Lady With a Lamp
by Marina J. Neary
Florence is sitting alone, clutching Grant’s notebook to her chest, an extinguished lamp at her feet. Enter Rebecca, tiptoeing cautiously.
REBECCA: Miss Nightingale, there’s much work to be done. The gents are gone.
FLORENCE (expressionlessly): The gents are gone....
REBECCA (sighs nostalgically): Yes, Dr. Grant... (Cringes) Mr. Bennett... The chaplain says it will be weeks before the new doctor arrives. It’s you and me for now. Surely, we’ll have our hands full.
FLORENCE: The gents are gone. (Laughs like a madwoman) They are gone!
REBECCA (draws back tentatively): Why are you repeating yourself, Miss Nightingale?
FLORENCE: Indeed, why am I repeating myself? (Turns to Rebecca) I don’t know, Rebecca. Honestly. Nobody is listening, whether I mumble or shout. Young lady, I owe you an apology. I had no business lecturing you on the dangers of premature death. (Points her finger at Rebecca) You shall outlive all of us. You’ll stand over our mass grave and say: “Fiddle-dee-dee!”
REBECCA: Don’t jest like that, Miss Nightingale.
FLORENCE: No, I’m perfectly serious. Girls like you have a guardian angel. There’s infinite wisdom in your stupidity. And I have much to learn from you. And you were absolutely right: I was indeed jealous of you, for all the reasons mentioned above.
REBECCA: Envious, of me?
FLORENCE: I do not grudge you your yellow locks. They are the least of your advantages. It’s the hollowness under the locks that I covet. The benefit of being meagre and useless is that nobody profits from your death. You may as well be left where you are.
REBECCA: But I don’t want to be meagre and useless anymore. I want to be grand and famous. No more being cornered by drunken soldiers. Those days are over. I want to receive letters from scientists and generals, have audiences with the Queen.
FLORENCE: Is that all you want, dear girl? Don’t stifle your ambitions.
REBECCA (oblivious to Florence’s sarcasm) There’s more. I want to have other nurses in my command. (Ecstatically) I shall march ahead of them, carrying my own lamp, lighting the way. And everyone around shall bow and say: “Behold: a saint!”
FLORENCE: Your modesty is astounding.
REBECCA: I know! I’ve promised myself to be humble and modest from now on. No more rouge. No more stuffing gauze into my blouse. Miss Nightingale, you’ll be proud to hear that I have ended my friendship with Molly Fields.
REBECCA: That friendship was not wholesome for my soul. I need a worthier friend, someone like you.
FLORENCE (with slight disgust): Someone like me...
REBECCA: I need someone to teach me how to tie my hair in a bun and scold surgeons when they don’t do their job properly. Will you do the honours, Miss Nightingale?
FLORENCE: I could begin by teaching you how to apply a tourniquet.
REBECCA (reluctantly): Oh, must I? Is it truly necessary?
FLORENCE: Dear girl, before you start barking orders at others, you will need to learn to carry them out first. This transformation will take time and, as my heart tells me, many more swooning spells.
REBECCA: I am willing to do whatever is necessary. Anything to be the next Lady with the Lamp! But wait, I have more news to share. I have a new gentleman friend.
FLORENCE: Who is the lucky victim?
REBECCA: The chaplain! A future saint needs a godly suitor. Wouldn’t you agree? He’s been giving me lessons in theology. He’s also privy to the latest military scandal. There’s talk of Lord Lucan being sent home to England. During his latest audience with Lord Raglan, he had a fit.
Florence puts the vial into her pocket.
REBECCA (continues): He started ranting, and cursing, and rolling on the floor. The chaplain was invited to exorcise him. How does the story strike you, Miss Nightingale?
FLORENCE: I am a woman of science. What would I know about demonic possessions or military scandals?
REBECCA: But wait, that’s not all. There’s a rumour that Lucan’s madness was induced, that someone had drugged him.
FLORENCE: Miss Prior, if you are committed to becoming a respectable, graceful, enlightened woman, you must give up the pleasure of spreading rumours. Now go back to your patients. I shall join you shortly.
Rebecca flutters away, self-complacent, leaving Florence to her reverie.
Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary