The story of a girl who discovered that the price of happiness is not measured in money
HIS Uncle Ben, Dr. Carriburton, stood there for a moment, grimly regarding this crazed young man who lay strapped to the hospital bed, shouting at the white ceiling. A nurse stood beside the doctor and took the hypodermic needle that he handed to her. Dr. Carriburton leaned over, touching two long, capable fingers to the hot brow of the patient. Then he examined the pulse for a few seconds. Returning his watch to his pocket he said:
“I have to go. I have an appendix that should have been out half an hour ago. I’ll be at the Stephens. If I’m needed, let me know.”
And he went abruptly to the door at the far end of the room, hurrying out.
Not half a minute later, another door at the head ofthe bed opened, and a blonde young doctor in a white coat thrust his head in, then stepped aside to let in a girl.
She was a dark-eyed girl, with lips like trembling red petals and cream-white hands that made a helpless little gesture toward the patient, reaching out toward him. The blonde young doctor said something in an undertone and shut the door.
And the young man in the bed raised his mad voice at the top of his lungs.
Eyes wide, staring at the ceiling, seeing nothing. The white immaculate room rang to the sound of his cries, the terrible cries of a man talking out of delirium; mad, awful delirium.
Beside the bed the girl sat. With one hand she tried to hold his, but he pulled it away with taut, stiff gestures, striving to get his arm from under the strap that bound it.
On the other side of the bed stood the white-faced nurse, gazing^down at the patient, her cold blue eyes moving from the prostrate figure to the girl who sat beside him.
For an instant the patient became quiet. The girl took his hand once more, and with her other hand reached out and touched a cool caress to his hot, fevered brow. Her fingers moved gently across his forehead, above the white cocoon over each eye, where cuts had been set to mend; her palm lingered, smoothed back thick black hair.
But his repose was short. He snatched his hand out of her grasp, and as if that touch of hers startled his delirium into life once more, he began to talk wildly to an invisible listener.
It was a mad review of a fight. He was fighting every round of it again, striking every blow, taking every stunning, killing punch. He was being terrifically punished about the head; blows that he couldn’t stop, blows that were jolting him loose from sanity. He gabbled inarticulately, then became vivid with cruel moments of exhausting, gruelling rounds; with dazed words to his seconds; with spoken thoughts to the bell that kept driving him up to that awful beating . . .
The girl at his side was Rufus Luke. Her first name was really Ruth, but to this man who lay there on the bed—to this man she was Rufus, or more often Rufushoney. And now she sat there with heart pounding, fear squeezing her into a torment of silence when to scream with him would have been a relief.
A small girl, dark, slender, with delicately chiselled flippant features now white as ivory from the fear that had rooted so deeply in her heart.
For she thought that she was going to lose him. Vaguely, in the back of her head she had the idea that if he couldn’t be quieted by some means or other he would go permanently insane—perhaps die.
She strove vainly to calm him with the touch of her hand. It had soothed him when he had come to her, tired, worried and fretful; but it wouldn’t work now. She tried to keep her hand steady and did so by sheer will power, for she felt that she must not communicate to him any fear, any dread, any apprehension.
She had sat there for minutes. It had seemed hours, ages. She was staring at his face; agonized,‘she listened to his cries without hearing what he said; leaning forward and caressing his forehead with desperate quietude and trying to hold his hand.
Suddenly the door opened. At first Rufus Luke did not glance up. Her distant thought was that it was only a nurse.
A nurse was there, but with her were two women who were not nurses. Rufus looked up. One of the women was a stern, severe-faced dragon, grey as steel and quite
as hard; the other was a corn-silk blonde girl with impersonal, cold eyes. They were his mother and the girl that his mother had wanted him to marry—Althea Bruce. They were his kind—blue-bloods; but they were more than that, or less: a gargoyle and a cigar store Indian’s squaw, frozen-faced even in that terrible moment when they stood there gazing at this wreck of a man and his mind.
