Mother did not get back to her writing all that day, for the red- jerseyed hound whom the children had brought to Three Chimneys had to be put to bed. And then the Doctor came, and hurt him most horribly. Mother was with him all through it, and that made it a little better than it would have been, but “bad was the best,” as Mrs. Viney said.
The children sat in the parlour downstairs and heard the sound of the Doctor’s boots going backwards and forwards over the bedroom floor. And once or twice there was a groan.
“It’s horrible,” said Bobbie. “Oh, I wish Dr. Forrest would make haste. Oh, poor Jim!”
“It is horrible,” said Peter, “but it’s very exciting. I wish Doctors weren’t so stuck-up about who they’ll have in the room when they’re doing things. I should most awfully like to see a leg set. I believe the bones crunch like anything.”
“Don’t!” said the two girls at once.
“Rubbish!” said Peter. “How are you going to be Red Cross Nurses, like you were talking of coming home, if you can’t even stand hearing me say about bones crunching? You’d have tohear them crunch on the field of battle–and be steeped in gore up to the elbows as likely as not, and–”
“Stop it!” cried Bobbie, with a white face; “you don’t know how funny you’re making me feel.”
“Me, too,” said Phyllis, whose face was pink.
“Cowards!” said Peter.
“I’m not,” said Bobbie. “I helped Mother with your rake-wounded foot, and so did Phil–you know we did.”
“Well, then!” said Peter. “Now look here. It would be a jolly good thing for you if I were to talk to you every day for half an hour about broken bones and people’s insides, so as to get you used to it.”
A chair was moved above.
“Listen,” said Peter, “that’s the bone crunching.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t,” said Phyllis. “Bobbie doesn’t like it.”
“I’ll tell you what they do,” said Peter. I can’t think what made him so horrid. Perhaps it was because he had been so very nice and kind all the earlier part of the day, and now he had to have a change. This is called reaction. One notices it now and then in oneself. Sometimes when one has been extra good for a longer time than usual, one is suddenly attacked by a violent fit of not being good at all. “I’ll tell you what they do,” said Peter; “they strap the broken man down so that he can’t resist or interfere with their doctorish designs, and then someone holds his head, and someone holds his leg–the broken one, and pulls it till the bones fit in– with a crunch, mind you! Then they strap it up and–let’s play at bone-setting!”
“Oh, no!” said Phyllis.
But Bobbie said suddenly: “All right–let’s! I’ll be the doctor, and Phil can be the nurse. You can be the broken boner; we can get at your legs more easily, because you don’t wear petticoats.”
“I’ll get the splints and bandages,” said Peter; “you get the couch of suffering ready.”
The ropes that had tied up the boxes that had come from home were all in a wooden packing-case in the cellar. When Peter brought in a trailing tangle of them, and two boards for splints, Phyllis was excitedly giggling.
“Now, then,” he said, and lay down on the settle, groaning most grievously.
“Not so loud!” said Bobbie, beginning to wind the rope round him and the settle. “You pull, Phil.”
“Not so tight,” moaned Peter. “You’ll break my other leg.”
Bobbie worked on in silence, winding more and more rope round him.
“That’s enough,” said Peter. “I can’t move at all. Oh, my poor leg!” He groaned again.
“Sure you can’t move?” asked Bobbie, in a rather strange tone.
“Quite sure,” replied Peter. “Shall we play it’s bleeding freely or not?” he asked cheerfully.
“You can play what you like,” said Bobbie, sternly, folding her arms and looking down at him where he lay all wound round and round with cord. “Phil and I are going away. And we shan’t untie you till you promise never, never to talk to us about blood and wounds unless we say you may. Come, Phil!”
“You beast!” said Peter, writhing. “I’ll never promise, never. I’ll yell, and Mother will come.”
“Do,” said Bobbie, “and tell her why we tied you up! Come on, Phil. No, I’m not a beast, Peter. But you wouldn’t stop when we asked you and–”
“Yah,” said Peter, “it wasn’t even your own idea. You got it out of Stalky!”
Bobbie and Phil, retiring in silent dignity, were met at the door by the Doctor. He came in rubbing his hands and looking pleased with himself.
“Well,” he said, “that job’s done. It’s a nice clean fracture, and it’ll go on all right, I’ve no doubt. Plucky young chap, too– hullo! what’s all this?”
His eye had fallen on Peter who lay mousy-still in his bonds on the settle.
“Playing at prisoners, eh?” he said; but his eyebrows had gone up a little. Somehow he had not thought that Bobbie would be playing while in the room above someone was having a broken bone set.
“Oh, no!” said Bobbie, “not at prisoners. We were playing at setting bones. Peter’s the broken boner, and I was the doctor.”
The Doctor frowned.
“Then I must say,” he said, and he said it rather sternly, “that’s it’s a very heartless game. Haven’t you enough imagination even to faintly picture what’s been going on upstairs? That poor chap, with the drops of sweat on his forehead, and biting his lips so as not to cry out, and every touch on his leg agony and–”
“You ought to be tied up,” said Phyllis; “you’re as bad as–”
“Hush,” said Bobbie; “I’m sorry, but we weren’t heartless, really.”
“I was, I suppose,” said Peter, crossly. “All right, Bobbie, don’t you go on being noble and screening me, because I jolly well won’t have it. It was only that I kept on talking about blood and wounds. I wanted to train them for Red Cross Nurses. And I wouldn’t stop when they asked me.”
“Well?” said Dr. Forrest, sitting down.
“Well–then I said, ‘Let’s play at setting bones.’ It was all rot. I knew Bobbie wouldn’t. I only said it to tease her. And then when she said ‘yes,’ of course I had to go through with it. And they tied me up. They got it out of Stalky. And I think it’s a beastly shame.”
