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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 2. The Kernel Of The Difficulty
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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 2. The Kernel Of The Difficulty Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2615

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The Knave Of Diamonds - Part 2 - Chapter 2. The Kernel Of The Difficulty


"I want to know!" said Capper, with extreme deliberation.

He was the best-known surgeon in the United States, and he looked like nothing so much as a seedy Evangelical parson. Hair, face, beard, all bore the same distinguishing qualities, were long and thin and yellow. He sat coiled like a much-knotted piece of string, and he seemed to possess the power of moving any joint in his body independently of the rest. He cracked his fingers persistently when he talked after a fashion that would have been intolerable in anyone but Capper. His hands were always in some ungainly attitude, and yet they were wonderful hands, strong and sensitive, the colour of ivory. His eyes were small and green, sharp as the eyes of a lizard. They seemed to take in everything and divulge nothing.

"What do you want to know?" said Lucas.

He was lying in bed with the spring sunshine full upon him. His eyes were drawn a little. He had just undergone a lengthy examination at the hands of the great doctor.

"Many things," said Capper, somewhat snappishly. "Chief among them, why your tomfool brother--you call him your brother, I suppose?--brought me over here on a fool's errand."

"He is my brother," said Lucas quietly. "And why a fool's errand? Is there something about my case you don't like?"

"There is nothing whatever," said Capper, with an exasperated tug at his pointed beard. "I could make a sound man of you. It wouldn't be easy. But I could do it--given one thing, which I shan't get. Is the sun bothering you?"

He suddenly left his chair, bent over and with infinite gentleness raised his patient to an easier posture and drew forward the curtain.

"I guess I won't talk to you now," he said. "I've given you as much as you can stand and then some already. How's that? Is it comfort?"

"Absolute," Lucas said with a smile. "Don't go, doctor. I am quite able to talk. I suppose matters haven't altered very materially since you saw me last?"

"I don't see why you should suppose that," said Capper. "As a matter of fact things have altered--altered considerably. Say, you don't have those fainting attacks any more?"

"No. I've learnt not to faint." There was a boyishly pathetic note about the words though the lips that uttered them still smiled.

Capper nodded comprehendingly. "But the pain is just as infernal, eh? Only you've the grit to stand against it. Remember the last time I overhauled you? You fainted twice. That's how I knew you would never face it. But I've hurt you worse to-day, and I'm damned if I know how you managed to come up smiling."

"Then why do you surmise that you have been brought here on a fool's errand?" Lucas asked.

"I don't surmise," said Capper. "I never surmise. I know." He began to crack his fingers impatiently, and presently fell to whistling below his breath. "No," he said suddenly, "you've got the physical strength and you've got the spunk to lick creation, but what you haven't got is zeal. You're gallant enough, Heaven knows, but you are not keen. You are passive, you are lethargic. And you ought to be in a fever!"

His fingers dropped abruptly upon Lucas's wrist, and tightened upon it. "That brother of yours that you're so fond of, now if it were he, I could pull him out of the very jaws of hell. He'd catch and hold. But you--you are too near the other place to care. Say, you don't care, do you, not a single red cent? It's all one to you--under Providence--whether you live or die. And if I operated on you to-morrow you'd die--not at once, but sooner or later--from sheer lack of enthusiasm. That's my difficulty. It's too long a business. You would never keep it up."

Lucas did not immediately reply. He lay in the stillness habitual to him, gazing with heavy eyes at the motes that danced in the sunshine.

"I guess I'm too old, doctor," he said at last. "But you are wrong in one sense. I do care. I don't want to die at present."

"Private reasons?" demanded Capper keenly.

"Not particularly. You see, I am the head of the family. I hold myself responsible. My brothers want looking after, more or less."

"Brothers!" sniffed Capper, with supreme contempt. "That consideration wouldn't keep you out of heaven. It's only another reason for holding back."

"Exactly," Lucas said quietly. "I don't know what Nap will say to me. He will call me a shirker. But on the whole, doctor, I think I must hold back a little longer."