For a moment Rufus’s eyes met those of his mother— Peter’s mother—Mrs. Carriburton, much holier-thanthou, far wealthier, and way, way up on the social ladder; and though Rufus was not frightened by that stare, she was for the moment shrivelled by it. At another time it would not have disturbed her. But now, sick with grief as she was, all her poise was gone. She started.
After all, this was his mother. And no room was big enough for her and these two women. She got up quickly, letting go of Peter’s hand. Peter was still shouting. He did not know that anyone had come in. He did not know that Rufus had left his side. He was fighting savagely, desperately; smothered by those brain-dulling blows.
And then a thing happened that startled Rufus. She had moved toward the door through which she had entered. At once Althea Bruce slid into the chair beside the bed and reached for Peter’s hand, bending her tall form over him, her fingers smoothing his brow.
“Peter, dear,” she said softly.
Peter’s response was like that of a tiny child to its mother’s voice. He ceased to struggle with his bonds. His shouts dwindled away. The room became suddenly quiet of his voice, except for a faint mewing sound, which lasted but half a minute and was then gone. Peter lay quiet. He was relaxing. He didn’t draw his hand away.
“Peter, dear,” said Althea Bruce softly. “There— rest, Peter. Rest.”
Rufus looked from Peter’s quiet face to Althea and then to Mrs. Carriburton. The latter was now bending over her son.
They had made him quiet. They had brought him peace. Peter was resting. He was with his own kind. He could be at ease with them. Even in his half-insane condition he knew that they were here.
Rufus went out, closing the door softly lest she disturb Peter. She was in a half-daze. When it had come to a show-down she couldn’t measure up. It took Althea Bruce. Well, Mrs. Carriburton had said it. Peter had had breeding and culture and education. He needed a girl who had had the same things. Only that kind of girl could do anything for him. A plaything wasn’t any good except in playtime. And people can’t be playing all their lives. Now, for instance.
Rufus, who was merely somebody’s stenographer, hadn’t believed it until now. But now it had been proved to her.
^\UTSIDE the door of that room she stood, pressing a hot hand to her face.
What should she do? What should she do? She had a desperate idea that she might go back to Slugger Burns and throw herself on his mercy. Slugger would have his own brutal way of effecting a reconciliation, but he would marry her. That would save Peter a lot of deciding, and it would save their making a terrible mistake and finding out about it later on.
But it was not easy to decide this way. Not when the bloom of love was full. She remembered it when it had been only a green little bud—a lovely, promising little bud .
She had met him on the night when Slugger Burns had fought Soup Maloney, the Kerry Idol. Why she had gone to that fight she didn’t know. She wasn’t Slug’s girl that night. Slug had forfeited all right to call her his girl. She’d found out that he didn’t know what it was to stick to one girl and play square, and she gave him back his ring.
“Awright,” said Slug, pocketing the diamond, “but you’ll get over being this way. When you get ready, come around and make up.” Not bitter about it, for Slug thought it was only a temporary whim. He was too conceited to believe that it could be anything else.
He asked her to come to the fight and gave her a ticket. She didn’t want to go, but she promised him, and she went.
Sitting in a ringside seat, she saw Peter in another, just down there at the corner of the ring, seated at an angle, so that they could look at each other without craning their necks. He was a big fellow with a straight, distinguished nose and a very whimsical mouth that almost seemed to be saying something to her—an utter stranger.
He sat there, looking at her. He was in evening clothes and was with a party of men and girls, the cream of society, you’d say; and they were all just a little bit tight, or acted it, and were having a whale of a good time as Slug Burns taught the Kerry Idol how to kiss the mat.
Slug was in fine form that night. Their breaking off hadn’t upset him. He was sure that he was too good a guy for Ruthie Luke to lose.
Peter, however, was not spending much of his time watching the fine form of Slug Burns. He was too intent on the piquant little girl in the bird-like attitude, who kept looking from the ring to him and then back to the ring.
When it was all over, when Slug had proudly dropped the Kerry Idol for the last time and the crowd began to swarm out, Peter detached himself from Althea Bruce and the rest of his party and found Rufus in the crush near the outer doors.
He was beside her and was squeezed up against her by the wedging throng, and as she looked up at him he said determinedly:
“See here, I’m not going to let you get away like this.” Rufus’s eyes danced. There was no liquor on his breath.
