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Full Online Book HomeLong Stories"k" - Chapter 4
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"k" - Chapter 4 Post by :farina Category :Long Stories Author :Mary Roberts Rinehart Date :May 2012 Read :2022

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"k" - Chapter 4


On the morning after Sidney had invited K. Le Moyne to take her to walk, Max Wilson came down to breakfast rather late. Dr. Ed had breakfasted an hour before, and had already attended, with much profanity on the part of the patient, to a boil on the back of Mr. Rosenfeld's neck.

"Better change your laundry," cheerfully advised Dr. Ed, cutting a strip of adhesive plaster. "Your neck's irritated from your white collars."

Rosenfeld eyed him suspiciously, but, possessing a sense of humor also, he grinned.

"It ain't my everyday things that bother me," he replied. "It's my blankety-blank dress suit. But if a man wants to be tony--"

"Tony" was not of the Street, but of its environs. Harriet was "tony" because she walked with her elbows in and her head up. Dr. Max was "tony" because he breakfasted late, and had a man come once a week and take away his clothes to be pressed. He was "tony," too, because he had brought back from Europe narrow-shouldered English-cut clothes, when the Street was still padding its shoulders. Even K. would have been classed with these others, for the stick that he carried on his walks, for the fact that his shabby gray coat was as unmistakably foreign in cut as Dr. Max's, had the neighborhood so much as known him by sight. But K., so far, had remained in humble obscurity, and, outside of Mrs. McKee's, was known only as the Pages' roomer.

Mr. Rosenfeld buttoned up the blue flannel shirt which, with a pair of Dr. Ed's cast-off trousers, was his only wear; and fished in his pocket.

"How much, Doc?"

"Two dollars," said Dr. Ed briskly.

"Holy cats! For one jab of a knife! My old woman works a day and a half for two dollars."

"I guess it's worth two dollars to you to be able to sleep on your back." He was imperturbably straightening his small glass table. He knew Rosenfeld. "If you don't like my price, I'll lend you the knife the next time, and you can let your wife attend to you."

Rosenfeld drew out a silver dollar, and followed it reluctantly with a limp and dejected dollar bill.

"There are times," he said, "when, if you'd put me and the missus and a knife in the same room, you wouldn't have much left but the knife."

Dr. Ed waited until he had made his stiff-necked exit. Then he took the two dollars, and, putting the money into an envelope, indorsed it in his illegible hand. He heard his brother's step on the stairs, and Dr. Ed made haste to put away the last vestiges of his little operation.

Ed's lapses from surgical cleanliness were a sore trial to the younger man, fresh from the clinics of Europe. In his downtown office, to which he would presently make his leisurely progress, he wore a white coat, and sterilized things of which Dr. Ed did not even know the names.

So, as he came down the stairs, Dr. Ed, who had wiped his tiny knife with a bit of cotton,--he hated sterilizing it; it spoiled the edge,--thrust it hastily into his pocket. He had cut boils without boiling anything for a good many years, and no trouble. But he was wise with the wisdom of the serpent and the general practitioner, and there was no use raising a discussion.

Max's morning mood was always a cheerful one. Now and then the way of the transgressor is disgustingly pleasant. Max, who sat up until all hours of the night, drinking beer or whiskey-and-soda, and playing bridge, wakened to a clean tongue and a tendency to have a cigarette between shoes, so to speak. Ed, whose wildest dissipation had perhaps been to bring into the world one of the neighborhood's babies, wakened customarily to the dark hour of his day, when he dubbed himself failure and loathed the Street with a deadly loathing.

So now Max brought his handsome self down the staircase and paused at the office door.

"At it, already," he said. "Or have you been to bed?"

"It's after nine," protested Ed mildly. "If I don't start early, I never get through."

Max yawned.

"Better come with me," he said. "If things go on as they've been doing, I'll have to have an assistant. I'd rather have you than anybody, of course." He put his lithe surgeon's hand on his brother's shoulder. "Where would I be if it hadn't been for you? All the fellows know what you've done."

In spite of himself, Ed winced. It was one thing to work hard that there might be one success instead of two half successes. It was a different thing to advertise one's mediocrity to the world. His sphere of the Street and the neighborhood was his own. To give it all up and become his younger brother's assistant--even if it meant, as it would, better hours and more money--would be to submerge his identity. He could not bring himself to it.

"I guess I'll stay where I am," he said. "They know me around here, and I know them. By the way, will you leave this envelope at Mrs. McKee's? Maggie Rosenfeld is ironing there to-day. It's for her."

Max took the envelope absently.

"You'll go on here to the end of your days, working for a pittance," he objected. "Inside of ten years there'll be no general practitioners; then where will you be?"

