The White Linen Nurse

By Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, 1913
The White Linen Nurse


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The White Linen Nurse was so tired that her noble expression ached.

Incidentally her head ached and her shoulders ached and her lungs ached and the ankle-bones of both feet ached quite excruciatingly. But nothing of her felt permanently incapacitated except her noble expression. Like a strip of lip-colored lead suspended from her poor little nose by two tugging wire-gray wrinkles her persistently conscientious sickroom smile seemed to be whanging aimlessly against her front teeth. The sensation certainly was very unpleasant.

Looking back thus on the three spine-curving, chest-cramping, foot-twinging, ether-scented years of her hospital training, it dawned on the White Linen Nurse very suddenly that nothing of her ever had felt permanently incapacitated except her noble expression!

Impulsively she sprang for the prim white mirror that capped her prim white bureau and stood staring up into her own entrancing, bright-colored Novia Scotian reflection with tense and unwonted interest.

Except for the unmistakable smirk which fatigue had clawed into her plastic young mouth-lines there was certainly nothing special the matter with what she saw.

"Perfectly good face!" she attested judicially with no more than common courtesy to her progenitors. "Perfectly good and tidy looking face! If only—if only—" her breath caught a trifle. "If only—it didn't look so disgustingly noble and—hygienic—and dollish!"

All along the back of her neck little sharp prickly pains began suddenly to sting and burn.

"Silly—simpering—pink and white puppet!" she scolded squintingly,
"I'll teach you how to look like a real girl!"

Very threateningly she raised herself to her tiptoes and thrust her glowing, corporeal face right up into the moulten, elusive, quick-silver face in the mirror. Pink for pink, blue for blue, gold for gold, dollish smirk for dollish smirk, the mirror mocked her seething inner fretfulness.

"Why—darn you!" she gasped. "Why—darn you! Why, you looked more human than that when you left the Annapolis Valley three years ago! There were at least—tears in your face then, and—cinders, and—your mother's best advice, and the worry about the mortgage, and—and—the blush of Joe Hazeltine's kiss!"

Furtively with the tip of her index-finger she started to search her imperturbable pink cheek for the spot where Joe Hazeltine's kiss had formerly flamed.

"My hands are all right, anyway!" she acknowledged with infinite relief. Triumphantly she raised both strong, stub-fingered, exaggeratedly executive hands to the level of her childish blue eyes and stood surveying the mirrored effect with ineffable satisfaction. "Why my hands are—dandy!" she gloated. "Why they're perfectly—dandy! Why they're wonderful! Why they're—." Then suddenly and fearfully she gave a shrill little scream. "But they don't go with my silly doll-face!" she cried. "Why, they don't! They don't! They go with the Senior Surgeon's scowling Heidelberg eyes! They go with the Senior Surgeon's grim gray jaw! They go with the—! Oh! what shall I do? What shall I do?"

Dizzily, with her stubby finger-tips prodded deep into every jaded facial muscle that she could compass, she staggered towards the air, and dropping down into the first friendly chair that bumped against her knees, sat staring blankly out across the monotonous city roofs that flanked her open window,—trying very, very hard for the first time in her life, to consider the General-Phenomenon-of-Being-a-Trained-Nurse.

All around and about her, inexorable as anesthesia, horrid as the hush of tomb or public library, lurked the painfully unmistakable sense of institutional restraint. Mournfully to her ear from some remote kitcheny region of pots and pans a browsing spoon tinkled forth from time to time with soft-muffled resonance. Up and down every clammy white corridor innumerable young feet, born to prance and stamp, were creeping stealthily to and fro in rubber-heeled whispers. Along the somber fire-escape just below her windowsill, like a covey of snubbed doves, six or eight of her classmates were cooing and crooning together with excessive caution concerning the imminent graduation exercises that were to take place at eight o'clock that very evening. Beyond her dreariest ken of muffled voices, beyond her dingiest vista of slate and brick, on a far faint hillside, a far faint streak of April green went roaming jocundly skyward. Altogether sluggishly, as though her nostrils were plugged with warm velvet, the smell of spring and ether and scorched mutton-chops filtered in and out, in and out, in and out, of her abnormally jaded senses.

Taken all in all it was not a propitious afternoon for any girl as tired and as pretty as the White Linen Nurse to be considering the general phenomenon of anything—except April!