“Why not?” she asked.
“You know why not!” he returned; and he took her arm quickly and they let the crowd sweep them out to the street and down it, and soon he drew her away into a quieter side street, in the shadow of a great building.
“Listen, kidnapper,” she said, “there’s no ransom out for me.”
“That being the cáse,” he returned gravely, “I’ll hold you without ransom.”
“There’s a law against it, isn’t there?”
He shook his head, and his dark eyes smiled.
“Not against spraining your disbelief in love at first sight.”
Her lips opened in a slow and delightful expression. “Sprained it? But you didn’t break it, did you?” Her smile drew a like one to his lips.
“One leg of it is sprained,” he said, “but the other is hopelessly broken.”
“You ought to be able to hobble home on the one leg, if it’s partly good.”
“Well, to tell the truth,” he replied, “if I weren’t too shy and modest I’d admit that both are broken clean through.”
“But you are too shy and modest?”
“Much,” he assured her.
She looked off to the avenue, where the crowds were passing.
“That’s too bad,” she said. “I like violets, but only the kind that comes out of a florist’s.”
“Is there anything else that you like that I might approach?” he asked.
She stood off and surveyed his tall, well-proportioned figure. Then she said:
“You saw Slug Burns in there tonight. Perhaps you looked at the ring once or twice. Well, not so long ago I was engaged to marry him—before he got himself a harem.”
“So you like fighters, eh? Well, I won’t let you down
entirely. I was heavyweight champ over at Carford. Am I any easier to like now?”
Her eyes lighted, and it was apparent that it pleased her, whether or not it had anything to do with liking him more.
“A big, baby-faced college champ,” she said musingly. “I like the idea. But I’ve always thought college boys were such a bunch of measles.”
“They’re anything you say they are,” he agreed, “if you’ll let me take you home.”
She fixed a steady gaze on him.
“There’s no doorway,” she said slowly; “and even if there is one, there’s a bright light in it.”
“Even that’s all right,” he said, “just so long as it’s a long way to your home.”
She gave him a funny little smile that finished him. “It’s not far if we take a cab,” she said, “but it’s a very long way if we walk;” which was a plain invitation to walk it, under the circumstances.
' I 'HAT was the way it happened. He had walked right away from Althea Bruce and right into Rufus’s life as if he belonged there.
He wasn’t at all shocked to find that Rufus lived in a pretty poor brick building, in a neighborhood with many squalid persons who battled daily with old man Poverty. He wasn’t even shocked to find out that Rufus had ever so many little brothers, squealing and howling little fiends, compared to whom the imps of Satan were cherubim and seraphim; nor that Rufus’s father carried only a mediocre, though honest, hod in the hodcarriers’ union; nor that her mother was a very plain, unlettered and humble soul; nor that, all in all, Rufus’s ancestors were no genealogical delight.
It seems that he found out all this within a week of meeting her, and Rufus’s stock didn’t go down any with him for it. With many a person, brought up as Peter had been and used to other things, as he was, it would have meant curtains for Rufus.
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Playing aimlessly after the close of his college days, with no responsibility of any kind to occupy his mind, Peter was being pretty well fed up on girls like Althea Bruce, stone ladies of immaculate perfection in poise. There were so many of them who were coolly twirling their nooses to drop over his head, mainly because some day he was going to come into a great deal of his mother’s money. They were a stereotyped lot. For a long time Peter had been resigned to them. They were his kind. He’d eventually have to marry one of them and breed more exactly like them.
But now he had met Rufus. She was like cognac after a long diet of a stupid, muddy ale. She sparkled with an apt tongue; she never posed consciously, and when she did unconsciously, it was like a bird posing on a tree branch, delicately, with an exquisite air of happiness. This happiness was the result of the discovery that she loved Peter and that Peter loved her, a very neat little discovery made so quickly on the night that they had met.
