A Poor Wise Man (Chapter 46)

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Chapter 46

Doctor Smalley was by way of achieving a practice. During his morning and evening office hours he had less and less time to read the papers and the current magazines in his little back office, or to compare the month's earnings, visit by visit, with the same month of the previous year.

He took to making his hospital rounds early in the morning, rather to the outrage of various head nurses, who did not like the staff to come a-visiting until every counterpane was drawn stiff and smooth, every bed corner a geometrical angle, every patient washed and combed and temperatured, and in the exact center of the bed.

Interns were different. They were like husbands. They came and went, seeing things at their worst as well as at their best, but mostly at their worst. Like husbands, too, they developed a sort of philosophy as to the early morning, and would only make occasional remarks, such as: "Cyclone struck you this morning, or anything?"

Doctor Smalley, being a bachelor, was entirely blind to the early morning deficiencies of his wards. Besides, he was young and had had a cold shower and two eggs and various other things, and he saw the world at eight A.M. as a good place. He would get into his little car, whistling, and driving through the market square he would sometimes stop and buy a bag of apples for the children's ward, or a bunch of fall flowers. Thus armed, it was impossible for the most austere of head nurses to hate him.

"We're not straightened up yet, doctor," they would say.

"Looks all right to me," he would reply cheerfully, and cast an eager eye over the ward. To him they were all his children, large and small, and if he did not exactly carry healing in his wings, having no wings, he brought them courage and a breath of fresh morning air, slightly tinged with bay rum, and the feeling that this was a new day. A new page, on which to write such wonderful things (in the order book) as: "Jennie may get up this afternoon." Or: "Lizzie Smith, small piece of beef steak."

On the morning after the election Doctor Smalley rose unusually early, and did five minutes of dumb bells, breathing very deep before his window, having started the cold water in the tub first. At the end of that time he padded in his bare feet to the top of the stairs and called in a huge, deep-breathing voice: "Ten minutes."

These two cryptic words seeming to be perfectly understood below, followed the sound of a body plunging into water, a prolonged "Wow!" from the bathroom, and noisy hurried splashing. Dressing was a rapid process, due to a method learned during college days, which consists of wearing as little as possible, and arranging it at night so that two thrusts (trousers and under-drawers), one enveloping gesture (shirt and under-shirt), and a gymnastic effort of standing first on one leg and then on the other (socks and shoes), made a fairly completed toilet.

While putting on his collar and tie the doctor stood again by the window, and lustily called the garage across the narrow street.

"Jim!" he yelled. "Annabelle breakfasted yet?"

Annabelle was his shabby little car.

Annabelle had breakfasted, on gasoline, oil and water. The doctor finished tying his tie, singing lustily, and went to the door. At the door he stopped singing, put on a carefully professional air, restrained an impulse to slide down the stair-rail, and descended with the dignity of a man with a growing practice and a possible patient in the waiting-room.

At half-past seven he was on his way to the hospital. He stopped at the market and bought three dozen oranges out of a ten-dollar bill he had won on the election, and almost bought a live rabbit because it looked so dreary in its slatted box. He restrained himself, because his housekeeper had a weakness for stewed rabbit, and turned into Cardew Way. He passed the Doyle house slowly, inspecting it as he went, because he had a patient there, and because he had felt that there was something mysterious about the household, quite aside from the saturnine Doyle himself. He knew all about Doyle, of course; all, that is, that there was to know, but he was a newcomer to the city, and he did not know that Doyle's wife was a Cardew. Sometimes he had felt that he was under a sort of espionage all the time he was in the house. But that was ridiculous, wasn't it? Because they could not know that he was on the Vigilance Committee.

There was something curious about one of the windows. He slowed Annabelle and gazed at it. That was strange; there was a sort of white rope hanging from Mrs. Doyle's window.

He stopped Annabelle and stared. Then he drew up to the curb and got out of the car. He was rather uneasy when he opened the gate and started up the walk, but there was no movement of life in the house. At the foot of the steps he saw something, and almost stopped breathing. Behind a clump of winter-bare shrubbery was what looked like a dark huddle of clothing.

It was incredible.

He parted the branches and saw Elinor Doyle lying there, conscious and white with pain. Perhaps never in his life was Doctor Smalley to be so rewarded as with the look in her eyes when she saw him.

"Why, Mrs. Doyle!" was all he could think to say.

"I have broken my other leg, doctor," she said, "the rope gave way."

"You come down that rope?"

"I tried to. I was a prisoner. Don't take me back to the house, doctor. Don't take me back!"

"Of course I'll not take you back," he said, soothingly. "I'll carry you out to my car. It may hurt, but try to be quiet. Can you get your arms around my neck?"

She managed that, and he raised her slowly, but the pain must have been frightful, for a moment later he felt her arms relax and knew that she had fainted. He got to the car somehow, kicked the oranges into the gutter, and placed her, collapsed, on the seat. It was only then that he dared to look behind him, but the house, like the street, was without signs of life. As he turned the next corner, however, he saw Doyle getting off a streetcar, and probably never before had Annabelle made such speed as she did for the next six blocks.

Hours later Elinor Cardew wakened in a quiet room with gray walls, and with the sickening sweet odor of ether over everything. Instead of Olga a quiet nurse sat by her bed, and standing by a window, in low-voiced conversation, were two men. One she knew, the doctor. The other, a tall young man with a slight limp as he came toward her, she had never seen before. A friendly young man, thin, and grave of voice, who put a hand over hers and said: "You are not to worry about anything, Mrs. Doyle. You understand me, don't you? Everything is all right. I am going now to get your people."

"My husband?"

"Your own people," he said. "I have already telephoned to your brother. And the leg's fixed. Everything's as right as rain."

Elinor closed her eyes. She felt no pain and no curiosity. Only there was something she had to do, and do quickly. What was it? But she could not remember, because she felt very sleepy and relaxed, and as though everything was indeed as right as rain.

It was evening when she looked up again, and the room was dark. The doctor had gone, and the grave young man was still in the room. There was another figure there, tall and straight, and at first she thought it was Jim Doyle.

"Jim!" she said. And then: "You must go away, Jim. I warn you. I am going to tell all I know."

But the figure turned, and it was Howard Cardew, a tense and strained Howard Cardew, who loomed amazingly tall and angry, but not with her.

"I'm sorry, Nellie dear," he said, bending over her. "If we'd only known--can you talk now?"

Her mind was suddenly very clear.

"I must. There is very little time."

"I want to tell you something first, Nellie. I think we have located the Russian woman, but we haven't got Doyle."

Howard was not very subtle, but Willy Cameron saw her face and understood. It was strange beyond belief, he felt, this loyalty of women to their men, even after love had gone; this feeling that, having once lain in a man's arms, they have taken a vow of protection over that man. It was not so much that they were his as that he was theirs. Jim Doyle had made her a prisoner, had treated her brutally, was a traitor to her and to his country, but--he had been hers. She was glad that he had got away.

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