Authors: Jane Rossiter
Tags: #romance, #nurse, #medical
He smiled at her across the table. "I'm not going to like flying back to Philadelphia tomorrow," he said.
She was surprised at the news, not expecting that he would leave so soon. "Do you have to go?"
"I'm afraid so. A big deal coming up, with a couple of people who won't be available any other time. But it will only be a few weeks until the company plays Philadelphia, and then we'll have lots of evenings together. And you'll be able to meet the rest of my family. Especially Mother." He made it sound exciting and important.
But Shirley felt a sudden doubt. She wasn't at all certain that she would like Roger's Philadelphia family, or fit in with them. And she realized that it wasn't really important to her whether they liked her or not. Still, she didn't want to hurt Roger; she would have to pretend that she was as enthusiastic about the week in Philadelphia as he was.
The best she could manage was: "You're right. It won't be long until we'll be playing there."
He reached across the table and took her hand. "Shirley, I don't want you to get the idea I'm trying to rush you into anything. But in the short time we've known each other, I've found in you all I could ever ask in a girl."
She smiled at him. "Roger, we're—we're not much more than strangers."
"I think we're a lot more." His eyes searched her face. "And I have an idea you know that what I'm saying is true. A thing like this can happen. Two people meet and suddenly discover they like each other a great deal."
"I do like you Roger," she said. "I like you a lot."
"I more than like you," he told her. "I'm in love with you, Shirley. I want you to know that. I don't expect any answer from you now. But think it over. When you arrive in Philadelphia, I'd like to tell everyone that you've agreed to be my wife."
In spite of Hugh Deering's half-joking warning that Roger Craft would ask her to marry him, Shirley was surprised when the serious-faced young man put the question to her so directly. For a moment, she was unable to reply; then she smiled and said, "I know there must be many girls who would be thrilled to have you say that to them." She paused. "In a way, so am I. But things have been so mixed up for me lately. I'd like to accept your suggestion and think about it awhile."
"Take as long as you like," he said.
And so the moment of decision passed. But from then on, there was a new intimacy between them. When Roger left her at the door of her room, he stood studying her for a minute.
"I'll phone you every day," he told her. "It will help cut down the miles between us."
Shirley looked up at him fondly. "You'll be very close in my thoughts."
He leaned toward her and kissed her, his strong hands pressing hard on her shoulders. Then he gave her a quick smile and, with an almost touching shyness, hurried away.
Shirley watched after him until he turned the corridor, a smile playing on her lips. It occurred to her that this case had brought her a wonderful new world. She had come to know the great actor, Oliver Craft, in a way few people did. And through him, she had met Roger. It had been a strong temptation tonight. She had almost said "yes" to his proposal. There were so many things right about marriage with him. But as long as there was still even a small reservation in her mind, she knew it wouldn't be fair to either of them to agree. With a sigh, she unlocked her door and went in.
Roger went back to Philadelphia the next day, and the rest of the week in Cincinnati was uneventful. Once near the end of the week, Shirley met the character actor, Charles Victor, in the hotel drugstore. She saw that he was standing by the prescription counter and assumed that he was getting a new supply of his nitro tablets.
Going up to him, she said, "I've been wanting to chat with you."
The stout little man turned around in surprise; and then, finding that it was Shirley, the round face broke into a smile. "How's my favorite nurse?" he asked.
"Worried about you. How have you been feeling lately?"
"Never better. I'm just getting these to have them on hand. I really haven't used my last supply."
Shirley found it hard to tell whether the little man was pretending or not. At any rate, she wanted to believe him. "That's good news," she said. "But if you feel worse, or the attacks get more frequent, don't keep it a secret from me."
"I won't," he assured her. "I appreciate that you've kept it from the others."
"If you need a doctor, see one. No one else need know." Shirley sighed. "You'll be all right if you take sensible care of yourself."
"I will, Miss Grant. I promise you." The little actor turned to receive his filled prescription.
Leaving him, Shirley was only half-convinced that he was as well as he said. But she had warned him. She hoped that he would take her suggestion to see a doctor.
