Authors: Rebecca Winters
Philip knocked on the door very quietly. When there was no answer, he pushed it open. There on their knees were the two people who loved Michael most in the world. Philip felt he was intruding on a sacred moment and shut the door again.
Elinore frowned at him. “What’s the matter?”
“We shouldn’t go in there right now, Elinore. I don’t want to disturb them,” he said in a subdued voice.
“But Jeffrey doesn’t know we’re here. What kind of family are we if we can’t be at his side when he needs us?”
“He has someone at his side right now. He needs her much more. Believe me, this is no time to go in. We can stay out here in the hall. If the worst happens, then we’ll help, but now now!”
Elinore had never seen him so disturbed. It was best not to press the issue. “I don’t see Hugh about. I’d like to talk to him and find out how things really are,” she muttered.
“Let’s just be patient. He’s been here round the clock and is probably resting.”
They sat down on chairs near the nurses’ station and stared numbly into space. But Elinore couldn’t stand it any more and went over to the door to Michael’s room. She pushed it gently to look inside. From the doorway she could see the white-clad back of the nun plainly. Only Jeffrey’s dark blond hair was visible from the other side of the bed. Both were kneeling, oblivious to everything.
The scene was so poignant, even Elinore was moved. She fought tears. Not so much for Michael, but for herself. She should be the one in there with him at this critical moment. She resented it that Jeffrey was relying on the Sister now.
Her husband was right! It would do no good to disturb Jeffrey. There’d be time later. She shut the door and sat down, feeling very bitter.
Philip sighed with relief that for once she hadn’t tried to take charge. He gave her a wan smile, but she ignored him and stared past it. For the last few years things had started to go wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was no kindness or gentleness left in her nature. Elinore had turned cold.
It had been months since they’d slept together. She was uninterested, always excusing herself with a headache or being too tried. It hurt a lot because Philip had wanted to start a family. He put his face in hands, aching for what seemed to be slipping away from him. His thoughts strayed back to the tender scene in the next room.
Not being a father himself, he could only imagine what his brother was going through.
Philip was terribly fond of Michael. He was a sweet little chap, bright and well behaved. His death would be an inconsolable loss to all of them.
Hugh suddenly came down the hall. “Philip? I didn’t know you’d come back. I’m just going in.”
Elinore jumped up. “How’s Michael doing? Tell us the truth.”
“I’ll know when I’ve examined him. Wait out here.”
Catherine heard footsteps and rose from the floor to make room for the doctor. Jeffrey also stood up and helped him pull the tent away. After a thorough examination he turned to Jeffrey. “His fever is down a little.”
“Wait a minute, Jeff. It’s much too soon to tell, but let’s be thankful for that much improvement.”
Catherine’s face broke into a tender smile she flashed at Jeffrey. It spoke of hope and love. They looked down at the boy and seated themselves on the chairs at either side of his bed.
The doctor replaced the tent and left. Several hours passed as the two of them were deeply absorbed in their prayers. Suddenly Catherine was aware she couldn’t hear the rasping noise. She sat up and strained to listen for any sign of life. Jeffrey was alert to her sudden movement and jumped as she called softly to him.
“What is it?” he demanded.
“I don’t think I can hear him breathing.”
Jeffrey paled and hurriedly threw back the tent as Catherine leaned over Michael. He was lying perfectly still, but his chest was rising and falling at regular intervals. She realized he was sleeping soundly and quietly.
“Oh—“ she blurted. “He’s breathing normally! He’s going to be all right. I know it!”
She raised her head and they shared each other’s happiness. “He’s going to be all right,” she cried again in a rapturous voice. Tears streamed down her face. Michael was resting comfortably and the flush of fever was slowly leaving his hollow cheeks.
“Thank God,” Jeffrey whispered.
Catherine fell to her knees once more, thanking the Lord with all her heart for this great blessing he’d bestowed on them.
