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Full Online Book HomeLong Stories"k" - Chapter 28
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"k" - Chapter 28 Post by :Simon0804 Category :Long Stories Author :Mary Roberts Rinehart Date :May 2012 Read :3156

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"k" - Chapter 28


Johnny Rosenfeld was dead. All of K.'s skill had not sufficed to save him. The operation had been a marvel, but the boy's long-sapped strength failed at the last.

K., set of face, stayed with him to the end. The boy did not know he was going. He roused from the coma and smiled up at Le Moyne.

"I've got a hunch that I can move my right foot," he said. "Look and see."

K. lifted the light covering.

"You're right, old man. It's moving."

"Brake foot, clutch foot," said Johnny, and closed his eyes again.

K. had forbidden the white screens, that outward symbol of death. Time enough for them later. So the ward had no suspicion, nor had the boy.

The ward passed in review. It was Sunday, and from the chapel far below came the faint singing of a hymn. When Johnny spoke again he did not open his eyes.

"You're some operator, Mr. Le Moyne. I'll put in a word for you whenever I get a chance."

"Yes, put in a word for me," said K. huskily.

He felt that Johnny would be a good mediator--that whatever he, K., had done of omission or commission, Johnny's voice before the Tribunal would count.

The lame young violin-player came into the ward. She had cherished a secret and romantic affection for Max Wilson, and now he was in the hospital and ill. So she wore the sacrificial air of a young nun and played "The Holy City."

Johnny was close on the edge of his long sleep by that time, and very comfortable.

"Tell her nix on the sob stuff," he complained. "Ask her to play 'I'm twenty-one and she's eighteen.'"

She was rather outraged, but on K.'s quick explanation she changed to the staccato air.

"Ask her if she'll come a little nearer; I can't hear her."

So she moved to the foot of the bed, and to the gay little tune Johnny began his long sleep. But first he asked K. a question: "Are you sure I'm going to walk, Mr. Le Moyne?"

"I give you my solemn word," said K. huskily, "that you are going to be better than you have ever been in your life."

It was K. who, seeing he would no longer notice, ordered the screens to be set around the bed, K. who drew the coverings smooth and folded the boy's hands over his breast.

The violin-player stood by uncertainly.

"How very young he is! Was it an accident?"

"It was the result of a man's damnable folly," said K. grimly. "Somebody always pays."

And so Johnny Rosenfeld paid.

The immediate result of his death was that K., who had gained some of his faith in himself on seeing Wilson on the way to recovery, was beset by his old doubts. What right had he to arrogate to himself again powers of life and death? Over and over he told himself that there had been no carelessness here, that the boy would have died ultimately, that he had taken the only chance, that the boy himself had known the risk and begged for it.

The old doubts came back.

And now came a question that demanded immediate answer. Wilson would be out of commission for several months, probably. He was gaining, but slowly. And he wanted K. to take over his work.

"Why not?" he demanded, half irritably. "The secret is out. Everybody knows who you are. You're not thinking about going back to that ridiculous gas office, are you?"

"I had some thought of going to Cuba."

"I'm damned if I understand you. You've done a marvelous thing; I lie here and listen to the staff singing your praises until I'm sick of your name! And now, because a boy who wouldn't have lived anyhow--"

"That's not it," K. put in hastily. "I know all that. I guess I could do it and get away with it as well as the average. All that deters me--I've never told you, have I, why I gave up before?"

Wilson was propped up in his bed. K. was walking restlessly about the room, as was his habit when troubled.

"I've heard the gossip; that's all."

"When you recognized me that night on the balcony, I told you I'd lost my faith in myself, and you said the whole affair had been gone over at the State Society. As a matter of fact, the Society knew of only two cases. There had been three."

"Even at that--"

"You know what I always felt about the profession, Max. We went into that more than once in Berlin. Either one's best or nothing. I had done pretty well. When I left Lorch and built my own hospital, I hadn't a doubt of myself. And because I was getting results I got a lot of advertising. Men began coming to the clinics. I found I was making enough out of the patients who could pay to add a few free wards. I want to tell you now, Wilson, that the opening of those free wards was the greatest self-indulgence I ever permitted myself. I'd seen so much careless attention given the poor--well, never mind that. It was almost three years ago that things began to go wrong. I lost a big case."

"I know. All this doesn't influence me, Edwardes."

"Wait a moment. We had a system in the operating-room as perfect as I could devise it. I never finished an operation without having my first assistant verify the clip and sponge count. But that first case died because a sponge had been left in the operating field. You know how those things go; you can't always see them, and one goes by the count, after reasonable caution. Then I lost another case in the same way--a free case.

"As well as I could tell, the precautions had not been relaxed. I was doing from four to six cases a day. After the second one I almost went crazy. I made up my mind, if there was ever another, I'd give up and go away."

