Read Backstage Nurse Online

Authors: Jane Rossiter

Tags: #romance, #nurse, #medical

Backstage Nurse (5 page)

BOOK: Backstage Nurse
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He glanced at her. "I take it my skeleton has been rattling in the closet."

"How do you mean?"

"You've heard one or the other versions of my sordid story." He smiled, but his eyes were hard.

"Someone at the hospital told me you were a doctor."

"I was once a doctor."

She shrugged. "Is it something you can discard so easily?"

"I've completely cured myself."

"The ultimate triumph of the Hippocratic disciple!" Shirley tried to keep it light.

But Hugh Deering was bound to make it dramatic. "I suppose they also told you I was a drunk."

"Can't recall those exact words."

"Well, I bet what you heard was close enough." Hugh Deering looked away again, his face bitter. "I still am a drunk, for that matter. Don't be surprised if I get in trouble before the tour is over."

She looked down and her words came in a low voice: "I hope, for Oliver Craft's sake, you don't."

"The Chief will be a good influence. I do want this to go well for him."

"I'm sorry if I said something wrong," Shirley said. "I'm sure you exaggerate all this business of talk. Just as I feel certain you blame yourself too much for the past."

He looked at her, his expression solemn. "I want to believe that. Sometimes I almost do. But all I can remember is that a better doctor than I could ever hope to be died because I wasn't able to help him. Because at the moment he needed me I was drunk!"

"Wouldn't he have died no matter what?"

"The jury decided that. But a lot of people still think my reckless driving and my condition at the time of the accident caused the death of my best friend."

"Anyway, it's over. You have a new career. And you're good at it."

He leaned forward and holding out his hands studied them. Without looking at her, he went on: "A while ago, you asked me if I missed being a doctor. Well, I can tell you honestly, now that I've let my hair down this far, I do!"

"It takes courage to admit that," she said softly.

He looked at her. "Did you work much in the O. R.?"

"I was in surgery for about six months."

"That was what I wanted. To be a decent surgeon." He twisted his hands again. "I had high hopes for these hands, Nurse Grant."

"You still have them."

"But I've lost the will to direct them. I remember a case that came to me. It was supposed to be a simple rupture operation, but I saw something in the X rays that didn't look right. It worried me. We found out when I opened him. Malignant tumor of the prostate. It had worked itself around to the hernia. There was nothing to do but go ahead and pray his heart would stand the longer operation. I cut away until it looked right. When it was over and the nurse handed me my usual glass of orange juice, I felt as if I were taking my seventh curtain call. There was no word of praise, no applause, but deep inside me, I knew I had been part of a small miracle. That because I'd been able to contribute, a man who had been condemned to a painful death had a chance to live in comparative health again."

"And you still feel medicine isn't right for you?"

"Not quite." He smiled wryly. "I feel I'm not right for medicine."

Shirley touched the hand nearest her. "You have fine hands—and a good mind. I hope it works out for you."

"Thanks. I'll tell you something no one else knows. In my trunk I still have my medical bag. It's gone with me everywhere. And sometimes, when I'm alone in my dressing room, I dig it out and look at it. I'm that kind of a fool."

"You're a very nice fool." She smiled at him. "And since this seems to be a moment of confession, let me say that I like you very much."

His mood changed. He winked. "Am I a good actor?"

"Very good. I think you're cruelly evil in your part."

"Then that's all that matters. That and keeping the Chief well enough to go on. I know he's going to die, but when I watched him in that rehearsal this morning, I couldn't believe it."

"I know."

"I hope when it comes, it's quick and not too painful." He sighed. "For the rest, let us enjoy our good fortune in having him even for a short time."

She stood up. "Speaking of time reminds me —I still have that shopping to do."

"I'll see you to the street, and not a step farther. No more stores for me today," he joked as they went back toward Tremont Street.