A feeling of peace washed over Jeffrey as he gazed at his son. He couldn’t take his eyes off him. Another hour passed and it was growing light ouside.
Catherine still knelt on the floor, her head bowed with her cheek against the bed. Suddenly she felt something pat her wimple and she sat up. Michael’s eyes were open. Though still red-rimmed, she saw a spark of life that hadn’t been there before. She took his hand and held it between both of hers.
He turned to his father. “Daddy? I’m thirsty,” he managed to say in a cracked little voice. Jeffrey held a glass of water to his lips, attentive to his every need. “Could I have some juice?” He coughed, and though it was grating, it wasn’t as sustained as before and he no longer struggled for breath.
“You can have whatever you want.” As he strode swiftly from the room, Catherine couldn’t resist the urge to kiss his cheek.
“Do you know what? You’re getting better already!”
“It doesn’t hurt as much, Sister.”
Jeffrey soon came in followed by Dr. Endicott. The physician was obviously pleased at the change in Michael’s condition. He came over to the bed and made another check before nodding to Jeffrey. “He’s definitely improved. Of course the recovery will be slow. Things will take time, but Jeff—I think I’m safe in saying you’ve got your son back. Congratulations!”
Pure elation dominated Jeffrey’s tired face. He went over to Michael and kissed him on the forehead.
“Sister?” The doctor drew her aside. “Michael’s still very sick. He’s going to need rest and watching. I’m depending on you to make sure he doesn’t over do. He can sip grape juice now. Later on if he has some appetite, I’ll send him broth. He needs sleep. Lots of it. Now that you’re here, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Very good, and thank you, doctor.” She smiled warmly at the kind man.
“Don’t thank me, Sister. If you hadn’t come when you did, I wouldn’t have given Michael a chance. You’ve saved his life. I take no credit.”
“God saved his life.”
“Let’s compromise and say both of you played a part.” He winked and turned to Jeffrey. “Philip and Elinore are outside, anxious to see him. I’ll give you a few more minutes, then I’ll let them come in, but only for a moment. I’m leaving you both strictly in charge.”
Catherine went back to the bed. Michael had drifted off to sleep and there were traces of grape juice on his upper lip. He was beginning to look like a typical boy again. She smiled and wiped the purple moustache away, but weakness had attacked her. She brushed the perspiration from her forehead with the sleeve of her habit. With a deep sigh she finally sank down in the chair and closed her eyes.
Jeffrey was so exhausted, he couldn’t move from his chair, but he didn’t feel like sleeping. He was watching Catherine, in awe over what had transpired. He would never forget the words of her prayer. They were indelibly impressed in his mind. She seemed to him a kind of saint. For the first time he really looked at her.
Her face was white with fatigue, but the translucent quality of her skin only enhanced her inner radiance. How could he ever repay her? This sister emanated goodness and purity-- qualities that were rare in most people— even in most nuns he surmised. Not once had she thought of herself or her own comfort. She’d left the convent on a moment’s notice and her every thought and prayer had been for Michael. And for him...
He wondered by what miracle Sister Catherine had been there for the two of them. Twice she’d saved Michael’s life. Jeffrey had often seen the hand of God reach down and change the outcome of a desperate situation during the war. As he studied the lovely nun who sat across from him, a strengthened belief in God filled his soul.
Catherine awakened with a start. She’d been dreaming. She couldn’t remember the details, but she’d felt sad. Then she looked at Michael sleeping peacefully. Unable to resist, she reached out to touch his hand lying on top of the sheet. How she loved him!
Jeffrey was still looking at her. Slowly she raised her eyes to his and the two of them gazed at each other for a long moment. A brilliant smile slowly illuminated her face. For Jeffrey it was as if the black clouds of despair and heartache had suddenly dispersed and glorious sunshine filled his universe once more.