"I'll manage somehow," said his brother placidly. "I guess there will always be a few that can pay my prices better than what you specialists ask."

Max laughed with genuine amusement.

"I dare say, if this is the way you let them pay your prices."

He held out the envelope, and the older man colored.

Very proud of Dr. Max was his brother, unselfishly proud, of his skill, of his handsome person, of his easy good manners; very humble, too, of his own knowledge and experience. If he ever suspected any lack of finer fiber in Max, he put the thought away. Probably he was too rigid himself. Max was young, a hard worker. He had a right to play hard.

He prepared his black bag for the day's calls--stethoscope, thermometer, eye-cup, bandages, case of small vials, a lump of absorbent cotton in a not over-fresh towel; in the bottom, a heterogeneous collection of instruments, a roll of adhesive plaster, a bottle or two of sugar-milk tablets for the children, a dog collar that had belonged to a dead collie, and had put in the bag in some curious fashion and there remained.

He prepared the bag a little nervously, while Max ate. He felt that modern methods and the best usage might not have approved of the bag. On his way out he paused at the dining-room door.

"Are you going to the hospital?"

"Operating at four--wish you could come in."

"I'm afraid not, Max. I've promised Sidney Page to speak about her to you. She wants to enter the training-school."

"Too young," said Max briefly. "Why, she can't be over sixteen."

"She's eighteen."

"Well, even eighteen. Do you think any girl of that age is responsible enough to have life and death put in her hands? Besides, although I haven't noticed her lately, she used to be a pretty little thing. There is no use filling up the wards with a lot of ornaments; it keeps the internes all stewed up."

"Since when," asked Dr. Ed mildly, "have you found good looks in a girl a handicap?"

In the end they compromised. Max would see Sidney at his office. It would be better than having her run across the Street--would put things on the right footing. For, if he did have her admitted, she would have to learn at once that he was no longer "Dr. Max"; that, as a matter of fact, he was now staff, and entitled to much dignity, to speech without contradiction or argument, to clean towels, and a deferential interne at his elbow.

Having given his promise, Max promptly forgot about it. The Street did not interest him. Christine and Sidney had been children when he went to Vienna, and since his return he had hardly noticed them. Society, always kind to single men of good appearance and easy good manners, had taken him up. He wore dinner or evening clothes five nights out of seven, and was supposed by his conservative old neighbors to be going the pace. The rumor had been fed by Mrs. Rosenfeld, who, starting out for her day's washing at six o'clock one morning, had found Dr. Max's car, lamps lighted, and engine going, drawn up before the house door, with its owner asleep at the wheel. The story traveled the length of the Street that day.

"Him," said Mrs. Rosenfeld, who was occasionally flowery, "sittin' up as straight as this washboard, and his silk hat shinin' in the sun; but exceptin' the car, which was workin' hard and gettin' nowhere, the whole outfit in the arms of Morpheus."

Mrs. Lorenz, whose day it was to have Mrs. Rosenfeld, and who was unfamiliar with mythology, gasped at the last word.

"Mercy!" she said. "Do you mean to say he's got that awful drug habit!"

Down the clean steps went Dr. Max that morning, a big man, almost as tall as K. Le Moyne, eager of life, strong and a bit reckless, not fine, perhaps, but not evil. He had the same zest of living as Sidney, but with this difference--the girl stood ready to give herself to life: he knew that life would come to him. All-dominating male was Dr. Max, that morning, as he drew on his gloves before stepping into his car. It was after nine o'clock. K. Le Moyne had been an hour at his desk. The McKee napkins lay ironed in orderly piles.

Nevertheless, Dr. Max was suffering under a sense of defeat as he rode downtown. The night before, he had proposed to a girl and had been rejected. He was not in love with the girl,--she would have been a suitable wife, and a surgeon ought to be married; it gives people confidence,--but his pride was hurt. He recalled the exact words of the rejection.

"You're too good-looking, Max," she had said, "and that's the truth. Now that operations are as popular as fancy dancing, and much less bother, half the women I know are crazy about their surgeons. I'm too fond of my peace of mind."

"But, good Heavens! haven't you any confidence in me?" he had demanded.

"None whatever, Max dear." She had looked at him with level, understanding eyes.

He put the disagreeable recollection out of his mind as he parked his car and made his way to his office. Here would be people who believed in him, from the middle-aged nurse in her prim uniform to the row of patients sitting stiffly around the walls of the waiting-room. Dr. Max, pausing in the hall outside the door of his private office, drew a long breath. This was the real thing--work and plenty of it, a chance to show the other men what he could do, a battle to win! No humanitarian was he, but a fighter: each day he came to his office with the same battle lust.

