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After that Mr. Middleton slept for what he felt was a day and a
night. It was really ten minutes by the hunting-case watch. Just
long enough for the Senior Surgical Interne, known in the school as
the S.S.I., to wander in, feel his pulse, approve of Jane Brown, and
Jane Brown had risen nervously when he came in, and had proffered
him the order book and a clean towel, as she had been instructed. He
had, however, required neither. He glanced over the record, changed
the spelling of "resparation," arranged his tie at the mirror, took
another look at Jane Brown, and went out. He had not spoken.
It was when his white-linen clad figure went out that Middleton
wakened and found it was the same day. He felt at once like
conversation, and he began immediately. But the morphia did a
curious thing to him. He was never afterward able to explain it. It
made him create. He lay there and invented for Jane Brown a
fictitious person, who was himself. This person, he said, was a
newspaper reporter, who had been sent to report the warehouse fire.
He had got too close, and a wall had come down on him. He invented
the newspaper, too, but, as Jane Brown had come from somewhere else,
she did not notice this.
In fact, after a time he felt that she was not as really interested
as she might have been, so he introduced a love element. He was, as
has been said, of those who believe that nurses go into hospitals
because of being blighted. So he introduced a Mabel, suppressing her
other name, and boasted, in a way he afterward remembered with
horror, that Mabel was in love with him. She was, he related,
something or other on his paper.
At the end of two hours of babbling, a businesslike person in a
cap--the Probationer wears no cap--relieved Jane Brown, and spilled
some beef tea down his neck.
Now, Mr. Middleton knew no one in that city. He had been motoring
through, and he had, on seeing the warehouse burning, abandoned his
machine for a closer view. He had left it with the engine running,
and, as a matter of fact, it ran for four hours, when it died of
starvation, and was subsequently interred in a city garage. However,
he owned a number of cars, so he wasted no thought on that one. He
was a great deal more worried about his eyebrows, and, naturally,
about his leg.
When he had been in the hospital ten hours it occurred to him to
notify his family. But he put it off for two reasons: first, it
would be a lot of trouble; second, he had no reason to think they
particularly wanted to know. They all had such a lot of things to
do, such as bridge and opening country houses and going to the
Springs. They were really overwhelmed, without anything new, and
they had never been awfully interested in him anyhow.
He was not at all bitter about it.
That night Mr. Middleton--but he was now officially "Twenty-two," by
that system of metonymy which designates a hospital private patient
by the number of his room--that night "Twenty-two" had rather a bad
time, between his leg and his conscience. Both carried on
disgracefully. His leg stabbed, and his conscience reminded him of
Mabel, and that if one is going to lie, there should at least be a
reason. To lie out of the whole cloth----!
However, toward morning, with what he felt was the entire
pharmacopoeia inside him, and his tongue feeling like a tar roof, he
made up his mind to stick to his story, at least as far as the young
lady with the old-fashioned watch was concerned. He had a sort of
creed, which shows how young he was, that one should never explain
to a girl.
There was another reason still. There had been a faint sparkle in
the eyes of the young lady with the watch while he was lying to her.
He felt that she was seeing him in heroic guise, and the thought
pleased him. It was novel.
To tell the truth, he had been getting awfully bored with himself
since he left college. Everything he tried to do, somebody else
could do so much better. And he comforted himself with this, that he
would have been a journalist if he could, or at least have published
a newspaper. He knew what was wrong with about a hundred newspapers.
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