Read Backstage Nurse Online

Authors: Jane Rossiter

Tags: #romance, #nurse, #medical

Backstage Nurse (14 page)

BOOK: Backstage Nurse

The young man from Philadelphia came up to her with a slight smile. "My plane just got in. I thought if I came directly to the theater, I might see some of the show." He nodded to Hugh.

"We finished about a half hour ago," Shirley told him. "It's too bad you missed your grandfather. He's gone back to the hospital. Dr. Trask went with him."

"How is he?"

Shirley sighed. "He's sicker than he was. But he's making a marvelous stand. I doubt if anyone in the audience tonight realized how ill he is."

"And he plans to go on?"

She nodded. "Yes. But of course that depends on how he is."

Hugh joined the conversation for the first time. "I've seen quite a few cases of his kind, Mr. Craft. It's sometimes remarkable how the patient calls on hidden resources to keep going. Especially if there is some important incentive. Your grandfather has one of the greatest—to finish his career in a fine play."

Roger Craft's serious young face was troubled. "Thank you, Mr. Deering. I appreciate your trying to explain. It does help. I almost begin to see that the very strain of going on may manage to make Grandfather's last days more endurable for him. I can't quarrel with that."

"What Hugh says is true," Shirley agreed. "I only hope his strength holds."

"Do you suppose I'd be able to see him if I went up to the hospital tonight?" Roger turned to Shirley.

"Possibly. But I wouldn't think it wise. Your grandfather is very tired and it is quite likely Dr. Trask has given him a sedative by now."

"The morning, then," Roger said.

"Yes. I'll be there from the time the night nurse leaves. Where are you staying?"

Roger glanced at his wristwatch. "I phoned the Sheraton and made a reservation. I'll be leaving early tomorrow afternoon for Minneapolis. That's the reason I came. It seemed a good chance to break my journey and see Grandfather. There's a board meeting that I have to attend."

"We might as well all go over to the hotel together." Shirley glanced from Roger to Hugh. "I'd say we were all equally tired… and with a busy day coming up."

"There are plenty of taxis at the front of the theater," Hugh said. "If we walk up there, we should get one right away."

When they got to the hotel, Hugh excused himself and took the elevator upstairs.

Roger turned to her. "Would you care for something to eat?"

"I don't really feel like a thing." Shirley glanced around and saw a pleasantly arranged lounge in the far corner of the almost deserted lobby that offered comparative privacy. "Let's sit over there a few minutes and relax and chat."

He sat facing her. "How many weeks away is Philadelphia?"

She considered a moment. "Next week is Detroit. Then we have three weeks in the Midwest, and after that Philadelphia."

"Just before the Christmas holidays," he said.

"Yes. We're to lay off the week before Christmas and open in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day."

Roger sat back against the sofa and smiled at her. "Holidays don't mean much in the theater."

"No. You work them all." She leaned back. "This is like old times, being back on this crazy schedule."

"I suppose I shouldn't mention it." His head turned lazily toward her. "But I have a bad streak of curiosity. I saw you kissing Deering. I assume you had a reason."

"Oh, that!" she said offhandedly.

"That, indeed."

She gave a little laugh. "I had an idea you saw us. It really meant nothing at all. Though I do like Hugh a lot. You see, he had to step into Jeffrey Sayre's part tonight. He did a magnificent job and I was paying him a fellow-player's tribute."

Roger raised his eyebrows. "And a very lovely one."

"Kisses in the theater are something like the way we use the word 'darling.' They haven't quite the same meaning as in real life."

He sighed. "I know I'm not up in this theater business. It's a topsy-turvy, mad world. I don't think I'd want to be, if I could. I can understand your leaving it."

She looked at him with amused eyes. "You know, I did it with some regret. It was merely that circumstances made the pull toward nursing stronger."

"You mean, your father being killed?"


"What about Deering? Doesn't he find it different? You said he used to be a doctor. It seems a strange life for him to take up."

She looked down at her hands. "Again, circumstances made the change seem a good idea. Hugh is an easygoing adaptable sort. And he's a fine actor. He proved that tonight."

Roger's expression changed from interest to mild annoyance. "I heard he drinks too much."

"He used to," Shirley said, deciding that she must defend the young ex-doctor. "He doesn't anymore."

