happened to the puppy. But Carole shook her braids, and through her sobbing, explained that it wasn’t the little dog.
“It’s not Chews! It’s me!” she sobbed again, and held up her hand. It was crudely wrapped in a handkerchief – a not-too-clean handkerchief – and there was blood mixed with the dirt on the cloth. Carole cried shrilly: “I’m hurt! It’s bleeding. It pains me. I don’t know what to do. My mama’s gone to the grocery store, and Chews and I are all alone!”
Lorna was too shocked and worried to speak. She could scarcely manage her breath. She looked wildly across the street for Mrs. Wilson. For anyone. Carole’s wails were loud and frightening. “Dr. Matt and Hallie are gone, and there’s nobody to wrap it up.”
Lorna stared in horror at the blood-soaked handkerchief which Carole had used to wrap up the cut. The sight of the blood made her physically ill. She felt faint, nauseated, and caught at the back of a chair to steady herself.
“Maybe Anne would know what to do,” she muttered confusedly. “Or Jeanne …”
“I fell and broke a bottle,” sobbed Carole, and Lorna wanted to sob, too.
But she knew that no matter how hard it was going to be to attend the cut, she had a responsibility. She remembered what Matt had told her once about a doctor, or nurse, having a great need for a poker face. She must pretend to be calm and professional in the face of Carole’s fear.
“We’ll go into the office,” she said more loudly than she expected. “We’ll find something to stop the bleeding. When Dr. Matt comes back, he can fix it properly. First,” she said, opening Matt’s office door, “I suppose should wash off all the dirt …”
The warm water made Carole flinch, so she used cold. All the time she was examining the cut – which was long and deep – she felt like fainting and only kept herself from doing so by taking a big drink of cold water. She gave one to Carole, too.
“Now for some salve …” she said unsteadily, and her knees felt wobbly as she went towards Hallie’s refrigerator.
Searching among the jars and bottles, carefully labeled in Hallie’s precise handwriting, Lorna tired to recall what Matt had said about penicillin. Well, if it could cure pneumonia, it could surely cure cuts! There was a big tube. She squeezed a more than generous amount on a piece of gauze and managed a not too unprofessional bandage on Carole’s hand.
Then she made Carole lie down, for the child still looked pale and frightened.
“I’ll see if I can find something for you to play with,” she said as she disappeared into the corridors.
Oh, if she had only not give away the very last of her little scrapbooks. The magazines were all cut up because she and Matt had already read them. Her eyes searched wildly all about the apartment. They fell on the little china kittens. Very reluctantly, she picked them up.
Carole was sitting up, looking out of the window when she came back. Carole didn’t seem to see the kittens, she was crying again, and she hurried outside, calling, relievedly, over her shoulder, “Mummy’s home, Lorna. I want my Mummy,” and her crying left a little thread of sound as she rushed to tell her mother about the cut.
Unsteadily, Lorna set the little kittens on one of the enameled tables, and knew that she must either lie down, or fall down. She was really going to faint. She managed the couch, just before the dark pit of unconsciousness closed about her.
She didn’t know how long she was out, but after a while she opened her eyes and found her head aching fiercely so that she remained just where she was, knowing that her fit of nausea had not passed completely.
When the others came home, they found her lying there, listless, pale.
Matt was alarmed, seeing the upset office. His voice came in a hoarse little rush. “Oh, Lorna, Lorna, darling, what is it!”
Lorna was dimly conscious that she had left the bloody water in the basin, the penicillin uncapped, the gauze carelessly unwound. She tried to reassure the circle of worried faces that leaned over her.
“It was Carole, Matt. She cut her finger.” She sat up, pushing her dizziness away with an unsteady hand at her temple. “I had to wash it and wrap it up. I … oh, Matt, I told you I’d faint at the sight of blood!”
She was so ashamed that she cried. Matt sat down beside her and stroked her gleaming curls.
“There, there, darling. As long as Carole’s all right, you mustn’t worry.”