He left her in front of a small hosiery shop and she stood watching after him for a moment. She saw that he was apparently heading back to the hotel and she wondered if that meant he was going to the bar. She hoped that their talk had not upset him. It had seemed to clear the air, and that was what she had wanted. At least now he understood how she felt about him, and she knew something more of his story. What she had found out only made her certain that Hugh Deering had suffered a grave injustice. The same sensitivity that made him a good actor had let him throw away his medical career. She liked him and she had a feeling that somehow their futures might be linked.

She turned to go into the hosiery shop—and came face to face with Joy Milland in the doorway. The young actress had her arms filled with parcels and she was still wearing the same smart suit. She looked a bit tired now and the attractive, slightly common face showed a trace of annoyance.

"You and Hugh enjoying a bit of sun in the park?" she said.

Slightly embarrassed, Shirley nodded. "I was out for a walk before I did a little shopping."

"Hugh got tired of my store-hopping." Joy smiled in a forced manner. "That must be when he found you."

"We just happened to meet."

"I'm sure it wasn't planned," Joy said with meaning. "Actually, I was glad to be rid of him for a little while. He's so devoted, but he gets to be a bit of a nuisance."

"Oh!" Shirley wished that the loud-spoken girl would move on and let her do her shopping.

"He's asked me to marry him, you know."

"That's very nice," Shirley told the girl, feeling suddenly miserable.

"I'm not so sure," Joy Millard went on in her strident voice. "I want to know that he has that medical thing out of his system before I say yes."

"Is that so important?" Shirley's eyes opened wide in surprise.

"I just guess it is. Imagine me stuck in some lousy small town as the village doctor's wife! I wouldn't want that! Not me! I just wouldn't fit in!"

"No, of course you wouldn't," Shirley agreed with a slight touch of despair.

"Well, see you back at the hotel." Joy sailed off into the crowd.

Shirley went on into the shop and stood at the counter. But her mind wasn't on her purchases. She wondered how Hugh could have actually proposed marriage to anyone so unsuitable for him as Joy Milland. And what would happen to him and his career if she did accept? It dismayed her to realize that she cared more than she should about what became of the good-looking ex-doctor.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

The morning run-throughs of the play continued and the box office at the Colonial always had a line of people whenever they went by. Oliver Craft was delighted with the response that the play was receiving and his buoyant spirits seemed to be reflected in his general condition.

Dr. Trask visited him at the hotel on Tuesday afternoon and gave him a thorough examination. When he had finished, he put his things back in his bag and smiled at Shirley. "I'm convinced now that Miss Reed made no mistake about you," he said. "My patient is in good hands."

"About her uniform." Oliver Craft spoke from his chair by the window. "Is it necessary for her to wear it to the theater opening night? I should think this twenty-four-hour private duty difficult enough without making her stay in a plain white dress all the time. Not that she doesn't look attractive in it. But for the opening, I'd like to see her in something else."

Dr. Trask winked at Shirley. "I think we should make an exception on opening night. Especially since I'm going to be on hand myself. What have you in the way of a nice evening dress, Shirley?"

Shirley considered. "I have a yellow strapless one, but—"

"That's it!" Oliver Craft cried. "That's the one I want to see."

Shirley blushed. "It will be a terrific break with the Florence Nightingale standards."

"I agree with Oliver," Dr. Trask said. "Let's make it a gay occasion."

Shirley went out into the corridor with Dr. Trask, and as he waited for the elevator, they talked.

"I see no immediate change in his condition," the doctor said. "It may be some time before there's need for concern. Let's hope so. And don't forget that you always have a doctor in the company if there should be a sudden emergency."

Shirley looked down. "I don't think I can count on much co-operation in that direction."

"Oh, I know he's bitter," Dr. Trask said. "But he's still a doctor, and I think he'd come through a crisis better than you think."

"I'll drop by backstage opening night," he promised as he stepped into the elevator; then, as an afterthought, "I'm giving a small party for the cast after the show in the Statler-Hilton Terrace Room. The invitation includes you, of course."

Before Shirley could reply, the elevator door had closed on the tall, harsh-voiced surgeon and she was alone. Slightly flustered, she wondered if she should attend. It wasn't likely that Oliver Craft would go, or if he did, he certainly would not be able to stay long. It would be extremely uncomfortable for her, with the company balance what it was in men and women. She could imagine Joy Milland taking over the whole affair.