He managed to writhe over and hide his face against the wooden back of the settle.
“I didn’t think that anyone would know but us,” said Bobbie, indignantly answering Peter’s unspoken reproach. “I never thought of your coming in. And hearing about blood and wounds does really make me feel most awfully funny. It was only a joke our tying him up. Let me untie you, Pete.”
“I don’t care if you never untie me,” said Peter; “and if that’s your idea of a joke–”
“If I were you,” said the Doctor, though really he did not quite know what to say, “I should be untied before your Mother comes down. You don’t want to worry her just now, do you?”
“I don’t promise anything about not saying about wounds, mind,” said Peter, in very surly tones, as Bobbie and Phyllis began to untie the knots.
“I’m very sorry, Pete,” Bobbie whispered, leaning close to him as she fumbled with the big knot under the settle; “but if you only knew how sick you made me feel.”
“You’ve made me feel pretty sick, I can tell you,” Peter rejoined. Then he shook off the loose cords, and stood up.
“I looked in,” said Dr. Forrest, “to see if one of you would come along to the surgery. There are some things that your Mother will want at once, and I’ve given my man a day off to go and see the circus; will you come, Peter?”
Peter went without a word or a look to his sisters.
The two walked in silence up to the gate that led from the Three Chimneys field to the road. Then Peter said:–
“Let me carry your bag. I say, it is heavy–what’s in it?”
“Oh, knives and lancets and different instruments for hurting people. And the ether bottle. I had to give him ether, you know– the agony was so intense.”
Peter was silent.
“Tell me all about how you found that chap,” said Dr. Forrest.
Peter told. And then Dr. Forrest told him stories of brave rescues; he was a most interesting man to talk to, as Peter had often remarked.
Then in the surgery Peter had a better chance than he had ever had of examining the Doctor’s balance, and his microscope, and his scales and measuring glasses. When all the things were ready that Peter was to take back, the Doctor said suddenly:–
“You’ll excuse my shoving my oar in, won’t you? But I should like to say something to you.”
“Now for a rowing,” thought Peter, who had been wondering how it was that he had escaped one.
“Something scientific,” added the Doctor.
“Yes,” said Peter, fiddling with the fossil ammonite that the Doctor used for a paper-weight.
“Well then, you see. Boys and girls are only little men and women. And we are much harder and hardier than they are–” (Peter liked the “we.” Perhaps the Doctor had known he would.)–“and much stronger, and things that hurt them don’t hurt us. You know you mustn’t hit a girl–”
“I should think not, indeed,” muttered Peter, indignantly.
“Not even if she’s your own sister. That’s because girls are so much softer and weaker than we are; they have to be, you know,” he added, “because if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be nice for the babies. And that’s why all the animals are so good to the mother animals. They never fight them, you know.”
“I know,” said Peter, interested; “two buck rabbits will fight all day if you let them, but they won’t hurt a doe.”
“No; and quite wild beasts–lions and elephants–they’re immensely gentle with the female beasts. And we’ve got to be, too.”
“I see,” said Peter.
“And their hearts are soft, too,” the Doctor went on, “and things that we shouldn’t think anything of hurt them dreadfully. So that a man has to be very careful, not only of his fists, but of his words. They’re awfully brave, you know,” he went on. “Think of Bobbie waiting alone in the tunnel with that poor chap. It’s an odd thing- -the softer and more easily hurt a woman is the better she can screw herself up to do what has to be done. I’ve seen some brave women– your Mother’s one,” he ended abruptly.
“Yes,” said Peter.
“Well, that’s all. Excuse my mentioning it. But nobody knows everything without being told. And you see what I mean, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Peter. “I’m sorry. There!”
“Of course you are! People always are–directly they understand. Everyone ought to be taught these scientific facts. So long!”
They shook hands heartily. When Peter came home, his sisters looked at him doubtfully.
“It’s Pax,” said Peter, dumping down the basket on the table. “Dr. Forrest has been talking scientific to me. No, it’s no use my telling you what he said; you wouldn’t understand. But it all comes to you girls being poor, soft, weak, frightened things like rabbits, so us men have just got to put up with them. He said you were female beasts. Shall I take this up to Mother, or will you?”
“I know what boys are,” said Phyllis, with flaming cheeks; “they’re just the nastiest, rudest–”
“They’re very brave,” said Bobbie, “sometimes.”
“Ah, you mean the chap upstairs? I see. Go ahead, Phil–I shall put up with you whatever you say because you’re a poor, weak, frightened, soft–”
“Not if I pull your hair you won’t,” said Phyllis, springing at him.
“He said ‘Pax,'” said Bobbie, pulling her away. “Don’t you see,” she whispered as Peter picked up the basket and stalked out with it, “he’s sorry, really, only he won’t say so? Let’s say we’re sorry.”
“It’s so goody goody,” said Phyllis, doubtfully; “he said we were female beasts, and soft and frightened–”
“Then let’s show him we’re not frightened of him thinking us goody goody,” said Bobbie; “and we’re not any more beasts than he is.”
And when Peter came back, still with his chin in the air, Bobbie said:–
“We’re sorry we tied you up, Pete.”
“I thought you would be,” said Peter, very stiff and superior.
This was hard to bear. But–
“Well, so we are,” said Bobbie. “Now let honour be satisfied on both sides.”
“I did call it Pax,” said Peter, in an injured tone.
“Then let it be Pax,” said Bobbie. “Come on, Phil, let’s get the tea. Pete, you might lay the cloth.”
“I say,” said Phyllis, when peace was really restored, which was not till they were washing up the cups after tea, “Dr. Forrest didn’t really say we were female beasts, did he?”
“Yes,” said Peter, firmly, “but I think he meant we men were wild beasts, too.”
“How funny of him!” said Phyllis, breaking a cup.