She dried her eyes on his big, white handkerchief, knowing she was disgracing herself by acting such a baby. She saw Hallie capably swishing the water out of the dirty basin, methodically squeezing out a dab of penicillin before she put back the cap. The unused portion of the unwound gauze she tossed into the wastebasket with a little frown.
From under a clouded layer of memory, Lorna remembered that Matt had said that penicillin should always be refrigerated, that gauze must always be kept sterile.
Hallie’s rubber heels moved quietly, yet purposefully about the laboratory repairing the damage Lorna had done. There was a chill antagonism about her that made Lorna wince.
Now, she thought, disturbed, she dislikes me more than ever. Now she’s more convinced than she ever was that I’m careless, thoughtless, not fit to be Matt’s wife. Her thoughts stretched out, unbidden. Hallie sees right through me. She knows I’m afraid of things. Afraid to let Matt go very far away. She knows I’m jealous of his friends here in Westfield, because they’ve shared so much with him. Hallie knows that I’d like to keep Matt beside me all the time. She sees deep inside me, the way I saw deep into Carole’s cut. She knows I’m selfish, possessive …
Suddenly she put her head into the curve of Matt’s arm and shoulder and wept convulsively. “Oh, Matt, let’s go away from here. Away from horrible accidents. from cuts and bruises. Let’s go home where things will be different. where …”
Matt’s face was unsteady as he bent it towards her. His voice, however, was firm, steady.
“Lorna, you’re hysterical! You’re saying a lot of things you don’t really mean.”
Lorna sat up, biting her lips. Uncle John walked with his cane to open the door into the waiting room. Lorna’s eyes widened, her face grew flushed. The waiting room was filled with patients. Her voice was choked as Uncle John went out.
“Oh, Matt, I forgot to telephone them!”
For an instant she detected something like impatience in Matt’s features. Then he patted her arm and spoke soothingly.
“You’ve had a pretty trying afternoon, darling. Uncle John and I will take care of them.” He turned to slip into his white coat, then saw the small china kittens on the enameled table. “At least,” he said proudly, looking deep into her eyes, “you didn’t forget one thing! You remembered the most important thing of all. You remembered to let Carole play with your little cats!”
Lorna gathered the kittens up into her hands, preparing to take them back to the apartment. Then she saw the pride and happiness in Matt’s face, and she knew there was something else important she had to do.
Much as she cringed at the thought of giving away her small cats, she knew she must. Matt wanted her to. Hallie expected it. But she knew, by the unbending sternness of Hallie’s back, that she was sure Lorna wouldn’t. With her head thrown, almost defiantly, back, she went shakily toward the door.
“Maybe Carole’s finger should have some professional attention, Matt. I’ll take her the kittens, and tell her mother you will see her later.”
Matt’s voice rang with pride. “You’ve done a really magnificent job all around, today, sweetheart. Carole will be happy with the little china cats. You’ll be happy without them, I’m sure, when you get used to the idea.” His eyes went from graveness to twinkling laughter, and he added, “I’m sure no harm will come to Carole’s finger since you doctored it with so much penicillin!”
He was laughing at her, Lorna knew, as she crossed the street. Yet he really wasn’t laughing at all. Her heart beat lightly as she saw Carole’s mother coming towards the door.
Carole rushed through the screen before her mother could open it, and thanked Lorna with a quick hug.
“You’re going to let me play with the kittens …”
“You may have the kittens, said Lorna, firmly.
Carole hugged her again, and her small hands trembled as they touched the china cats. Her blue eyes sparkled with happiness.
“Every time I’ve seen them on your dressing table, I’ve wanted to play with them, Lorna. I’ve never asked because …” Her voice drifted away, and her cheeks were pink.
Lorna’s cheeks were pink, too, and she smiled at Carole’s mother, over Carole’s intent little head.
“She’s going to be all right. Dr. Matt will look at her finger later on. He said I’d used plenty of penicillin.”
Going back across the street, Lorna smiled. Matt had said “penicillin,” but his eyes had said something far more healing …