George was not feeling at all well. Underneath the cheerful smile she beamed at all the medical personnel, George felt a black and rumbling unease, the psychic equivalent of the tinge of nausea one feels just before the flu hits.
She had survived the rigors of withdrawal from the potent pixie dust with less agony than she had expected. The mildness of her experience may have been due to the fact that she had only taken the drug once. And, she supposed, her resourceful friend Nancy Drew must have given her a small a dose, hoping to keep her incapacitated only until the criminal gang had been rounded up.
When the doctor at Shady Rest had told her that her system was free of the narcotic's influence, and that she was ready to go home, George held a small celebration in her room with those of her pals who were the clinic's employees.
"Clean and sober, George!" Monty exclaimed. He looked prim in his crisp intern attire, looking rather like a young Rex Morgan in the days of his residency.
"Clean!" echoed George, frenectically, "and so sober!"
If Ned had not been so long acquainted with George's natural high spirits he might have detected the dissonance between her deportment and her sentiments.
"How many minutes have you been clean and sober, George?" Ned asked.
"Five minutes. No! Six. Six and a half! It's my anniversary!" George got to her feet on her bed and looked like she was prepared to jump up and down.
"No George," cautioned Cherry. She was about to tell her patient to be careful both of the clinic's furniture and of her own neck when Ned interrupted with an even more potent argument.
"No jumping for joy until an important anniversary. Ten minutes at least."
"I would say an hour," opined Monty, unusually serious for once, as befit his garb.
"What will we do until then?" asked George queryingly.
Cherry looked at Monty with disapproval. But he did not catch the force of her withering glare as, at that precise moment, he turned around to pick up a tray off a cart that had mysteriously appeared behind him.
"A bit of bubbly," Monty announced as he passed around hospital standard tepid ginger ale in small paper cups. "A toast to George, who has survived being knocked unconscious, shot, drugged, threatened with death, arrested etc. etc. etc. A true survivor. To George!"
"To George," they all intoned.
"The bubbles tickle my nose," observed George.
Cherry Ames could not help noting that there was a troubling edge to George's manic cheerfulness, but not knowing what she could do to make matters better she forbore comment. Later that day she would make a detailed note in her clinical diary.
"Can we help you pack up?" asked Ned.
"I'm all set," George answered. "I am ready to go and am just waiting until my Dad and Mom get here."
"I will miss having you around all the time. Bouncing off walls . . ." Monty declared.
"I'll miss you too, Monty," replied George, feelingly, then added, "until the day after tomorrow when rehearsals begin."
"Thank God for Recitation comedy!" chuckled Monty.
Suddenly, over the clinic public address system came a cryptic announcement.
"Code brown. Code brown. Code brown. Code brown."
Before the last repetition had sounded all three of George's friends were out of the door and down the hall.
Feeling alone and bereft George sat on her bed awaiting her parents' arrival. They would be coming soon to sign her out of the clinic and take her home. She glanced at her watch. There was still a half an hour before she could reasonably expect to see her family. After the excitement of being with her chums the time alone seemed to hang heavily upon her. She rested her head in her hands and began to brood. She remembered Monty's toast and it oppressed her. A survivor. That is all she had been really. Her only virtue was that she had survived when others-who knows how it would end for them? Nancy and Bess were in trouble still and Bess was sick, very sick. George was intensely worried for her closest friends. And there were others, still in the clinic and not free to go like she was, who might never make it back to health and sanity. George could claim no virtue superior to any of these, except that she had, apparently, survived.
She had meant to be a savior. She had tried to come riding to the rescue of her friends and dozens of enslaved teen-agers, but she had made a mess of things and had only put herself and Bess in unnecessary peril, forcing Nancy to risk herself further upon their behalf. Some champion!
While in deadly danger George had been frightened but had managed to maintain her composure, more or less. Now, as her mind wandered back over the events of the previous few weeks, she was terrified. When a nurse knocked on the door and came in to see how she was doing, George started. For an instant it seemed as if she had been once again confronted by a gun-toting gangster. She quickly looked behind her, expecting another sap to descend upon her still-tender cranium.
"Is anything wrong, Georgiana?"