The office nurse had her back to him. When she turned, he faced an agreeable surprise. Instead of Miss Simpson, he faced a young and attractive girl, faintly familiar.

"We tried to get you by telephone," she explained. "I am from the hospital. Miss Simpson's father died this morning, and she knew you would have to have some one. I was just starting for my vacation, so they sent me."

"Rather a poor substitute for a vacation," he commented.

She was a very pretty girl. He had seen her before in the hospital, but he had never really noticed how attractive she was. Rather stunning she was, he thought. The combination of yellow hair and dark eyes was unusual. He remembered, just in time, to express regret at Miss Simpson's bereavement.

"I am Miss Harrison," explained the substitute, and held out his long white coat. The ceremony, purely perfunctory with Miss Simpson on duty, proved interesting, Miss Harrison, in spite of her high heels, being small and the young surgeon tall. When he was finally in the coat, she was rather flushed and palpitating.

"But I KNEW your name, of course," lied Dr. Max. "And--I'm sorry about the vacation."

After that came work. Miss Harrison was nimble and alert, but the surgeon worked quickly and with few words, was impatient when she could not find the things he called for, even broke into restrained profanity now and then. She went a little pale over her mistakes, but preserved her dignity and her wits. Now and then he found her dark eyes fixed on him, with something inscrutable but pleasing in their depths. The situation was: rather piquant. Consciously he was thinking only of what he was doing. Subconsciously his busy ego was finding solace after last night's rebuff.

Once, during the cleaning up between cases, he dropped to a personality. He was drying his hands, while she placed freshly sterilized instruments on a glass table.

"You are almost a foreign type, Miss Harrison. Last year, in a London ballet, I saw a blonde Spanish girl who looked like you."

"My mother was a Spaniard." She did not look up.

Where Miss Simpson was in the habit of clumping through the morning in flat, heavy shoes, Miss Harrison's small heels beat a busy tattoo on the tiled floor. With the rustling of her starched dress, the sound was essentially feminine, almost insistent. When he had time to notice it, it amused him that he did not find it annoying.

Once, as she passed him a bistoury, he deliberately placed his fine hand over her fingers and smiled into her eyes. It was play for him; it lightened the day's work.

Sidney was in the waiting-room. There had been no tedium in the morning's waiting. Like all imaginative people, she had the gift of dramatizing herself. She was seeing herself in white from head to foot, like this efficient young woman who came now and then to the waiting-room door; she was healing the sick and closing tired eyes; she was even imagining herself proposed to by an aged widower with grown children and quantities of money, one of her patients.

She sat very demurely in the waiting-room with a magazine in her lap, and told her aged patient that she admired and respected him, but that she had given herself to the suffering poor.

"Everything in the world that you want," begged the elderly gentleman. "You should see the world, child, and I will see it again through your eyes. To Paris first for clothes and the opera, and then--"

"But I do not love you," Sidney replied, mentally but steadily. "In all the world I love only one man. He is--"

She hesitated here. It certainly was not Joe, or K. Le Moyne of the gas office. It seem to her suddenly very sad that there was no one she loved. So many people went into hospitals because they had been disappointed in love.

"Dr. Wilson will see you now."

She followed Miss Harrison into the consulting room. Dr. Max--not the gloved and hatted Dr. Max of the Street, but a new person, one she had never known--stood in his white office, tall, dark-eyed, dark-haired, competent, holding out his long, immaculate surgeon's hand, and smiling down at her.

Men, like jewels, require a setting. A clerk on a high stool, poring over a ledger, is not unimpressive, or a cook over her stove. But place the cook on the stool, poring over the ledger! Dr. Max, who had lived all his life on the edge of Sidney's horizon, now, by the simple changing of her point of view, loomed large and magnificent. Perhaps he knew it. Certainly he stood very erect. Certainly, too, there was considerable manner in the way in which he asked Miss Harrison to go out and close the door behind her.

Sidney's heart, considering what was happening to it, behaved very well.

"For goodness' sake, Sidney," said Dr. Max, "here you are a young lady and I've never noticed it!"

This, of course, was not what he had intended to say, being staff and all that. But Sidney, visibly palpitant, was very pretty, much prettier than the Harrison girl, beating a tattoo with her heels in the next room.

Dr. Max, belonging to the class of man who settles his tie every time he sees an attractive woman, thrust his hands into the pockets of his long white coat and surveyed her quizzically.

"Did Dr. Ed tell you?"

"Sit down. He said something about the hospital. How's your mother and Aunt Harriet?"

"Very well--that is, mother's never quite well." She was sitting forward on her chair, her wide young eyes on him. "Is that--is your nurse from the hospital here?"

"Yes. But she's not my nurse. She's a substitute."

