Skin And Bones
The Blands Come Through
MR. BLAND was not a great help to the hospital. As soon as his wound had healed he began to get funny. On one occasion when his nurse was absent and he found himself a skeleton, he deliberately removed his pyjamas and slipped out into the hall on a trip of exploration.
Seeing an interne coming toward him, Mr. Bland froze in his tracks, hoping to be mistaken for a dead skeleton. The interne was new and had heard nothing about the strange case of Mr. Bland. He stopped and regarded the skeleton, then called to a passing nurse.
"What is your name, nurse?" he asked.
"Crawford, Doctor," the nurse replied.
She was quite young and pretty. The interne noted that, as internes have a way of doing.
"Well, Miss Crawford," he said with a slight frown, "can you tell me what this old skeleton is doing here? I should think it belongs in one of the lecture rooms."
"I'm sure it does," replied Miss Crawford. "He wasn't here when I passed about fifteen minutes ago."
Turning her neat back on the interne and the skeleton, she looked down the hall as if seeking an explanation. Unseen by the interne, Mr. Bland extended one hand. Miss Crawford gave a slight but convulsive start and stifled a small scream. For a moment she remained rigid in her tracks, striving to regain her composure, then she slowly turned on the interne, her face still crimson.
"Please don't do that again," she said. "A doctor should have better sense. I don't even know your name."
"I've done nothing at all," the young doctor protested.
"It may seem like nothing to you," said the nurse, "but it means a lot to me."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," the interne declared. "It must be your nerves. Your eyes look funny."
"No wonder," replied the nurse, edging back of the doctor as a precautionary measure. "Let's say no more about it."
This time the depraved Bland repeated his experiment, with slight difference that it was upon the doctor. The young man bounded forward, then with an effort regained his dignity.
"Miss Crawford," he said, "that was a dirty trick. I hope it doesn't become a habit. You actually hurt me."
It was now the nurse's turn to be mystified. "What did I do?" she wanted to know.
"Plenty," replied the interne, furtively rubbingthe seat of his trousers. "You must have used forceps instead of your fingers from the way it stings. Did you use forceps?"
Miss Crawford shrugged her pretty shoulders helplessly, then looked at the skeleton. The doctor turned and got behind the nurse. Carelessly locking her hands behind her, Miss Crawford stepped aside.
"Something should be done about this old duffer," said the doctor. "If a patient came upon him unexpectedly he might receive a terrible shock."
In answer to this remark the skeleton chattered very gently in the doctor's face.
"Doctor," whispered Miss Crawford, "did you hear that peculiar sound?"
"Yes," replied the doctor. "I assumed you were making it."
"Why should I make a sound like that? It wasn't at all nice."
"Well, what you did to me," remarked the doctor, "was not exactly ladylike."
Both of them now had their backs turned towards Mr. Bland. It was a heaven-sent opportunity. Realising it might never come again if he stood there for years, he stealthily extended two hands. As if rehearsing an act, Miss Crawford and the interne took a delicate leap of about a foot, gasped simultaneously, then placed a hand behind them and rubbed with solicitous fingers. Miss Crawford was the first to speak.
"We just couldn't have done it to each other at the same time," she said reasonably enough.
"Are you sure you didn't do it?" asked the interne. "Think carefully, Miss Crawford. I won't tell."
Miss Crawford grew furiously red.
"Do you imagine that if I nerved myself to do a thing like that to a gentleman," she demanded, "I'd be likely to forget it?"
"I don't know," said the interne, wearily, "I thought it might be a sort of friendly habit you formed during your training period, and it had become second nature. You just did it automatically."
"Regardless of colour, race, or sex," the nurse added, sarcastically. "Just a cheery little greeting."
At this moment the skeleton of Mr. Bland once more claimed their undivided attention. He had been trying to hit on something that might upset them even more, and had just thought of an especially novel idea. He would pretend he was going to pull his head off, then see if their sense of thrift would prompt them to try to stop him. Accordingly he seized his skull in both bony hands and began to tug at it violently.