"There was another?"

"Not for several months. When the last case died, a free case again, I performed my own autopsy. I allowed only my first assistant in the room. He was almost as frenzied as I was. It was the same thing again. When I told him I was going away, he offered to take the blame himself, to say he had closed the incision. He tried to make me think he was responsible. I knew--better."

"It's incredible."

"Exactly; but it's true. The last patient was a laborer. He left a family. I've sent them money from time to time. I used to sit and think about the children he left, and what would become of them. The ironic part of it was that, for all that had happened, I was busier all the time. Men were sending me cases from all over the country. It was either stay and keep on working, with that chance, or--quit. I quit." "But if you had stayed, and taken extra precautions--"

"We'd taken every precaution we knew."

Neither of the men spoke for a time. K. stood, his tall figure outlined against the window. Far off, in the children's ward, children were laughing; from near by a very young baby wailed a thin cry of protest against life; a bell rang constantly. K.'s mind was busy with the past--with the day he decided to give up and go away, with the months of wandering and homelessness, with the night he had come upon the Street and had seen Sidney on the doorstep of the little house.

"That's the worst, is it?" Max Wilson demanded at last.

"That's enough."

"It's extremely significant. You had an enemy somewhere--on your staff, probably. This profession of ours is a big one, but you know its jealousies. Let a man get his shoulders above the crowd, and the pack is after him." He laughed a little. "Mixed figure, but you know what I mean."

K. shook his head. He had had that gift of the big man everywhere, in every profession, of securing the loyalty of his followers. He would have trusted every one of them with his life.

"You're going to do it, of course."

"Take up your work?"


He stirred restlessly. To stay on, to be near Sidney, perhaps to stand by as Wilson's best man when he was married--it turned him cold. But he did not give a decided negative. The sick man was flushed and growing fretful; it would not do to irritate him.

"Give me another day on it," he said at last. And so the matter stood.

Max's injury had been productive of good, in one way. It had brought the two brothers closer together. In the mornings Max was restless until Dr. Ed arrived. When he came, he brought books in the shabby bag--his beloved Burns, although he needed no book for that, the "Pickwick Papers," Renan's "Lives of the Disciples." Very often Max world doze off; at the cessation of Dr. Ed's sonorous voice the sick man would stir fretfully and demand more. But because he listened to everything without discrimination, the older man came to the conclusion that it was the companionship that counted. It pleased him vastly. It reminded him of Max's boyhood, when he had read to Max at night. For once in the last dozen years, he needed him.

"Go on, Ed. What in blazes makes you stop every five minutes?" Max protested, one day.

Dr. Ed, who had only stopped to bite off the end of a stogie to hold in his cheek, picked up his book in a hurry, and eyed the invalid over it.

"Stop bullying. I'll read when I'm ready. Have you any idea what I'm reading?"

"Of course."

"Well, I haven't. For ten minutes I've been reading across both pages!"

Max laughed, and suddenly put out his hand. Demonstrations of affection were so rare with him that for a moment Dr. Ed was puzzled. Then, rather sheepishly, he took it.

"When I get out," Max said, "we'll have to go out to the White Springs again and have supper."

That was all; but Ed understood.

Morning and evening, Sidney went to Max's room. In the morning she only smiled at him from the doorway. In the evening she went to him after prayers. She was allowed an hour with him then.

The shooting had been a closed book between them. At first, when he began to recover, he tried to talk to her about it. But she refused to listen. She was very gentle with him, but very firm.

"I know how it happened, Max," she said--"about Joe's mistake and all that. The rest can wait until you are much better."

If there had been any change in her manner to him, he would not have submitted so easily, probably. But she was as tender as ever, unfailingly patient, prompt to come to him and slow to leave. After a time he began to dread reopening the subject. She seemed so effectually to have closed it. Carlotta was gone. And, after all, what good could he do his cause by pleading it? The fact was there, and Sidney knew it.

On the day when K. had told Max his reason for giving up his work, Max was allowed out of bed for the first time. It was a great day. A box of red roses came that day from the girl who had refused him a year or more ago. He viewed them with a carelessness that was half assumed.

The news had traveled to the Street that he was to get up that day. Early that morning the doorkeeper had opened the door to a gentleman who did not speak, but who handed in a bunch of early chrysanthemums and proceeded to write, on a pad he drew from his pocket:--

"From Mrs. McKee's family and guests, with their congratulations on your recovery, and their hope that they will see you again soon. If their ends are clipped every day and they are placed in ammonia water, they will last indefinitely." Sidney spent her hour with Max that evening as usual. His big chair had been drawn close to a window, and she found him there, looking out. She kissed him. But this time, instead of letting her draw away, he put out his arms and caught her to him.

