|Chapter Title||A HOSPITAL SCENE.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Raphael Ruthven: A Fragment|
A HOSPITAL SCENE.
One cold evening in November, Margery and hier uncle were driving through the streets of London on their way to the annual conversazione at one of the great metropolitan hospitals, to which they had been invited by Dr. Kair, the senior physician, who was a distant connection of David Maile. "Uncle, do you believe in presentiments?" remarked Margery, suddenly. " All this evening I have had a feeling as though something dreadful were going to happen."
" No, Marge, I can't say that I do believe in such nonsense. The worst 1 fear happening is that the horses may slip down on the frosty pavement and cut their knees," replied David Maile. " Ah ! here we are, the hospital gate," he continued, as the brougham came to a standstill.
They followed the crush of people tip the stone staircase, decorated with palms and flowers, and into the large reception room where Dr; Kair met his friends. During the evening they saw all there was
to be seen, and just as they were leaving the senior physician came up to Margery, where she was waiting at the head of the stairs for her uncle, and said, " Have you ever been over an hospital ward by gas-light, Miss Maile ? If not, would you care to go over one with me now? Mr. Maile would like to
" I should like it immensely, Dr. Kair," replied Margery. "I have often been through one in the daytime, but never by night."
" Then come this way, Miss Maile. Ah ! we are in luck. I see Sister Martha at the other end of the room."
A lady, standing in the neat grey andjwhite costume of the hospital Sisterhood, ushered them into the
What a contrast to the gay scene on the other side of those oak doors, which they had but just quitted! There, life-healthy, happy life-was enjoying itself. Such of the large rooms of the hospital as had been utilized for the purposes of the conversazione, usually so bare and grim, had been transformed for the nonce by the upholsterer's art into gay saloons, hung with rich tapestry, in which the students and staff, with their hosts of friends, were talking and laughing and enjoying the amusements provided for them. Here was sickness-dreary, wasting sickness. On either side of the long ward, stood a row of iron bedsteads. From underneath their white coverings came an occasional cough or weary kind of noise, half sigh, half groan, which told only too plainly their own sad tale ; while ever and anon, as the kind and softly-treading nurses glided to some bedside, a glimpse of a pale, wan face would be seen for an instant as the occupant was skilfully raised up or moved in his bed. The gleams of light falling on the oaken beams, stretching their great length across the lofty ceiling, and on the dark, polished floor ; a few stray shadows, looking like shades of death, cast across the walls ; the nurses in their long, grey gowns, made up a picture truly Rembrandtish in its effect. To the occupants of the hospital ward, when their eyes rested on Margery Maile, it seemed as though some angel of light and beauty had come to cast a momentary glow over their dreary existence. She
walked down between the double row of beds
listening to the remarks of Sister Martha and Dr. Kair, though her rich attire and the evening dress of the gentlemen, seemed strangely out of keeping with the sombre surroundings. " This is the ward kitchen, Miss Maile," said the Sister, indicating a side chamber fitted up with a culinary apparatus ; " come in and see it." Margery stopped for a
moment to admire the beautiful cleanliness of the
room, and the brightness of the cooking utensils on which shadows from the clear fire were playing hide and seek. Suddenly a painful, hacking cough, followed by heavy breathing, broke the stillness behind her. Again that feeling of dread, which had haunted her during the evening, began to creep over her, seeming to culminate in absolute terror.
Another painful cough was heard, and then, wafted across the ward as from the wings of a sigh, came her own name, uttered in weak, quavering accents, " Marge !" Again she heard it : " Marge !" but the second time so faint that it seemed like a far off echo of the first. Instinctively she drew closer to her uncle, and laying her hand on his arm, turned round. What a sight met her gaze, it seemed to freeze into her eyeballs. In one of the beds almost facing her, and but a few paces from where she was standing, an emaciated figure, clothed in its white night garment, was sitting up ; one thin, white hand was feebly extended towards her, while the other clutched the side rail of the bed. A pair of large mournful grey eyes gazed at her with such an imploring look that the tears welled to her own unbidden. Twice the pale lips essayed to open. " Marge !" again came her name, uttered in the same quavering tones, and then, exhausted by this supreme effort, its feeble strength gone, the figure fell back on to the bed. The dreadful cough came on with redoubled violence, and a thin red stream began to wend its way across the snowy pillows from the poor sufferer's lips. That momentary glimpse had sufficed, and Margery Maile, despite the awful change, recog- nised Raphael Ruthven !
