Within the Walls

ON the green lawn in front of the white stone hospital a man stood leaning against a tree. Beside him, on the grass, stretched out in one of the cradle-like couches used for sunning the patients, lay a white-robed figure, which might have belonged to either sex, had it not been for the smoothness of the pallid cheeks and the long black hair spread tangled on the pillow.

“ So you are all well again,” the woman said languidly. “ Does your knee hurt you at all ? ”

“ Not much,” the man answered lightly ; “ and it would n’t be well even by now,” he continued, smiling, “ if you had n’t been here to put me in such excellent spirits when we enjoyed the sun together.”

“ It has been a very pleasant time for me also,” the woman said. “I don’t think I shall ever have as pleasant a one again. The doctor does n’t give me very much time, so if it does come, it will have to be soon.”

She spoke despondently, in even tones, as though what she said had been so often the subject of her thoughts that it had ceased to retain her interest, and remained merely the cold, inevitable fact against which, she had learned long ago, it did no good to complain.

“ Oh, come, come,” he said cheeringly, “ it is n’t as bad as that. You ’ll be out of here in less than six weeks.”

“ No, I ’m afraid not,” the woman answered, slightly shaking her head. “But thank you all the same.” She stopped as she looked up at him, and saw in his eyes the expression of deep concern, “ Don’t bother about me, please,” she continued quickly ; “ there are other things outside — those things you told me about — that will need all your attention. So tell me, when do you go?”

“ This afternoon.”

“ This— Why, how glad I am !

She tried to laugh, to make him think she was ; and in its purpose the laugh succeeded, for the man, suddenly aroused to interest in the active life he was soon to resume after his two months’ idleness, rushed eagerly ahead in his plans and prospects away to an after-life. The woman listened dejectedly, running her finger in a careless way along a fold in the covering sheet. The man broke off abruptly in the midst of his grand career.

“ There,” he said, “I tire you; and besides, it is time for me to be going.”

He reached down and held her hand for a moment.

“ I — I wish you luck,” she said slowly.

When he had walked away a few steps, he turned with a sudden impulse and came back to her.

“ I thought you might like these. My brother brought them to me this morning.”

As he spoke, he took from his buttonhole a small bunch of violets and handed them to her with a bow of laughing gallantry. A light tinge of color showed in her cheeks as she took them from him, and again he started to walk across the grass toward the gate.

And she, lying behind in her narrow wooden bed, looked sadly over the curve of her pillow at the slow-moving figure of the man. When at last he disappeared through the gateway, she still gazed after him for several minutes, as though he were yet there; then she turned her eyes to the bunch of purple flowers she held, and brushed their heads back lightly with her hand.

Not until then, with the lonesomeness of her own poor existence fresh upon her, did she realize that he had gone, — gone into that outer world where she would never follow. During the last few weeks, with him to talk to and amuse her, she had at times almost forgotten her pitiful condition in the little pleasure it afforded, and had grown to regard her afternoon sunning as the one bright spot in the weary day. He had so often lain beside her there in the sun, and sat beside her when he was better, that half involuntarily she moved her head, as if to nod back her appreciation of some bright jest or compliment, only to see the empty lawn stretching clear to the hospital wall.

But even in its emptiness it was yet the place where she had laughed with him from pure happiness alone, and she smiled faintly at the leaves above her as she thought of being brought out here day after day, until — until that time, so near at hand, when it would be necessary no longer.

“ Come,” said a soft voice, “ it is time for you to go in.”

The woman looked up quickly into the nurse’s face.

“ Can’t I stay here a little longer ? ” she asked. “ I should like to very much.”

“ But it’s growing damp, and it’s bad for you.”

“ Bad for me ? ” the woman said slowly. “ Why should that make any difference ? It’s all the same in the end, and I want so much to stay.”

The nurse seemed puzzled for an instant, but seeing the flowers in the wasted hand she nodded her head quietly as though thinking to herself, and then moved silently away.

So he had gone. The woman wondered if he would ever think of her, now that he was outside the walls: two or three times to-day, perhaps, once to-morrow, and then no more. But to her these last few weeks had been so great a part of the short time she had yet to live, that whereas formerly in her sickness her memories were all of her earlier life, now she would look no farther back than the time when he was there. And so she thought whilst the remembrance lived vivid in her mind, and the long, distorted shadows crawled across the lawn as the sun dropped down behind the hospital.

Then as the afternoon drew to a close she was carried in, and put to bed in her room in the quiet ward.

“ I think,” she said wearily to the nurse, “ I 'll go to sleep. I don’t care for any supper to-night.” She finished speaking with her eyes already closed, and as unconsciousness stole upon her and her breathing softened down, the hand that was holding the violets relaxed, letting the flowers fall scattered to the floor.

When the nurse, a half-hour later, came in and saw them lying there, she gathered them deftly, and stuck them, one by one, in the grasp of the halfclosed, sleeping fingers.

Guy H. Scull.