Without realizing what he was doing, Jeffrey reached out and covered her hand, applying gentle pressure as if to communicate by touch his deep emotions. She felt the warmth of his fingers as they twined around hers. She knew he was trying to express his gratitude. A bond had formed because they’d shared in the love of his little son at the critical hour of his life. Jeffrey’s love for Michael was special. Joy filled her to know that one day he’d be walking at his father’s side. His happiness was hers.
When Catherine finally looked away, she discovered Philip had come into the room with a handsome blond woman. Both of them stared at her and Jeffrey. Only then did she realize Jeffrey’s hand was still firmly clasped over hers across Michael’s small figure. She pulled her hand away gently and stood up. Jeffrey was slower to get to his feet.
Philip watched a scarlet blush creep over the nun’s face. The look on his brother’s was almost one of worship.
“Jeff? Hugh says Michael’s going to be fine.”
“Yes,” came the emotion packed reply. Jeffrey was still looking at Catherine.
Elinore was tongue-tied. She appraised Jeffrey, then the sister, but could only see a partial profile due to the white wimple. “It’s wonderful, Jeff,” she mouthed the words before abruptly leaving the room.
Philip sensed they’d walked in on an extremely private moment. There was no mistaking the look in his brother’s eyes this time. “I’ll come back later when Michael’s awake.”
“Stay with me, Phil,” Jeffrey implored with a new, excited quality in his voice. “Sister? You need to eat, then rest. Please feel free to leave Michael for a while. Phil will watch him with me.”
Catherine bowed and left the room. Jeffrey had just excused her from a potentially embarrassing situation and she appreciated his sensitivity. She hoped Philip was understanding enough to accept what he saw as a handclasp of thanksgiving. As for his wife, Catherine knew little about her.
Once at the convent Michael had talked about his Aunt Ellie. He told her he didn’t want to go back to Norwood because he didn’t want her taking care of him. She wasn’t his mum and he didn’t like her. Sometimes she talked like Sister Anna, and it scared him.
Catherine couldn’t imagine what he’d meant because Sister Anna was a dear sweet woman of Austrian extraction who had a difficult time learning English. But it didn’t matter because all the children adored. Still, Michael was very serious about his feelings and Catherine had to respect them.
Long after she’d disappeared around the corner of the corridor, eyes of suspicion and envy stared after her. Elinore watched the figure of the nun with great interest. She still hadn’t gotten a good look at this Sister who’d once again managed the impossible, but she would never forget the look of admiration on Jeffrey’s face when she’d walked into that room with Philip. It would haunt her to the grave.
Elinore could no longer remain in the hospital under the circumstances. Without a moment’s hesitation, she left the floor and walked out the front doors to drive to the house. She would send Jens back to the hospital for Philip when he was ready. In her frame of mind, she didn’t care of Philip never came back.
As for Jeffrey, she would have to find another way to reach him. Using Michael’s illness as a bridge would not bring them closer together now. She would have to wait until he was fully recovered and home from the hospital. With the Sister around, she couldn’t get near her brother-in-law, that much was obvious.
No, she’d wait till the Sister returned to her cloister, and life returned to normal once more. There were other ways to make a man interested. She just had to be patient a little longer.
With the crisis over, Catherine slept through the late morning and part of the afternoon in the nurses’ quarters. Because her exhaustion had reached its peak, it was a deep sleep without dreams. Once rested and fortified with a late lunch, she returned to Michael’s room.
His father was sound asleep on the cot by the bed where Michael lay. Both father and son were sprawled over their beds in much the same position. Smiling, Catherine tiptoed in. Michael’s father looked younger now, despite the day’s growth of beard. He seemed almost helpless. Not at all the way she’d first thought of him back at the convent. The lines had gone from around his mouth and eyes.
She went to the closet and found a blanket that she carefully put over him. The room was cool. He opened his eyes briefly and saw her face close to his as she tucked in the sides. With a smile he settled back to sleep, evidently enjoying his new found warmth.