" Oh ! uncle David, do you not see who it is ?" she cried, in a piteous voice, and crossing the ward swiftly, the girl took Ruthven's hand. Laying it against her cheek, she murmured : " My poor, poor boy !" Then, as the horror of the situation dawned upon her in all it hideousness, her strength gave way, and uttering a shrill cry, she fell senseless across the
Sister Martha seemed to take in the situation at a glance. " Get her away !" she said to Dr. Kair ; "the excitement has almost killed him," pointing to the dying man. " See what a commotion this is causing among the other patients ! Can you carry her out?"
Dr. Kair nodded, and whispering to David Maile, "We must go away at once," he raised the inert form of the girl in his arms. " Come, I must insist," he continued, as David Maile showed some signs of
reluctance. Great was the excitement caused among such of the guests as had not departed when 'the senior physician was seen crossing the reception room
with his unconscious burden.
When she came to from her faint, Margery entreated and implored to be allowed to go back to Ruthven. " He may die-he is dying now, perhaps," she said, "let me go to him ! It is cruel of you to keep me away !"
" Miss Maile, believe me, what you ask is impossible," replied Dr. Kair. "I should be con- travening my duty as a doctor- if I allowed you to return to the ward to-night. The shock our patient has received has been very great, our only hope now will lie in absolute rest and quiet."
" Must I then really go without seeing him ?" she
Next day Margery and her uncle were at the hospital as soon as the doors'were open. Raphael Ruthven had been removed to another room, and all that science could do, or kindness and thought suggest, had been done for him, but he was sinking rapidly. He could only talk at fitful intervals, and then with great difficulty. The day wore away arid the night came on, and the death-like pallor grew deeper on the emaciated face of the unconscious sufferer. Not a sound broke the profound quietude, save the faint strains of an organ playing "The Land o' the Leal." How horribly prophetic this was to the agonized listeners, for they knew that a strange visitant, Azrael, the Angel of Death, would come to one of them before the morning and bid him follow in his train. All at once Ruthven began to speak, at first with muffled utterance, but as he went on his tones became more clear and distinct. .- " Do you remember, Marge, the first piece you ever saw me play in ?"
"Yes," replied the weeping girl, "it was. 'All for her,' at the ' Sceptre.'"
"Were not the lines of the 'tag' perfect with their pregnant pathos ?" continued Ruthven. " I am. doing a better thing than I have ever done, and I am going to a better life than I have eyer known." As if by magic his strength seemed to come back to him ; not even in his best days had his voice been so sweet, so resonant, so full of a strange pathos as it was then. " Do not cry, Marge darling. I am going without pain from the dark cave of Giant Despair to the shining land of everlasting peace. This is the last scene of my life's drama, and though I have done few good things, and many evil ones in my reckless, wretched, wasted existence, I feel assured that I, too, am going to a better life than I have ever known. Uncle David, Marge darling, promise me that you will not sorrow ; it is best as it is." His voice gradually sank and died away. He lay quiet for some time, slowly relapsing into unconsciousness ; nor did he become conscious again. His memory seemed to haste back to his early histrionic triumphs, and, ever and anon, as Marge and David were praying at his bedside, there would fall on their' ears quotations from "julius Caesar," "Richelieu," "Hamlet," from Ben Jonson, Congreve, Herrick, Beaumont Fletcher; from all kinds of quaint old plays and nearly forgotten poets, for Ruthven had been a great and a varied reader. Towards daybreak there came a change. He seemed to think he was dressing for a first night's performance. Suddenly he started un in bed, and, in excited tones, exclaimed: "Jervis, my hat and cloak, quick, man ! look alive ! the curtain's up ; my cue, oh, God !;' His voice ceased, and he fell back dead ! A bright gleam from the newly-risen winter sun streamed through the window on to the pale features as if to assure those who were left behind that his faith in a better life had not been in
" The curtain drops," said Dr. Kair, " the play is ended. He has gone to that land
' Where the wicked cease from troubling,
.And the weary are at rest.'"
Who shall gainsay it ?
Some enthusiastic anglers from Paisley were fishing from Rothesay quay last summer. A small boy among them tumbled into the water, and would have been drowned had not an old veteran jumped in after him and landed him safely. A bystander complimented the angler on his heroism, and asked him if the boy was his eon. " No," replied the old man, " but he michfc j ist as well hae been. The young rascal had a' the bait in his pouch."
" Edward," said a mother to her boy of eight, who was trundling a hoop in the front garden, you musn't go out of that gate into the street." "No, ma, I won't," was the reply. A few minutes afterwards she saw Edward in the street, engaged in manufacturing mud pieB, and at once went to him. " Didn't I tell you," ahe Haid angrily, "not to go through the gate?" " Well, I didn't, mother," was the very satisfactory reply ; "I climbed over the fence !"