During rehearsals, she made it a point to avoid Hugh Deering and Joy Milland as much as politeness would allow. She noticed that Deering treated her new attitude with surprise at first, and then he avoided her as much as she had him. Joy rarely let Hugh out of her sight. At the hotel, it was quite easy to keep out of their way, but Shirley realized there would be new problems on tour. It had been decided to do most of the traveling by plane because of Craft's condition.

This would certainly keep everyone in close contact.

On the morning of: the final run-through, a puzzling incident occurred. When his second act cue came up, the stout little character actor, Charles Victor, could not be found. Lyon Phillips hurried to the dressing rooms, but he was not there. Then, after a few minutes, he came up from the back of the theater.

Coming up onstage, the little man was apologetic. "Terribly sorry, everyone," he said. "I was out late last night. Went back there to get a bit of rest and in the darkness I fell asleep."

Lyon Phillips nodded curtly; the cast resumed their places and the play went on. But Shirley sensed the tension it caused in the company and, noting Oliver Craft's troubled face, she decided that something out of the ordinary must have happened to cause Victor to do this.

Later, the elderly character man came quietly over to the star and apologized. His fat face was white and troubled. "Sorry this happened, Chief. Never known myself to miss a cue before. Unforgivable."

Oliver Craft smiled his pardon at the unhappy little man. And watching, Shirley remembered what he had said about Charles Victor being a worrier.

In the interval between the final run-through and the opening performance, there was an evening and day of rest. Oliver Craft planned to take full benefit of this.

Thursday morning Shirley left him in his suite quietly reading the newspaper and went to her own room. She had gone to her apartment the previous evening and picked up her yellow party dress. Now she wanted to press it and see that it was all right. She busied herself with it for a while. Then, satisfied, she went back to the old man's suite. At the door, she heard angry male voices and, hesitating, she knocked before going in.

"Yes?" Oliver Craft called out in a weary voice.

A tall, slim young man with dark hair, hornrimmed glasses, and a pencil mustache was standing by the actor's chair. He glanced up in surprise as she came in.

"This is my nurse," Oliver Craft explained. "Shirley Grant, this is my grandson, Roger."

Roger Craft's face was angry. "What is this nonsense about Grandfather going on in the play tonight?"

Shirley looked at the old actor in surprise and then at his grandson. "The doctor feels it will be quite safe."

"Safe!" Roger Craft snorted, and began pacing back and forth. "I'm not talking about whether it is safe or not. I object to my grandfather making a spectacle of himself in his condition!"

"Please, Roger!" The old man raised a hand.

"You'll hear what I have to say," the irate young man went on. "I pleaded with you not to do this. And because I wasn't here to check myself, you deliberately deceived me about your physical condition."

Now Shirley felt her own anger rising. "I was warned that this might happen," she said, "but I honestly didn't think it would."

Surprised, the young man stared at her. He was good-looking even in the heavy glasses and she realized that, under less unhappy circumstances, he could have a certain charm.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I was told you might come here today and give a performance that would upset my patient. But I didn't think anyone could be so unfeeling."

"One minute, Nurse!" Roger Craft advanced toward her in a rage. "I won't have you saying those things. I'm here to protect my grandfather."

Shirley stood her ground, her eyes dancing with temper. "And I think you're the one whom he needs to be protected from."

Oliver Craft chuckled from the safety of his chair. "Roger, I think you've met your match."

His grandson turned on him. "No comments, Grandfather." And to Shirley, "As for you, young woman, you're discharged!"

For a moment, Shirley was startled. Then she realized that Roger Craft was speaking only for himself. "I've been engaged by your grandfather," she said. "I will leave when he tells me to go."

"That settles that, my boy." Oliver Craft rose from his chair and came between them. "Of course she stays. I know you mean well, but there is not a thing you can do."

The young man faced his grandfather and, ignoring Shirley, pleaded with him: "Let me call Rothstein in New York and buy out your contract. I'll pay him whatever he thinks he could make on the tour."

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