This was the ointment. For a while there was no fly in it. But Althea Bruce, in spite of stoic restraint, could not swallow this forever. Peter, her once devoted, was neglecting her. He scarcely ever saw her. Althea suspected that there was another woman, but certainly not that it was one outside of their set. By discreet hinting she brought it to the cool consciousness of Mrs. Howard Carriburton, Peter’s mother.
“My dear,” said Peter’s mother to her son, one morning at breakfast, “you are neglecting Althea shamefully.”
Peter made something of a snort over his grapefruit, an expression that registered his present estimate of Althea Bruce.
“I’m sick to death of Althea,” he said. “She hasn’t any claim on me and hasn’t any right to feel neglected. That’s the trouble with these women, mother. Show them a little time and they think you are theirs for ever.”
Mrs. Carriburton touched her thin lips with the corner of a brilliantly white napkin.
“I thought you were pretty fond of Althea,” she remarked.
“Fond of her? Certainly I’m fond of her. I’m fond of them all. And I hate them all. Oh, I’m fed up with them; that’s what. They’re all right, but they’re a bunch of frozen-faces, and you can’t expect a man to live on a diet of icicles all his life.”
This was a distinct shock to Mrs. Carriburton. She had always thought that Althea and the rest of the select group of girls were just the kind that Peter ought to go with all his life. She had had the ghost of an idea that Peter had found some girl out of his own class who was interesting him at the present moment, but she was quite stunned to learn that he was so fiercely set against the girls who equalled his own social advantages.
Without raising her eyes from her plate she said:
“Peter, you are interested in some girl who is—er—?”
Peter laid down his spoon.
“Who hasn’t got money or social position or anything else,” said he, “except the sweetest disposition in the world and more unaffected beauty than Althea and the rest of that tribe put together!”
He had spoken a little warmly, but his mother continued her reserved calm.
“Peter,” she wept on, “I don’t begrudge your idle moments with this girl, whoever she is. I simply want to remind you that you are a Carriburton and that, when the right time comes, you must marry properly. For your own sake, you must. You’re twenty-five years old. You’ve been reared with the best of everything. You couldn’t do with less. You’d
never be happy. You’d never be satisfied. Understand?”
But with the passing of time Mrs. Carriburton grew somewhat alarmed. The signs all were that Peter was serious about this affair. Why, he might even marry the girl! Mrs. Carriburton wanted to see this young person who had such a vulgar-sounding name as Luke. It reminded her of Jukes, and she was the least bit afraid that there might be some affinity between the families. Mrs. Carriburton was something of a wise old owl, though a stuffed one, and she wanted to parade the Luke girl before Peter’s eyes in the presence of the girls of his set, to smite him with the contrast.
“Bring her to tea,” she said to Peter; and Peter knew the reason but wasn’t afraid. He believed that Rufus could hold her own anywhere.
It happened that Peter’s Uncle Ben— Dr. Benjamin Carriburton, of great fame in the surgical world—was at that tea. As a matter of fact, he had dropped in at the request of his dead brother’s wife. Uncle Ben was a very tall bachelor with a distinguished bald dome, a pink, plump face, and a certain pleasant amount of fat distributed about his anatomy in the places that demand it to make a person congenial and lovable.
“What’s this?” he said to his sister-inlaw. “Peter having an affair with some common sort of person? Oh, dear, no. That can’t be. Peter isn’t that kind of boy. He has instincts that you don’t appear to understand, my dear. He wouldn’t cheapen himself.”
Mrs. Carriburton shrugged.
“I thought he had those instincts that I don’t appear to understand,” she retorted, “but he is trying very hard to prove to me that he hasn’t.”
“Well, well,” said Uncle Ben, folding those large, capable hands that had saved so many lives, “we’ll just have to see what this girl is like.”
When Peter brought Rufus, nearly everybody else was already at the tea— all of them women except for Peter and Uncle Ben, who wasn’t on the scene when Rufus arrived. Althea Bruce wasn’t there at all. Somehow or other it had got round that this was the chance to see the girl for whom Peter Carriburton was neglecting Althea. And you could hardly have expected Althea to have any desire to come face to face with her rival under everybody’s eyes. Althea wasn’t up to such a situation.
