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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

Mrs. Nightingale: A Dream

Mrs. Nightingale: A Dream.

November. Walking up a dark hill with high iron fences at the sides of the road and immense trees over. I was looking for a midwife, Mrs. Nightingale. A little girl, barefoot, with a handkerchief over her head pattered up and put her chill hand in mine; she would lead me.

A light showed from a general shop. Inside a beautiful fair angry young woman directed me up the hill and to the right.

“You should have believed me!” said the child, and dug her nails into my palm.

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There reared up a huge wall with a blank notice plastered on it. That was the house. In a low room, sitting by a table, a dirty yellow and black rug on her knees, an old hag sat. She had a grey handkerchief on her head. Beside her on the table was a jar of onions and a fork. I explained. She was to come to mother. Mother was very delicate: her eldest daughter was thirty-one and she had heart disease. “So please come at once.”

“Has she any adhesions?” muttered the old hag, and she speared an onion, ate it and rubbed her nose.

“Oh, yes”—I put my hands on my breast—“many, many plural adhesions.”

“Ah, that's bad, that's very bad,” said the old crone, hunching up the rug so that through the fringe I saw her square slippers. “But I can't come. I've a case at four o'clock.”

At that moment a healthy, bonny young woman came in with a bundle. She sat down by the midwife and explained, “Jinnie has had hers already.” She unwound the bundle too quickly: a new-born baby with round eyes fell forward on her lap. I felt the pleasure of the little girl beside me—a kind of quiver. The young woman blushed and lowered her voice. “I got her to …” And she paused to find a very medical private word to describe washing…. “To navigate with a bottle of English water,” she said, “but it isn't all away yet.”

Mrs. Nightingale told me to go to the friend, Madame Léger, who lived on the terrace with a page 130 pink light before her house. I went. The terrace of houses was white and grey-blue in the moonlight with dark pines down the road. I saw the exquisite pink light. But just then there was a clanking sound behind me, and there was the little girl, bursting with breathlessness dragging in her arms a huge black bag. “Mrs. Nightingale says you forgot this.”

So I was the midwife. I walked on thinking: “I'll go and have a look at the poor little soul. But it won't be for a long time yet.”