"Are you glad?"

"Very glad, indeed," she said soberly.

"Then smile at me. You don't smile any more. You ought to smile; your mouth--"

"I am almost always tired; that's all, Max."

She eyed him bravely.

"Aren't you going to let me make love to you at all? You get away beyond my reach."

"I was looking for the paper to read to you."

A sudden suspicion flamed in his eyes.


"Yes, dear."

"You don't like me to touch you any more. Come here where I can see you."

The fear of agitating him brought her quickly. For a moment he was appeased.

"That's more like it. How lovely you are, Sidney!" He lifted first one hand and then the other to his lips. "Are you ever going to forgive me?"

"If you mean about Carlotta, I forgave that long ago."

He was almost boyishly relieved. What a wonder she was! So lovely, and so sane. Many a woman would have held that over him for years--not that he had done anything really wrong on that nightmare excursion. But so many women are exigent about promises.

"When are you going to marry me?"

"We needn't discuss that to-night, Max."

"I want you so very much. I don't want to wait, dear. Let me tell Ed that you will marry me soon. Then, when I go away, I'll take you with me."

"Can't we talk things over when you are stronger?"

Her tone caught his attention, and turned him a little white. He faced her to the window, so that the light fell full on her.

"What things? What do you mean?"

He had forced her hand. She had meant to wait; but, with his keen eyes on her, she could not dissemble.

"I am going to make you very unhappy for a little while."


"I've had a lot of time to think. If you had really wanted me, Max--"

"My God, of course I want you!"

"It isn't that I am angry. I am not even jealous. I was at first. It isn't that. It's hard to make you understand. I think you care for me--"

"I love you! I swear I never loved any other woman as I love you."

Suddenly he remembered that he had also sworn to put Carlotta out of his life. He knew that Sidney remembered, too; but she gave no sign.

"Perhaps that's true. You might go on caring for me. Sometimes I think you would. But there would always be other women, Max. You're like that. Perhaps you can't help it."

"If you loved me you could do anything with me." He was half sullen.

By the way her color leaped, he knew he had struck fire. All his conjectures as to how Sidney would take the knowledge of his entanglement with Carlotta had been founded on one major premise--that she loved him. The mere suspicion made him gasp.

"But, good Heavens, Sidney, you do care for me, don't you?"

"I'm afraid I don't, Max; not enough."

She tried to explain, rather pitifully. After one look at his face, she spoke to the window.

"I'm so wretched about it. I thought I cared. To me you were the best and greatest man that ever lived. I--when I said my prayers, I--But that doesn't matter. You were a sort of god to me. When the Lamb--that's one of the internes, you know--nicknamed you the 'Little Tin God,' I was angry. You could never be anything little to me, or do anything that wasn't big. Do you see?"

He groaned under his breath.

"No man could live up to that, Sidney."

"No. I see that now. But that's the way I cared. Now I know that I didn't care for you, really, at all. I built up an idol and worshiped it. I always saw you through a sort of haze. You were operating, with everybody standing by, saying how wonderful it was. Or you were coming to the wards, and everything was excitement, getting ready for you. I blame myself terribly. But you see, don't you? It isn't that I think you are wicked. It's just that I never loved the real you, because I never knew you."

When he remained silent, she made an attempt to justify herself.

"I'd known very few men," she said. "I came into the hospital, and for a time life seemed very terrible. There were wickednesses I had never heard of, and somebody always paying for them. I was always asking, Why? Why? Then you would come in, and a lot of them you cured and sent out. You gave them their chance, don't you see? Until I knew about Carlotta, you always meant that to me. You were like K.--always helping."

The room was very silent. In the nurses' parlor, a few feet down the corridor, the nurses were at prayers.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want," read the Head, her voice calm with the quiet of twilight and the end of the day.

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."

The nurses read the response a little slowly, as if they, too, were weary.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death--"

The man in the chair stirred. He had come through the valley of the shadow, and for what? He was very bitter. He said to himself savagely that they would better have let him die. "You say you never loved me because you never knew me. I'm not a rotter, Sidney. Isn't it possible that the man you, cared about, who--who did his best by people and all that--is the real me?"

She gazed at him thoughtfully. He missed something out of her eyes, the sort of luminous, wistful look with which she had been wont to survey his greatness. Measured by this new glance, so clear, so appraising, he sank back into his chair.

"The man who did his best is quite real. You have always done the best in your work; you always will. But the other is a part of you too, Max. Even if I cared, I would not dare to run the risk."

Under the window rang the sharp gong of a city patrol-wagon. It rumbled through the gates back to the courtyard, where its continued clamor summoned white-coated orderlies.