Uncle Ben went in to see what the girl was like. He found her a slim little goddess in the plainest and closest-fitting dark transparent velvet, with a little bowl of a hat and the simplest shoes he had ever seen. Dark hair peeped out from under the hat rather mischievously, and her good-sized and widely-separated black eyes sparkled in contrast to so many bored, indifferent and condescending eyes about her.
She was with Peter when Uncle Ben walked in. He came straight for them, approved immediately, and when he had been presented, drew Rufus away into a corner.
“Well,” he said, “they haven’t torn you to pieces, have they?”
Rufus saw at once that he was all right, that he understood somehow, and that he was on her side. She shook her head.
“No,” she replied, “and yet, you know, I’m a little sorry that I came.” For a few moments her smile, at once aggressive and defensive, faded.
“Why?” demanded Uncle Ben. “You’re carrying it off like a general.”
“It’s because I don’t belong here,” she told him. “I came to please Peter. I had to practise a great deal in front of a mirror. I don’t know why I’m telling
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you. I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone else.”
“Bravo!” exclaimed Uncle Ben. “I understand. I admire you. I admire pluck. And I enjoy and respect a confidence.”
Her smile returned.
“Perhaps you think I’m silly,” she said.
He raised a capable hand in protest.
“Oh, dear no!” he said. “I know what it is to fight battles. I’ve fought ’em myself. You’re fighting for Peter, aren’t you—against all these people and his family, his traditions and everything else? Well, you listen to an old man. You can lick ’em all. I know people. I know. You fight ’em all for Peter. He’s a good boy. He loves you and you love him— that’s so, isn’t it? Well, you fight ’em. But remember, it takes subtle weapons— always. And if you get stuck, come and see me.”
For a moment her face was grave again. Uncle Ben remarked to himself that it was sweetly grave.
“But you’re one of his family,” she murmured. “Why should you talk to me this way?”
Uncle Ben glanced up. Like a great hovering pirate vessel, his sister-in-law was bearing down upon this trim, pleasant little barque.
But she wasn’t here yet. Dr. Benjamin Carriburton smiled faintly, confidentially.
“Because we’re a lot of snobs,” he said, looking at his watch, “and we need someone like you in the family.”
Almost before Rufus knew it, Peter’s Uncle Ben was gone and she was standing there talking to his mother. It was like talking to a highly restrained breath of north wind. Rufus never remembered what was said as they stood there. She only knew that she held her own. Then Mrs. Carriburton said, with a kind of chill sweetness:
“My dear, I want you to come in here and talk with me for a little while.”
Peter, watching from a circle of débutantes, saw them go but had no fear.
They sat opposite each other in the library and Mrs. Carriburton got round to the real reason for inviting Rufus to tea.
“My dear,” she said, not unkindly, “I want us to understand each other. I like you. I like you much better than I thought I would. You’re a very attractive girl and I don’t blame Peter in the least for finding that you please him.”
Rufus’s chin went up a fraction of an inch.
“Now, Peter, you must understand,” Mrs. Carriburton continued, “is, after all, j only a young boy, just out of college, and I he scarcely knows his mind. He thinks that you are sweet and nice and lovable— which you are, my dear. I say so myself.
“But, you see, you and Peter are so far apart. All his life he has been surrounded by wealth, luxury, everything that money can mean. He has had education, breeding, culture; he has family tradition and a long line of ancestors all of whom have pursued family tradition zealously. Carriburtons don’t marry out of their own class.” Rufus was steeling herself not to interrupt.
“Peter is like all the other Carriburtons. He needs a girl who has had the same things he has had. Only that kind of girl can do anything for him. He is a very sensitive, high-strung boy, my dear. He is enjoying your company. I am glad if it makes him happy. But he is just playing and he can’t be playing all his life. Do I make myself clear?”
Rufus sat very still, curbing the things that came to her lips. Finally she said, thinking of Peter’s Uncle Ben:
“Mrs. Carriburton, I wouldn’t hurt Peter for the world. When I get the first sign from him that I don’t measure up, I’ll not see him again. But until then I’m afraid I’ll have to displease you by loving him and letting him love me.”
