“Miss Young, I want to ask you something,” and Geoffrey modestly pulled the sheets close up under his pink chin. “I suppose you’ll think me an awful bore for saying this to you so abruptly, but I’m dreadfully in earnest. Will you marry me, please?”
Miss Young did not stop a minute in her deft arrangement of his breakfast tray. She didn’t even blush. “No, I don’t think I will,” she answered. “You see, I can’t marry everyone that asks me.”
“How many have you married already?”
“Well, I haven’t married any yet.”
“Then marry me.”
The unruffled little nurse smiled at his impetuosity. “You know,” she said, “every marriageable male that I have ever nursed has proposed to me. It is merely a sign of recovery. It ought to go on the list of symptoms.”
“My proposal is a symptom, all right, but not of recovery. It is a symptom that I am desperately in love.”
“You do it beautifully, but you are not quite so romantic as Antonio, my last potential husband. He wanted me to flee with him to Italy, but his wife came and took him away.”
Geoffrey was indignant. “Do you think I’m going to let you stay here while every Dick, Tom, and Italian Henry proposes to you?”
“Better eat your breakfast, Sonny.”
“Sonny,” Geoffrey flounced over, his face to the wall. “I don’t care for any breakfast, thank you.”
“All right, I’ll take the tray away in a minute,” and with a knowing smile she left the room.
Geoffrey was twenty-one, possessing all the impetuousness and dignity accessory to that age. He had offered his love and had been laughed at. She had called him “Sonny.”
Yet, during those three past weeks of antiseptic nightmare she had been extremely kind to him. Perhaps she loved someone else. At the thought Geoffrey became quite disconsolate.
But finally he turned over and his eyes fell upon the breakfast tray laid temptingly beside his bed. A ravenous hunger assailed him. He pulled the tray onto the bed and began to eat. After all, things were not so bad. A woman always had to be coaxed.
Meanwhile Miss Young was talking it over with a sister nurse at breakfast in the nurses’ quarters. “What I want to know, Heine, is this. When do we ever get a fair chance at a man? We don’t get away from the hospital long enough at a time to capture one, and here, where we receive proposals every day, it’s against the rules to marry the patients.”
“Did he propose to you?” interposed Heine.
“Yes, he did. And he’s a nice boy, too.”
“Excuse me, not for mine. I’m vaccinated against marriage. I’m tired of having men growl and grumble at me all the time.”
“Sure, so am I. But, Heine, wouldn’t it be perfectly grand to have just one great big man to jaw at you! He asked me to call him Geoffrey.”
“Look here, kid, you’re not falling in love, are you?” demanded the quizzical Heine.
“I wonder if he has another girl,” answered Miss Young irrelevantly.
About noon Geoffrey became exceedingly restless. Miss Young smoothed his pillows again and again. Once, when her hand strayed temptingly near, he grasped it and kissed it. It must be confessed that Miss Young didn’t withdraw her hand quite so quickly as the superintendent would have thought proper. She even blushed, and that was very unusual for the sophisticated nurse.
“Gee, I know I’m an awful bore to keep bothering you like this, but haven’t you changed your mind? Don’t you think you can marry me?”
“Look here, Geoffrey” — she really hadn’t meant to call him Geoffrey — “you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m the only woman you’ve seen in the last three weeks. I may have helped pull you over some pretty rough places. Of course you think you have to marry your benefactor.”
“I have to marry you, Miss Young, but that’s not the reason. I’m going to ask you three times a day until you consent to be my wife.”
“Well, keep it up, Geoffrey. It will help pass the time.” Miss Young had quite regained her customary impenetrability.
Geoffrey kept his word. When his nurse was in the room he watched her continually and at the most unexpected times propounded the old question. If she left the room he always developed a dreadful thirst as an excuse for an imperative summons. Even Miss Young found it hard to doubt his sincerity. She floundered between natural emotions and her professional indifference.
At last Geoffrey was pronounced well, and yet the girl had not consented. He had no excuse for remaining longer, so with evident bad humor he consented to go.
“Miss Young,” he said, “I’m going home today, and I just won’t leave you here for some dirty Italian to be grabbing at your hand and proposing to you all the time. Marry me and come away from here.”
“Geoffrey, I’m going to give you a square deal. You go home for a month, see other girls, and if you then still want to marry me, come up here and I’ll think about it.”
“I’m on, Miss Young. Say, I’ve found out your first name. It’s Claire, isn’t it? You know I used to think ‘Diana’ was a peach of a name, but ‘Claire’ beats it a mile.”
Geoffrey went home. Miss Young cried a little in the solitude of her room. Then she settled down to a half-hopeful vigil of waiting. During the first two weeks she received seven letters, each one declaring Geoffrey’s undying devotion and his firm desire to return for her. Every night she read the entire collection up to date, and wept over them, as is the manner of women beloved. Then for days she received no word. She fought this rather hopeless portent with trusting heart.
Often during the long day’s work when patients grumbled, when some ogling male became amorously persistent, when the little nurse found herself almost hating mankind, she slipped into the vacant corridor and reread one of the treasured epistles to give her faith.
The third week dragged along and the beginning of the fourth, and still she received not a word. At first she waited impatiently for each day’s mail, but finally she began to delay her call at the desk, dreading the recurrent disappointment.
At last one morning at breakfast she received a letter addressed in Geoffrey’s handwriting. All aflutter she slipped it into her pocket until she could be alone. But she couldn’t wait, so she tremulously tore the envelope open and read:
My Dear Miss Young:
I shall always regard you as a woman of the rarest good sense. You must have thought me a great fool. I think a man is hardly responsible for what he does when he is sick. I must thank you for your splendid nursing, and, furthermore, for the way in which you brought me to my senses. You see, Diana and I have made it all up again. I’m sending you a card.
The card bore the conventional “Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Harvey announce — ”
Miss Young slowly crumpled up the letter and shoved it into her pocket. “Heine,” she said, “One of these days I’m going to take advantage of some guy and marry him while I’ve got him down.”
Robert Sharp’s story “Man May Love” was published in the collection Short Stories From Life in 1916.
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© 2015 Robert Sharp