George felt instantly ashamed and guilty of her imaginary scare.
"I'm jittery," she admitted.
The nurse made up the bed in an efficient manner while George observed studiously from a vistor's chair. She had hoped to learn how to make hospital corners with the sheets but the nurse's hands were too quick for her sluggish mind to observe them closely. Yet the nurse's air of control was comforting. Moreover George felt as if the nurse, in patting the bed, was giving her a measure of direct physical comfort.
The nurse did not stay as long as George would have liked. Within a few moments she was alone again, prey to her probing and disturbing thoughts.
At length her mind reverted to Lucy, who had nearly hung herself in this very building. George wondered how Lucy was faring now. Would she be better? Was she going to get better?
There was still fifteen minutes before her folks were due to arrive. George decided that it would help to set her mind at ease before going home if she could see Lucy and detect some evidence of her progress. It would give her hope-hope for Lucy, hope for others scarred by the slave experience, and hope, in a small way, for herself. For George had by now realized that she was not really well. She was no longer the cheerful and adventurous young girl that had donned so many disguises in order to unobtrusively frequent the High Road Inn. She wondered if she would ever, could ever be that girl again. It seemed as if she had gone through a door from a technicolor world and now lived in a universe that was only shades of gray. And she had lost her way back to that door. Was she doomed to forever live in shadows? If Lucy, who had descended so far into that pit as to attempt to take her own life, could find even a spark of color, George trusted that she could return home with an uplifted heart.
George wandered down the hall, looking for Lucy's room. It was not on the main upstairs hallway. Near the central nursing station there was another hallway, leading off at a right angle and fronted by a set of glass doors. George pushed on one. It was locked. Then she tried the other; it was unlocked. George wondered if it was supposed to be secured as well. She looked guiltily towards the nursing station and up and down the hall. The only staff in sight were at a distance and preoccupied or looking in other directions. So George took a deep breath and slipped through the door into the area that she noted was marked "Special Care."
Lucy's room was halfway along the corridor on the left-hand side. Her name was inscribed in black marker on a piece of masking tape affixed to the wall by the door. George gingerly opened the door and quietly stepped inside. Hearing no sound from within, she approached the bed alcove half-expecting to find the patient asleep.
The patient was awake and looked at George wide-eyed.
"No, Lucy, it is me, George Fayne. Do you remember me? Nancy Drew's friend."
"Mother," Lucy persisted. "Come here and comb my hair. I am afraid it has got snarled and you are the only one who can take the tangles out."
"But Lucy . . ." George could see that Lucy's hair had been cut quite short.
"Please Mother, help me!" Lucy seemed frantic.
"I'm George. Can't you see I'm not your Mother? I will try to get her if you need her."
"Mother, rub ointment on the skin of my neck. It is covered with sores from poison ivy."
There were livid marks on Lucy's neck. George could well imagine that these were uncomfortable.
"Lucy, I'll see if I can get help."
"Mama! Mama! Mama!"
Lucy started screaming louder and louder. Before George could even begin to think of what to do, Lucy sprang out of her bed and knocked her visitor to the floor. George instinctively rolled away towards the wall and clawed her way to her feet. Lucy, now prone on the floor, slithered towards George and batted her fist at George's ankles. The terrified girl hurled herself out of the room just ahead of an incoming nurse. Not stopping to explain, George ran down the hall and through the glass door.
The Faynes were at the nursing station, inquiring after their daughter. They had already taken possession of her luggage. George hurled herself into her mother's arms and began to cry uncontrollably.
After a few minutes she was calmer and had submitted herself to being led towards the car. In the car George persisted in looking through the rear window, ever fearing that the noises she heard behind were an ambulance being sent to fetch her back, and to consign her to "Special Care." Her mother soothed her by holding her hand and patting it gently. While appreciating the gesture, George did not feel in any degree calmed. She understood that she was a fugitive from the hospital and that she deserved to be back there, shut up with Lucy, with both doors locked. She dreaded the fate, wanted so much to be home and free, but knew that a piece of her soul was somehow incarcerated, not right with the world, and, by the world's exacting standards of sanity, stark raving mad.