"He'd better let me hear him!" growled Capper. "I wish to heaven you were married. That's the kernel of the difficulty. You want a wife. You'd be keen enough then. I shouldn't be afraid of your letting go when I wasn't looking."

"Ah!" Lucas said, faintly smiling. "But what of the wife?"

"She'd be in her element," maintained Capper stoutly. "She'd be to you what the mainspring is to a watch, and glory in it. Haven't you seen such women? I have, scores of 'em, ready made for the purpose. No, you will only go through my treatment with a woman to hold you up. It's a process that needs the utmost vitality, the utmost courage, and--something great to live for--a motive power behind to push you on. There's only one motive power that I can think of strong enough to keep you moving. And that is most unfortunately absent. Find the woman, I tell you, find the woman! And--under Providence--I'll do the rest!"

He dropped back in his chair, cracking his fingers fiercely, his keen eyes narrowly observant of every shade of expression on his patient's face.

Lucas was still smiling, but his eyes had grown absent. He looked unutterably tired.

"Yes," he said slowly at length. "I am afraid you have asked the impossible of me now. But, notwithstanding that, if I could see my way to it, I would place myself in your hands without reservation--and take my chance. There are times now and then--now and then--" his words quickened a little, "when a man would almost give the very soul out of his body to be at peace--to be at peace; times when it's downright agony to watch a fly buzzing up and down the pane and know he hasn't even the strength for that--when every muscle is in torture, and every movement means hell--" He broke off; his lips usually so steady had begun to twitch. "I'm a fool, Capper," he murmured apologetically. "Make allowances for a sick man!"

"Look here!" said Capper. "This is a big decision for you to make off-hand. You can take three months anyway to think it over. You are getting stronger, you know. By then you'll be stronger still. You won't be well. Nothing but surgical measures can ever make you well. And you'll go on suffering that infernal pain. But three months one way or another won't make much difference. I am due in London in September for the Schultz Medical Conference. I'll run over then and see if you've made up your mind."

"Will you, doctor? That's real kind of you." Lucas's eyes brightened. He stretched out a hand which Capper grasped and laid gently down. "And if you undertake the job--"

"If you are fit to go through it," Capper broke in, "I'll do it right away before I leave. You'll spend the winter on your back. And in the spring I'll come again and finish the business. That second operation is a more delicate affair than the first, but I don't consider it more dangerous. By this time next year, or soon after, you'll be walking like an ordinary human being. I'll have you as lissom as an Indian."

He cracked his fingers one after the other in quick succession and rose. A moment he stood looking down at the smooth face that had flushed unwontedly at his words; then bending, he lightly tapped his patient's chest. "Meanwhile, my friend," he said, "you keep a stiff upper lip, and _cherchez la femme--cherchez la femme toujours_! You'll be a sound man some day and she won't mind waiting if she's the right sort."

"Ah!" Lucas said. "You will have to forego that condition, doctor. I am no ladies' man. Shall I tell you what a woman said to me the other day?"


"That I was like a mother to her." Again without much mirth he smiled. His lips were steady enough now.

"I should like to meet that woman," said Capper.


The doctor's hand sought his beard. "P'r'aps she'd tell me I was like a father. Who knows?"

Lucas looked at him curiously. "Are you fond of women?"

"I adore them," said Capper without enthusiasm. He never satisfied curiosity.

Lucas's eyes fell away baffled. "I'll take you to see her this afternoon if you can spare the time," he said.

"Oh, I can spend the afternoon philandering so long as I catch the night train to Liverpool," Capper answered promptly. "Meanwhile you must get a rest while I go and take a dose of air and sunshine in the yard."

His straight, gaunt figure passed to the door, opened it, and disappeared with a directness wholly at variance with his lack of repose when seated.

As for Lucas, he lay quite still for a long while, steadily watching the motes that danced and swam giddily in the sunshine.

Nearly half an hour went by before he stirred at all. And then a heavy sigh burst suddenly from him, shaking his whole body, sending a flicker of pain across his drooping eyelids.

"_Cherchez la femme_!" he said to himself. And again with a quivering smile, "_Cherchez la femme_! God knows she isn't far to seek. But--my dear--my dear!"

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