Roger caught the quick, defensive tone of her voice. "I'm glad to know that," he said. "Since you seem so much interested in him."

"How do you mean?" She looked at him in surprise.

"I can't tell you that. But perhaps you can tell me." Roger looked very young and forlorn as he asked, "Is Deering the reason you can't make up your mind about my offer?"

Her eyes met his. "No, Roger. I don't suppose I've ever thought about him seriously. Except perhaps to worry about him a little."

"That's a pretty good sign that you may care about him more than you realize." Roger sat forward again with a sad smile. "And he's with you every day. It doesn't make it a very even contest."

She touched his hand. "You're imagining a lot of things because of that silly kiss you saw."

"Not at all." He sighed. "I'm just facing a few unhappy facts. And the worst of it is I want to play this thing fair. I want you to be absolutely sure. Even if you decide against me." He looked at her. "I love you that much, Shirley."

She was touched by his sincerity. "I'm not sure I deserve that unselfish a devotion. So far in my life, I've been too much interested in me, in my career, to think much about any male."

"You'll think about him when the right one comes your way." Roger stood up. "I know you're tired."

"I am!" She got to her feet. "And I do like you, Roger!"

"Don't worry." He laughed. "I haven't eliminated myself from the contest. I'm just waking up to the fact that I have strong competition."

"Oh, you!" She took his arm and they went over to the elevator. And Shirley admitted to herself that being with Roger gave her a feeling of security and happiness that she had seldom known before.

The next morning proved a trying and busy time. Oliver Craft was very tired from the effort of the previous evening's performance and required special care and attention. Dr. Trask was making arrangements for the star's care for the balance of the week since he planned to leave on an early plane, and special instructions had to be taken down by Shirley to relay to the others.

"After this week," Dr. Trask told her, "I think he'll be able to stay in hotels again. The rest here in the hospital should go a long way in getting him on his feet. And there will be no additional X-ray treatments for a time after he leaves here."

"Will you do a second operation later?" Shirley asked.

"I doubt it." Trask frowned. "It's a bad mess. I'm taking the plates to Boston with me for further study. If there's any change, get in touch with me at once. I'll either come back or make some arrangements to have him return to Boston."

Later in the morning, Roger arrived and spent nearly an hour with the old man. He left promising Shirley to call her from Minneapolis as soon as he got there. He made no further mention of Hugh Deering, but she could tell that he was still bothered by what he had seen at the theater.

Lyon Phillips came by the hospital in the late afternoon, and Shirley let the stage manager see Oliver Craft.

The star had just awakened from a long after-dinner nap and he greeted the lanky stage manager with a welcoming smile on his thin face. "How are you, my boy?" he said. "You look worried. Don't be about me; I'll be there tonight."

Lyon stood by the bed. "All the papers are raving about the show, Chief."

Oliver Craft lay back. "It's a good play. I'm glad they like it."

"I've talked with Rothstein. He's flying in a replacement for Jeffrey Sayre tomorrow."

The old actor showed interest. "Excellent! Who is it to be?"

"Malcolm Dennis. He's just finished a long-run soap opera serial on TV and was open for the show. Rothstein figured he'd make a good name for the box office and that he'd suit the part."

Oliver Craft turned to Shirley. "He'll make a good Communist chief, my dear. I can see him in the part. He's had a lot of experience and has none of Jeffrey's Hollywood complex."

"I can't forgive Sayre for leaving us as he did." Shirley's voice was loud with resentment.

The old man chuckled. "Well, he's back working in Hollywood. That's an evil enough fate for any actor. You agree, Lyon?"

"Anything he gets he deserves," was Lyon's opinion. "I'll be calling rehearsals as soon as Malcolm Dennis gets here tomorrow. I thought I'd get him ready to open in the Fisher at Detroit."

"You think he can manage it by next Monday?" Oliver Craft asked.

"He's supposed to be a quick study. And I'll fill in for your role during rehearsals to give him an idea of the way you do the scenes."

Craft nodded. "That, along with his seeing me in the play each night, should give him a grounding in the production. And he could do worse than model his performance on Hugh Deering's. That young man gives the character an intellectual shading that Jeffrey Sayre missed altogether."