"The uniform is so pretty." Poor Sidney! with all the things she had meant to say about a life of service, and that, although she was young, she was terribly in earnest.

"It takes a lot of plugging before one gets the uniform. Look here, Sidney; if you are going to the hospital because of the uniform, and with any idea of soothing fevered brows and all that nonsense--"

She interrupted him, deeply flushed. Indeed, no. She wanted to work. She was young and strong, and surely a pair of willing hands--that was absurd about the uniform. She had no silly ideas. There was so much to do in the world, and she wanted to help. Some people could give money, but she couldn't. She could only offer service. And, partly through earnestness and partly through excitement, she ended in a sort of nervous sob, and, going to the window, stood with her back to him.

He followed her, and, because they were old neighbors, she did not resent it when he put his hand on her shoulder.

"I don't know--of course, if you feel like that about it," he said, "we'll see what can be done. It's hard work, and a good many times it seems futile. They die, you know, in spite of all we can do. And there are many things that are worse than death--"

His voice trailed off. When he had started out in his profession, he had had some such ideal of service as this girl beside him. For just a moment, as he stood there close to her, he saw things again with the eyes of his young faith: to relieve pain, to straighten the crooked, to hurt that he might heal,--not to show the other men what he could do,--that had been his early creed. He sighed a little as he turned away.

"I'll speak to the superintendent about you," he said. "Perhaps you'd like me to show you around a little."

"When? To-day?"

He had meant in a month, or a year. It was quite a minute before he replied:--

"Yes, to-day, if you say. I'm operating at four. How about three o'clock?"

She held out both hands, and he took them, smiling.

"You are the kindest person I ever met."

"And--perhaps you'd better not say you are applying until we find out if there is a vacancy."

"May I tell one person?"


"No. We--we have a roomer now. He is very much interested. I should like to tell him."

He dropped her hands and looked at her in mock severity.

"Much interested! Is he in love with you?"

"Mercy, no!"

"I don't believe it. I'm jealous. You know, I've always been more than half in love with you myself!"

Play for him--the same victorious instinct that had made him touch Miss Harrison's fingers as she gave him the instrument. And Sidney knew how it was meant; she smiled into his eyes and drew down her veil briskly.

"Then we'll say at three," she said calmly, and took an orderly and unflurried departure.

But the little seed of tenderness had taken root. Sidney, passing in the last week or two from girlhood to womanhood,--outgrowing Joe, had she only known it, as she had outgrown the Street,--had come that day into her first contact with a man of the world. True, there was K. Le Moyne. But K. was now of the Street, of that small world of one dimension that she was leaving behind her.

She sent him a note at noon, with word to Tillie at Mrs. McKee's to put it under his plate:--

DEAR MR. LE MOYNE,--I am so excited I can hardly write. Dr. Wilson, the surgeon, is going to take me through the hospital this afternoon. Wish me luck. SIDNEY PAGE.

K. read it, and, perhaps because the day was hot and his butter soft and the other "mealers" irritable with the heat, he ate little or no luncheon. Before he went out into the sun, he read the note again. To his jealous eyes came a vision of that excursion to the hospital. Sidney, all vibrant eagerness, luminous of eye, quick of bosom; and Wilson, sardonically smiling, amused and interested in spite of himself. He drew a long breath, and thrust the note in his pocket.

The little house across the way sat square in the sun. The shades of his windows had been lowered against the heat. K. Le Moyne made an impulsive movement toward it and checked himself.

As he went down the Street, Wilson's car came around the corner. Le Moyne moved quietly into the shadow of the church and watched the car go by.

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"k" - Chapter 5 "k" - Chapter 5

"k" - Chapter 5
CHAPTER VSidney and K. Le Moyne sat under a tree and talked. In Sidney's lap lay a small pasteboard box, punched with many holes. It was the day of releasing Reginald, but she had not yet been able to bring herself to the point of separation. Now and then a furry nose protruded from one of the apertures and sniffed the welcome scent of pine and buttonball, red and white clover, the thousand spicy odors of field and woodland. "And so," said K. Le Moyne, "you liked it all? It didn't startle you?" "Well, in one way, of course--you see, I

"k" - Chapter 1 "k" - Chapter 1

"k" - Chapter 1
CHAPTER IThe Street stretched away north and south in two lines of ancient houses that seemed to meet in the distance. The man found it infinitely inviting. It had the well-worn look of an old coat, shabby but comfortable. The thought of coming there to live pleased him. Surely here would be peace--long evenings in which to read, quiet nights in which to sleep and forget. It was an impression of home, really, that it gave. The man did not know that, or care particularly. He had been wandering about a long time--not in years, for he was less than thirty.