The room grew very quiet and cold. Mrs. Carriburton got up.
“If he marries you,” she said bitterly, “you’ll both be paupers.” And she went out.
I ATE that night Peter drove round to J Rufus’s home. From beneath her window he urged her to dress and come down, and when they sat in his car in the dark street he told her.
“I had it out with mother. You wouldn’t tell me what she said to you. Well, she did. And she pulled that old gag about cutting me off without a penny if I married you.”
Rufus was sick.
“I want you to marry me,” Peter said. “Oh, no, darling,” protested Rufus and broke down and began to cry. But later she gave in.
And yet she feared later still that he might have turned to her out of a sense of chivalry. His mother’s words rankled, and she couldn’t forget them.
Peter had a few hundred dollars of his own. With two hundred he bought Rufus an engagement ring and spent a great deal of time racking his brain and wondering how he was going to get on his feet so that they could be married. He knew plenty of places where he could get jobs, but it would be two or three years before he could earn enough to support a wife decently.
He wanted to make money in a hurry and he could see only one way. The prize ring. He didn’t know how he would shape up with professional boxers, but he meant to find out. He knew Mike Garcelon who managed fighters, and went to see him.
“Sure,” said Mike, “I’ll manage you. If you’ll work hard I can make something out of you; and if it’s money you’re after, I can get you in the dough just as soon as you shape up.”
In three months he was making good money. Mike Garcelon had been able to develop quickly the talents that had made Peter formidable in the amateur field. He fought under a nom de combat: Gentleman Bill Squires.
It meant a little constant heartbreak for Rufus. It was all right for Slugger Burns to be a prize fighter, because he was exactly that. But Peter wasn’t cut out for that kind of life. Mrs. Carriburton’s words cut into Rufus’s heart. ■ Already, because of her, he had dropped from the ranks of the foremost in social life to the rôle of an insignificant boxer. Because of her! How it worried her. A woman who took her man away from the better things he could have—did she measure up?
And when she looked at Peter’s face, grown grimly lean from training and the hard determination to make money; when she remembered the merry fullness of his cheeks when she had first met him on that jolly night, then again she wondered if she measured up.
It was cruel, the way she kept testing herself, becoming more and more fearful each time. Peter went on telling her that he was happy and that things were going great and that soon they’d be on top of the pile and would be able to get married. And the next night he was knocked out cold by a bruiser with only one punch. What was worse, that beating strangely robbed him of the ability to take punishment. Thereafter, a head punch left him dazed, staring, with a queer sensation. Rufus was frightened.
It was a short time after this that Slugger Burns reappeared.
“I hear that you took up with a slamand-egger, Ruthie,” he said. “Couldn’t stand prosperity, could you?”
“He’s no slam-and-egger. He’s making his way—and he’ll get there! And if you’re the prosperity you’re talking about, you’re right: I couldn’t stand you. And I haven’t changed any! Good-by till never!”
But she didn’t feel so flippant inside. Slug had given his honest rating of Peter. It hurt.
And Slugger Burns was the kind of man who liked to prove that what he said was true. His manager spent a little time in Mike Garcelon’s office, and after an agreement had been reached, Peter told Rufus.
“I’ve just signed the best chance yet. It’s your old has-been, Slugger Burns. If I can take him, it means quick strides up the ladder, Rufus-honey.”
“Dog meat,” said Slugger Burns and went to work on the heavy bag. “I’ll grind him up for weenies.”
That fight! That dreadful fight! Slug had gone out to kill him. It was a grudge fight. Slug had the worst punch in the business, and Peter was in no shape to take that terrific head punishment.
In the fourth round there was a strange light in his eye. He kept talking—talking —a thing that he didn’t usually do inside the ropes. Slug Burns kept grinning at him with one side of his hard face and driving home everything he had to the head.
When the bell sounded after that round, Peter walked around in three little circles and Joe Gratt had to come out and yank him into his corner. As he sat there on his stool he kept talking . . . talking. Rufus could see him. The light in his eyes was frightening. But the referee didn’t stop the fight.