"I'm glad you feel that way, sir." Lyon looked pleased. "I agree, and I'll suggest the same approach to Dennis."

"So you see?" The star made a gesture. "We are riding out this crisis, after all."

The second evening performance in Cleveland was a repeat of the first evening's success. The tension created by Oliver Craft's arrival in an ambulance was not felt to such an extent as on the first night by those backstage. But for Shirley, it was a more demanding occasion than the opening night. Dr. Trask had flown back to Boston and she had the complete medical responsibility of the star at the theater.

Fortunately, Craft seemed considerably better than before. And the show went without any difficulty. Again, after the performance, the old actor returned to the hospital by taxi. In Dr. Trask's absence, Shirley accompanied him. On his arrival, the regular night nurse took over and she went back to the hotel.

Hugh Deering was standing in the lobby when she went in. He jerked his head toward the street. "Snow flurries. Winter's on our heels."

She glanced through the big hotel windows and saw that he was right. A few scattered flakes of snow were drifting down. She shivered. "Somehow I'm not ready for it yet."

"We may hit more of it when we go farther west," he warned. "Tuck the Chief safely in bed?"

"Yes. He was very happy with the way things went. I hear Malcolm Dennis arrives tomorrow."

Hugh grinned. "That's right. My brief glory as a principal will be over this week. Back to the bit part again."

"Oliver Craft thinks you're fine in it. We all do."

"Too bad your friend Roger didn't see me. I'd like his opinion," he said teasingly.

She gave him a pert look. "I'm sure he'd tell you the truth. If he thought you were good, he'd say so."

"I'll bet." Hugh laughed. "A regular paragon of virtue. I saw his face when he caught you kissing me last night."

"I explained it to him, and he understood."

"Naturally." Hugh looked wise. "Roger is the understanding sort. Thoughtful and dependable, as well—just the boy for a girl like you."

"You don't do as well in the role of matchmaker," Shirley said. "You're too forced."

"Well, maybe I'm jealous. That would make the part difficult for me."

His expression was mocking, but Shirley felt that there was more truth in his statement than he would like her to guess. Deciding that the situation was uncomfortable for both of them, she said good night and went to her room.

Oliver Craft persuaded her to go down to the theater for the rehearsal the next afternoon so that she could give him a firsthand report on how things went. By the time she arrived, the play was under way. Seating herself in the third row of the orchestra, she watched the rehearsal.

Hugh Deering was playing his secondary smaller role again, and from the left, a tall, broad-shouldered man with iron-gray hair and the stern face of a business tycoon entered. She knew this would be Malcolm Dennis. He began his lines, and she saw that he was reading them without a script. He must be a very quick study indeed! He had a richly, insinuating voice that was different enough to grip your attention. Immediately she decided that he would be much more interesting in the part than Jeffrey Sayre.

Soon, Lyon Phillips came on the stage reading the Cardinal's lines from the script he carried. He made no effort to put expression in the lines, but he did say them at the exact pace of the star. The scene between the two men built and Shirley noticed that Malcolm Dennis was incorporating the intellectual touch that Hugh had first brought to the Communist chief.

By the time the act ended, Shirley was convinced that Dennis would make the play even better than it had been. Too, he could take some of the load from Oliver Craft's shoulders.

Hugh Deering, who had spotted her from the stage, came down through the orchestra pit and sat by her. "Terrific, isn't he?" he said.

"I like him very much," Shirley agreed.

Just then, Joy Milland walked out on the stage. Peering down, she called to Hugh: "Darling, I want to talk to you."

"Come on down," Hugh said.

Joy struck an aloof attitude. "I'd rather not. I'll be up here when you find the time." She strode angrily out of sight.

Hugh rose with a sigh. "I was going to say that now Dennis has replaced Sayre, the company is just one happy family. I will qualify that to— almost!"

As Shirley watched the balance of the rehearsal, she wondered why the loud, pretty-faced actress had taken such a dislike to her. It would be a calamity if Hugh did become seriously entangled with Joy. She had no desire to see him return to his true vocation of medicine. And she was obtuse and selfish enough to ruin his career in the theater. Shirley felt completely miserable at the idea of this spoiled girl linking her life with that of the young ex-doctor's.

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