An operating-room case, probably. Sidney, chin lifted, listened carefully. If it was a case for her, the elevator would go up to the operating-room. With a renewed sense of loss, Max saw that already she had put him out of her mind. The call to service was to her a call to battle. Her sensitive nostrils quivered; her young figure stood erect, alert.

"It has gone up!"

She took a step toward the door, hesitated, came back, and put a light hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, dear Max."

She had kissed him lightly on the cheek before he knew what she intended to do. So passionless was the little caress that, perhaps more than anything else, it typified the change in their relation.

When the door closed behind her, he saw that she had left her ring on the arm of his chair. He picked it up. It was still warm from her finger. He held it to his lips with a quick gesture. In all his successful young life he had never before felt the bitterness of failure. The very warmth of the little ring hurt.

Why hadn't they let him die? He didn't want to live--he wouldn't live. Nobody cared for him! He would--

His eyes, lifted from the ring, fell on the red glow of the roses that had come that morning. Even in the half light, they glowed with fiery color.

The ring was in his right hand. With the left he settled his collar and soft silk tie.

K. saw Carlotta that evening for the last time. Katie brought word to him, where he was helping Harriet close her trunk,--she was on her way to Europe for the fall styles,--that he was wanted in the lower hall.

"A lady!" she said, closing the door behind her by way of caution. "And a good thing for her she's not from the alley. The way those people beg off you is a sin and a shame, and it's not at home you're going to be to them from now on."

So K. had put on his coat and, without so much as a glance in Harriet's mirror, had gone down the stairs. Carlotta was in the lower hall. She stood under the chandelier, and he saw at once the ravages that trouble had made in her. She was a dead white, and she looked ten years older than her age.

"I came, you see, Dr. Edwardes."

Now and then, when some one came to him for help, which was generally money, he used Christine's parlor, if she happened to be out. So now, finding the door ajar, and the room dark, he went in and turned on the light.

"Come in here; we can talk better."

She did not sit down at first; but, observing that her standing kept him on his feet, she sat finally. Evidently she found it hard to speak.

"You were to come," K. encouraged her, "to see if we couldn't plan something for you. Now, I think I've got it."

"If it's another hospital--and I don't want to stay here, in the city."

"You like surgical work, don't you?"

"I don't care for anything else."

"Before we settle this, I'd better tell you what I'm thinking of. You know, of course, that I closed my hospital. I--a series of things happened, and I decided I was in the wrong business. That wouldn't be important, except for what it leads to. They are trying to persuade me to go back, and--I'm trying to persuade myself that I'm fit to go back. You see,"--his tone was determinedly cheerful, "my faith in myself has been pretty nearly gone. When one loses that, there isn't much left."

"You had been very successful." She did not look up.

"Well, I had and I hadn't. I'm not going to worry you about that. My offer is this: We'll just try to forget about--about Schwitter's and all the rest, and if I go back I'll take you on in the operating-room."

"You sent me away once!"

"Well, I can ask you to come back, can't I?" He smiled at her encouragingly.

"Are you sure you understand about Max Wilson and myself?"

"I understand."

"Don't you think you are taking a risk?"

"Every one makes mistakes now and then, and loving women have made mistakes since the world began. Most people live in glass houses, Miss Harrison. And don't make any mistake about this: people can always come back. No depth is too low. All they need is the willpower."

He smiled down at her. She had come armed with confession. But the offer he made was too alluring. It meant reinstatement, another chance, when she had thought everything was over. After all, why should she damn herself? She would go back. She would work her finger-ends off for him. She would make it up to him in other ways. But she could not tell him and lose everything.

"Come," he said. "Shall we go back and start over again?"

He held out his hand.

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"k" - Chapter 29 "k" - Chapter 29

"k" - Chapter 29
CHAPTER XXIXLate September had come, with the Street, after its summer indolence taking up the burden of the year. At eight-thirty and at one the school bell called the children. Little girls in pig-tails, carrying freshly sharpened pencils, went primly toward the school, gathering, comet fashion, a tail of unwilling brothers as they went. An occasional football hurtled through the air. Le Moyne had promised the baseball club a football outfit, rumor said, but would not coach them himself this year. A story was going about that Mr. Le Moyne intended to go away. The Street had been furiously busy for

"k" - Chapter 27 "k" - Chapter 27

"k" - Chapter 27
CHAPTER XXVIIK. spent all of the evening of that day with Wilson. He was not to go for Joe until eleven o'clock. The injured man's vitality was standing him in good stead. He had asked for Sidney and she was at his bedside. Dr. Ed had gone. "I'm going, Max. The office is full, they tell me," he said, bending over the bed. "I'll come in later, and if they'll make me a shakedown, I'll stay with you to-night." The answer was faint, broken but distinct. "Get some sleep...I've been a poor stick...try to do better--" His roving eyes fell on