He fought the next round in a desperate, half-wild manner, always keeping his feet but taking enough to send most men down. Slugger would point him off with his cutting left, setting him just so for his right, and hammer it over with his huge back and shoulders behind it. Peter stood up to him and slammed in right and left like a wound-up automaton, but for the most part his punches were falling on Slugger’s arms and shoulders.
“Rave on, dog meat,” said Slugger, and the bell clanged. Slugger retreated to his corner like a cat, but Peter kept on fighting. He stood there in the centre of the ring, fighting it out, ducking and weaving, jolting short lefts into the air, following through with wide, reaching rights that plunged fiercely into the empty air. And he kept on talking . . . raving . . . cursing . . .
For a few seconds the crowd watched him, stunned. A quick hush fell, an awed hush, and Peter’s words were audible to those near the ring. Then someone shouted :
“He’s gone bats! Punch crazy! He’s punch crazy!”
A great roar swept over the throng. Peter’s seconds came out for him. Confusion. The crowd surged out of seats to ringside. Rufus was pinned hopelessly in the crowd and couldn’t get near. But she could see Peter, still fighting; fighting his seconds, his manager and the referee. Tears poured down her white face, but she didn’t know that she was crying. She was straining to see what was happening to Peter; to get near him. They had got him out between the ropes and were half-carrying him down into the throng, where the police were making way for him. Then she lost sight of him.
When she managed to get out of there and around to the rear door where the dressing rooms were, they told her that Peter had already been sent away toa hospital, and when they told her which one, she went out and through the blinding flood of tears found a drug store and a telephone book.
“ . . . Hello . . . hello . . . hello . . . Dr. Carriburton? This is . . . It’s about Peter. P-Peter. They’ve taken him to the Great Heart Hospital. Something terrible has happened to him. I th-think he’s gone insane. I th-think ...”
Dr. Carriburton hung up abruptly. Stunned, Rufus sat in the phone booth for a minute. It was only then that she really knew she was crying. She sat there very still and tried to stem the tide; and when she had succeeded to a fair degree she put a little powder on her nose and went out.
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At the curb she hailed a cab and directed the driver to take her to the Great Heart Hospital.
When she got there they told her she couldn’t see Peter. He wasn’t any better. They didn’t know when he would be.
Rufus sat in the corridor on a hard bench. A blond young doctor with an eye for her piquancy told her confidentially that he would arrange for her to see Peter as soon as possible. She could stay and wait if she wanted. Perhaps it could be tonight.
As she sat waiting, Dr. Carriburton hurried in, his great form towering in the corridor. He was past her before she looked up and recognized him, and though she wanted to speak to him, she couldn’t delay him from his visit to Peter.
Some time later, whether it was minutes or hours she did not know, the blond doctor came and spoke gently to her.
“I think I can take you up now. Come this way.”
They went up two flights of immaculate white steps and down a white corridor, and as they neared the door she heard faintly the sound of Peter’s voice. The doctor touched her wrist with a cool hand. She looked up at him.
“I may as well tell you,” he said, “that he’s in rather a bad way at present. He’s not lucid at all. If we can quiet him down, his chances are much better. I think that if you will go in there and speak to him— very gently, mind—and perhaps hold his hand calmly, you may be able to do something for him; help quiet him down. No hysteria, now,” he warned, opening the door. “Go in.” He went away down the corridor.
Rufus looked at the nurse on the farther side of the bed. She was picking up a white tray of instruments. Rufus sat down in the chair beside Peter. His cries were horrible. Rufus was trembling, but she controlled that agitation before she reached out to take his hand . . .
Then his mother and Althea Bruce had come. And Peter had begun to rest . . .
C^SUTSIDE the door of that room where he lay, quiet now with his own people, Rufus stood, pressing a hot hand to her face.
Bewildered, she left the hospital, her heart sinking lower and lower, until the sensation of diffuse, dull pain was torture.
What should she do? She had pulled Peter down from everything that belonged to him and had brought him to that bed, utterly helpless. It was getting plainer to her now; that she wasn’t good for Peter; that he’d be a lot better off in the end without her. Mrs. Carriburton had been right.
