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   Chapter 5 No.5

A Cathedral Singer By James Lane Allen Characters: 8995

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was Sunday. All round St. Luke's Hospital quiet reigned. The day was very still up there on the heights under the blue curtain of the sky.

When he had been hurled against the curb on the dark street, had been rolled over and tossed there and left there with no outcry, no movement, as limp and senseless as a mangled weed, the careless crowd which somewhere in the city every day gathers about such scenes quickly gathered about him. In this throng was the physician whose car stood near by; and he, used to sights of suffering but touched by that tragedy of unconscious child and half-crazed mother, had hurried them in his own car to St. Luke's-to St. Luke's, which is always open, always ready, and always free to those who lack means.

Just before they stopped at the entrance she had pleaded in the doctor's ear for a luxury.

"To the private ward," he said to those who lifted the lad to the stretcher, speaking as though in response to her entreaty.

"One of the best rooms," he said before the operation, speaking as though he shouldered the responsibility of the further expense. "And a room for her near by," he added. "Everything for them! Everything!"

* * *

So there he was now, the lad, or what there was left of him, this quiet Sunday, in a pleasant room opposite the cathedral. The air was like early summer. The windows were open. He lay on his back, not seeing anything. The skin of his forehead had been torn off; there was a bandage over his eyes. And there were bruises on his body and bruises on his face, which was horribly disfigured. The lips were swollen two or three thicknesses; it was agony for him to speak. When he realized what had happened, after the operation, his first mumbled words to her were:

"They will never have me now."

About the middle of the forenoon of this still Sunday morning, when the doctor left, she followed him into the hall as usual, and questioned him as usual with her eyes. He encouraged her and encouraged himself:

"I believe he is going to get well. He has the will to get well, he has the bravery to get well. He is brave about it; he is as brave as he can be."

"Of course he is brave," she said scornfully. "Of course he is brave."

"The love of such a mother would call him back to life," he added, and he laid one of his hands on her head for a moment.

"Don't do that," she said, as though the least tenderness toward herself at such a moment would unnerve her, melt away all her fortitude.

Everybody had said he was brave, the head nurse, the day nurse, the night nurse, the woman who brought in the meals, the woman who scrubbed the floor. All this had kept her up. If anybody paid any kind of tribute to him, realized in any way what he was, this was life to her.

After the doctor left, as the nurse was with him, she walked up and down the halls, too restless to be quiet.

At the end of one hall she could look down on the fragrant leafy park. Yes, summer was nigh. Where a little while before had been only white blossoms, there were fewer white now, more pink, some red, many to match the yellow of the sun. The whole hillside of swaying; boughs seemed to quiver with happiness. Her eyes wandered farther down to the row of houses at the foot of the park. She could see the dreadful spot on the street, the horrible spot. She could see her shattered window-panes up above. The points of broken glass still seemed to slit the flesh of her hands within their bandages.

She shrank back and walked to the end of the transverse hall. Across the road was the cathedral. The morning service was just over. People were pouring out through the temporary side doors and the temporary front doors so placidly, so contentedly! Some were evidently strangers; as they reached the outside they turned and studied the cathedral curiously as those who had never before seen it. Others turned and looked at it familiarly, with pride in its unfolding form. Some stopped and looked down at the young grass, stroking it with the toes of their fine shoes; they were saying how fresh and green it was. Some looked up at the sky; they were saying how blue it was. Some looked at one another keenly; they were discussing some agreeable matter, being happy to get back to it now after the service. Not one of them looked across at the hospital. Not a soul of them seemed to be even aware of its existence. Not a soul of them!

Particularly her eyes became riveted upon two middle-aged ladies in black who c

ame out through a side door of the cathedral-slow-paced women, bereft, full of pity. As they crossed the yard, a gray squirrel came jumping along in front of them on its way to the park. One stooped and coaxed it and tried to pet it: it became a vital matter with both of them to pour out upon the little creature which had no need of it their pent-up, ungratified affection. With not a glance to the window where she stood, with her mortal need of them, her need of all mothers, of everybody-her mortal need of everybody! Why were they not there at his bedside? Why had they not heard? Why had not all of them heard? Why had anything else been talked of that day? Why were they not all massed around the hospital doors, tearful with their sympathies? How could they hold services in the cathedral-the usual services? Why was it not crowded to the doors with the clergy of all faiths and the lay men of every land, lifting one outcry against such destruction? Why did they not stop building temples to God, to the God of life, to the God who gave little children, until they had stopped the massacre of children, His children in the streets!

Yes; everybody had been kind. Even his little rivals who had fought with him over the sale of papers had given up some of their pennies and had bought flowers for him, and one of them had brought their gift to the main hospital entrance. Every day a shy group of them had gathered on the street while one came to inquire how he was. Kindness had rained on her; there was that in the sight of her that unsealed kindness in every heart.

She had been too nearly crazed to think of this. Her bitterness and anguish broke through the near cordon of sympathy and went out against the whole brutal and careless world that did not care-to legislatures that did not care, to magistrates that did not care, to juries that did not care, to officials that did not care, to drivers that did not care, to the whole city that did not care about the massacre in the streets.

Through the doors of the cathedral the people streamed out unconcerned. Beneath her, along the street, young couples passed, flushed with their climb of the park hillside, and flushed with young love, young health. Sometimes they held each other's hands; they innocently mocked her agony with their careless joy.

One last figure issued from the side door of the cathedral hurriedly and looked eagerly across at the hospital-looked straight at her, at the window, and came straight toward the entrance below-the choir-master. She had not sent word to him or to any one about the accident; but he, when his new pupil had failed to report as promised, had come down to find out why. And he, like all the others, had been kind; and he was coming now to inquire what he could do in a case where nothing could be done. She knew only too well that nothing could be done.

* * *

The bright serene hours of the day passed one by one with nature's carelessness about the human tragedy. It was afternoon and near the hour for the choral even-song across the way at the cathedral, the temporary windows of which were open.

She had relieved the nurse, and was alone with him. Often during these days he had put out one of his hands and groped about with it to touch her, turning his head a little toward her under his bandaged eyes, and apparently feeling much mystified about her, but saying nothing. She kept her bandaged hands out of his reach but leaned over him in response and talked ever to him, barely stroking him with the tips of her stiffened fingers.

The afternoon was so quiet that by and by through the opened windows a deep note sent a thrill into the room-the awakened soul of the organ. And as the two listened to it in silence, soon there floated over to them the voices of the choir as the line moved slowly down the aisle, the blended voices of the chosen band, his school-fellows of the altar. By the bedside she suddenly rocked to and fro, and then she bent over and said with a smile in her tone:

"Do you hear? Do you hear them?"

He made a motion with his lips to speak but they hurt him too much. So he nodded: that he heard them.

A moment later he tugged at the bandage over his eyes.

She sprang toward him:

"O my precious one, you must not tear the bandage off your eyes!"

"I want to see you!" he mumbled. "It has been so long since I saw you! What's the matter with you? Where are your hands? Why don't you put your arms around me?"

* * *

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