On the weekend, the company moved on to Cleveland and the Hanna Theater. The six-day stand was a complete sellout. Everyone was excited and looking forward to the engagement. On Sunday afternoon, Oliver Craft and Shirley checked into the Sheraton-Cleveland.
During the trip there, she had noticed that the old actor seemed rather wan and remote. She made him go to bed as soon as he arrived at his hotel suite. When she looked after the irrigation of his side, he complained of discomfort, and also of pain in the other side, the same trouble he had mentioned to her a few weeks before in Boston. Alarmed, she gave him a fairly heavy dose of sedative and within half an hour he had fallen into a deep sleep.
Picking up the phone, she asked the desk for Lyon Phillips' room. She hoped, as the phone rang, that the stage manager hadn't gone to the theater, and was thankful when he answered.
"I'm so glad you're still there." She spoke rapidly in a low voice. "May I come down and see you for a moment?"
"Why not?" The stage manager's tone was jovial. "I hope it's important. You called me out of the shower. I'm standing here dripping wet."
"It is," she said. "It's about the Chief."
Phillips' tone changed to one of concern. "I'll be waiting for you."
His face showed his worry as he opened the door of his room for her. She went in, noting that he was now in his dressing gown, and that in the time that had passed since she had called, he had thrown on trousers and a shirt. He indicated a chair. "Sit down," he said. "How bad is he?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. He seemed to be in great pain. And he hardly ever complains, although I'm sure he suffers often. I gave him a stiff dose of sleeping tablets."
Lyon paced up and down before her. "How long will they last?"
"Two or three hours."
"Then we'll know?"
"If he wakes up and the pain hasn't left him, we'll have to call a doctor. Perhaps send him to the hospital." Shirley's eyes met those of the tall, lantern-jawed young man. "I thought I'd phone Dr. Trask from down here. Then I'd better hurry back upstairs. He shouldn't be left alone."
"Yes, telephone Trask by all means." Lyon Phillips stopped in front of her. "He should get out here as fast as he can."
She shrugged. "If he can. He's a very busy surgeon. It's not always possible for him to get away at a moment's notice."
"I know! I know!" He began to pace again. "If Oliver is really bad off, we'll have to announce that Sayre will sub for him. There's still time for a notice in the morning papers. It will mean a lot of work for everyone in the show."
"You think you'll be able to go on without him?"
"For this week, in a kind of way." Lyon's voice was bitter. "Without Oliver, we won't really have a show. We may as well accept that. It could be the end of the tour."
Sadness clouded Shirley's face. "And it means so much to him to go through with it."
"I know." Lyon's shoulders were slumped. "I'll wait until he wakes up and if things are still not right, I'll phone Rothstein and tell him."
Shirley nodded, understanding that there would be decisions which only the show's producer could make. She reached for the phone and placed her Boston call. It was midafternoon and she assumed that Dr. Trask would be at his Wellesley address and so made the call to that number.
Lyon repeated, "Tell him to get here as fast as he can."
Then Dr. Trask's familiar nasal twang said "Yes?" at the other end of the line.
"It's Miss Grant, Doctor," Shirley said. "Oliver Craft seems worse." In as few words as possible, she gave him a description of her patient's condition, ending with: "We hoped you might be able to come out."
"I can," Dr. Trask said. "I will. There's an early evening plane. I'll be on it. Have someone meet me at the airport."
Shirley put down the phone. "He's coming in on tonight's flight from Boston."
"Good," Lyon said briskly. "I'll meet him."
She got up. "I feel better about things already. If we have any hope at all, it lies with Dr. Trask."
"I feel the same way," the stage manager said.
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door. Lyon looked at her with a questioning expression and then went over and opened it. It was Hugh Deering, dressed for the street.
He came in with a smile. "What a charming pair."
Lyon closed the door. "No time for jokes, Hugh. We're in trouble."
The actor's eyebrows raised. "Really?"
The stage manager glanced at Shirley and said, "We may as well tell him. They'll all know soon enough." Then, "It's Oliver. He's in terrible pain."