"Come off, you old skull," he mumbled. "Get to hell off my neck. All the time grinning and gnashing your teeth. Off you go, old skull,"
It was an upsetting spectacle. Both Miss Crawford and the doctor were stultified with astonishment.
"By God!" cried the doctor. "He's trying to get rid of his head."
"No, I'm not," said Mr. Bland. "I'm just trying to twist it off, then I'll be able to carry it under my arm and scold it from time to time."
"What with?" asked the doctor, professional interest overcoming his horror.
"Hadn't thought of that," said the skeleton. "You think of everything, don't you? I'll give it to the pretty nurse."
The pretty nurse was in such a condition that she cared little what was done to her. The young interne found himself supporting her lush body with much more than necessary coverage. He felt almost grateful to the skeleton. In the meantime Mr. Bland was once more tugging at his head.
"It's good-night for you, old skull," he muttered. "Off you go and away."
"Don't let him do it," Miss Crawford pleaded. "He's just mad at his skull now. Later on he'll wish he had it."
The arrival of his nurse interrupted Mr. Bland's fun. The moment he saw her he dropped to all fours and started to crawl busily away, his head twisted jauntily over his spine.
"Spinach! Spinach! Spinach!" he shouted, which was the most inane thing he could think of shouting.
Quite naturally these gratuitous sideshows on the part of Mr. Bland did not exactly endear him to the staff of the hospital. He was fascinated by the idea of getting hold of the ancient, fly-blown skeleton in the lecture hall. Once he actually succeeded in substituting himself for it and was carried up to the platform. When old Dr. Weiss, half blind from years of service, turned back from the blackboard to consider his companion of years—the skeleton—he was surprised to find it sitting cross-legged in his chair, idly turning the leaves of a book.
"Ha!" cried the old doctor. "I always thought that skeleton had more sense than my students. Now I know it. The class is dismissed."
As the students filed out of the hall they looked back and saw the doctor drag up another chair and start an animated conversation with what was to them the most baffling object in the world. Dr. Weiss never gave another lecture, but retired on a comfortable pension and wrote a book about a skeleton, who, after years of listening to lectures of great erudition, at last returned to life and discoursed intelligently on almost any subject.
On another occasion Mr. Bland contrived to steal the skeleton and take it to bed with him. When the nurse pulled down the covers she nearly had a fit. Mr. Bland insisted he had just become a mother.
But as the effects of the chemical fluid in his system gradually grew less potent through a system of irrigation and dieting, these little excursions occurred at longer intervals, until finally they ceased altogether and Mr. Bland became almost a normal patient. He insisted to the end, however, that both doctors and nurses had mistaken him for the Grand Canal.
Since the episode in the woods Lorna had lived in the ultimate chambers of hell until her husband was out of danger. Although still her old, unedifying self, she showed unmistakable marks of strain as she sat by his bedside. Mr. Bland, now himself permanently, considered her the most beautiful woman in the world and rejoiced in the return of his body.
He reached out a casually searching hand and Lorna slapped it sharply, looking quickly at the half-open door as she did so.
"You're still a dirty dog," she told him, then bent over and placed her mouth on his.
"And that doesn't make me a better one," he said when their lips parted.
"I wonder," mused Lorna.
Some time later a wild scream from outside sent Lorna, in a state of happy confusion, hurrying to the door. Opening it and looking out, she saw the skeleton of Busy tapping briskly down the hall. The sight of a skeleton dog was doing convalescent patients little if any good
Lorna quickly collected the dog and carried him into the room. After greetings had been exchanged between master and beast, Mr. Bland rose, dressed hastily, then, after a few words of admonition, placed the dog in the bed, where he promptly fell asleep. Taking Lorna by the hand, he quietly drew her from the room.
A few minutes after their unobtrusive departure the nurse arrived. When she threw back the covers of the bed her reason almost crumbled.
A small cluster of bones occupied the centre of the bed.
"My God!" she cried, hysterically. "The patient's had a relapse!"