Hugh Deering looked at Shirley for confirmation. "Is it really bad?"
"I think so," Shirley said, and repeated what she had told Dr. Trask. She watched with a kind of fascination as the ex-doctor took in the medical explanations. He listened in the familiar manner of a doctor, whether he admitted to being one or not.
When she had finished, he sighed. "I've been worried right along. Oliver is like a man on a tightrope. He's been walking a precarious way. This whole project has gone along depending on the slim thread of his health. This could be the end."
"Jeffrey Sayre can never carry the play for the rest of the tour," Lyon said.
Hugh laughed shortly. "Don't tell him that, or we won't even have him for the week. He's only kept on hoping to take over Oliver's shoes. And he's been having phone calls from the coast about a picture part."
Lyon Phillips looked startled. "He has! He didn't mention anything to me about it."
"Probably been saving it up for an unpleasant surprise," Hugh said. "Leave it to Jeffrey to wait for the dramatic moment to show his hand."
Lyon bit his lip. "Well, bad news comes in lots. But no need to worry about Jeffrey until we find out the situation with Craft."
"That's right," Hugh agreed.
"I'll go back upstairs now," Shirley said, moving to the door. "Will you be at the theater, Lyon?"
The stage manager nodded. "Yes. Phone me there if there's anything you think I should know."
Hugh Deering took the elevator upstairs with Shirley and stood for a moment at the door of Oliver Craft's suite. She saw the concern in the ex-doctor's face and felt there was a struggle going on inside him, his natural desire to offer his medical knowledge being opposed by his determination to turn his back on his former profession for all time.
"I was going out for a stroll," he said. "But instead, I'll stay in my room, if you think I can be of any use. If Oliver needs anyone to stay with him or talk with him, don't hesitate to call me."
"Thanks," she said quietly, looking up at him with grateful eyes.
When she went inside, the star was still asleep. She sat in the living room near the open door of the bedroom and tried to read a magazine. But her mind wouldn't settle down to it. She kept going back in her thoughts to the sick old man in the other room and what it would mean to them all if he became too ill to go on. In the few weeks she had been with
company she had become part of its small world. It seemed strange that it should suddenly end, that she might be abruptly parted from Hugh Deering and not see him again.
She worried about the young ex-doctor. There was so much to be salvaged in his life. Surely somehow he would come to himself one day. A few minutes ago, she had sensed that he wanted to offer his medical services for her patient, but in the end, his strange attitude had won out. Still, he had offered to come if she needed him, as a friend, not a doctor.
What a talent would be lost to the world when Oliver Craft died. It seemed a tragedy of life that when such people passed away their unique ability was lost to mankind. Yet, in some ways, the star would survive. If only in the memory of those who had been privileged to know his greatness. And there were his movies. Prints of them might show a future generation of actors the measure of his talent. And the outstanding younger actors whom he had trained and encouraged would reflect his style in theirs, and so, in this way, too, the influence of Oliver Craft would be woven into the tapestry of time. Yes, like all other great art, the contribution of the old actor would live on.
Her reverie was broken by the phone ringing. She lifted the receiver, and in a minute, Roger's voice came through to her. "Shirley, darling, I called a little while ago and no one answered."
"I was out for a moment," she explained in a subdued voice. "Your grandfather hasn't been feeling well. I gave him a strong sedative and he wouldn't hear the phone."
Roger caught the seriousness of her tone. "Is he very ill?"
"I'll know more later. I'm—I'm a little frightened, Roger." And with this admission, she felt a panic deep within her.
"When will you know more?"
"Dr. Trask is flying in tonight. Perhaps I'll have some word by midnight. I could call you back when I find out."
"Do that. I'll be waiting. If the news is really black, I'll come right out."
Shirley felt a little guilty, not wanting to upset the intense young man too much. After all, Oliver Craft might wake up feeling much better. "I may only be having a case of nerves," she admitted. "But I don't want to take any chances."
"Right, darling. I'll be waiting for your call."