She wakened finally with an aching head and a wretchedly sick heart. The first thing she did when she left the house was to telephone the hospital. They told her that he had rested comfortably the entire night, and that this morning he was very weak but quite sane and conscious.
The impulse to go there and see him was almost overpowering. One moment she felt that she ought to go, the next she knew that the sooner she got out of his life the better it would be for both of them. She had to force herself to go to the office and during the morning she kept fighting it out with herself, with little of her mind on her work.
When her lunch hour came she yielded to the impulse to go and went over in a cab. She saw the blond young doctor.
“He’s asleep now,” he told her. “Quite comfortable. Don’t worry. He’ll be all right in a few days.”
She gave him such a grateful look that he was tempted to kiss her, for they were alone in the corridor, and he was a very young doctor and grateful people had more than once kissed him when he wished they wouldn’t. But this time there was no kiss.
Rufus went back to the office with less
weight in her heart. Halfway through the afternoon she went to the telephone with a stubborn determination and called Slugger Burns.
“Hello,” said the Slugger in a confidential tone. “Who’s this?”
But there was no reply. That stubborn determination had wilted.
"p'OR a whole week they kept Peter in the hospital and Rufus went to see him every night. She wanted to see as much of him as she possibly could, for as soon as he was strong and on his feet she was going to run away and leave him for Althea. She had come to the conclusion that it was the best way out for them.
During that week she made arrangements to be transferred to a branch office of the company she worked for and also made plans to stay with an aunt.
Then she wrote a note for Peter and gave it to the blond young doctor who promised to see that it was delivered when Peter was on his feet, dressed and ready to go, which was now definitely settled for Monday morning.
On Sunday night, after her last visit to Peter, after kissing him good-by for the last time and trying not to make it feel like a farewell kiss, she went right to the station, where she had checked her bags, and caught the train for Bedford, a hundred and fifty miles away, where she was going to hide from Peter until he forgot all about her, married Althea and re-established himself in all that belonged to him.
And after four hours on the train and a very unsatisfactory night’s sleep in a strange, hard bed at her aunt’s, with a nerve-racking day at the new office to make things worse, a meagre lunch and an untouched dinner, little wonder that her poor heart went vaulting over impossible hurdles and fell down very heavily into some kind of dark and deep ditch when she heard that strange yet familiar voice booming downstairs in the hallway.
Discovered ! She was discovered ! In a kind of panic she went to the window and threw it open, for the closeness of the room suddenly began to choke her.
A moment later there was a knock on the door and the voice in which she said “Come in” was the oddest possible, panicky voice for her.
The door opened. In the light of the hallway she saw the tall, impressive form, looming up to fill the entire doorway.
Rufus was over by the window, whither she had retreated in search of air.
“Hello,” said Dr. Carriburton in a half-friendly, half-professional tone “Didn’t expect me, did you?”
She felt very small and insignificant as she watched him sit down and set aside his hat and walking stick.
“So here you are,” he went on, still rather impersonally. “Your sensible mother told me where you were. Ran away and left Peter, eh? What did you do it for?”
She sat down on the bed and shrank up a little.
“Because ...” She didn’t want to tell him, but she felt like a private in the presence of his general. “Because I thought it was best for Peter.”
“I don’t understand,” said the doctor.
She bit her lip and went on.
“I mean, he ought to have somebody like Althea Bruce. You see, she’s what he’s used to. And if he marries her, he can have all the things he’s always been accustomed to having all his life. He needs them, I know. You can’t grow up with nice things and lots of money and then give them up all of a sudden. I couldn’t, I know. I don’t see why Peter should have to.”
The doctor stared at her.
“Look here,” he demanded, “do you love Peter or don’t you?”
She nodded gently, her eyes meeting his.
“So much that I think this is the best way out.”
Continued on page 42
Continued from page 40
Dr. Carriburton made a face as if he smelled something but couldn’t tell what it was.
“I’m very stupid,” he said. “I can’t see that it’s any kind of way out at all.” For an instant she felt that if she didn’t find a little steel somewhere she would agree with him unreservedly, so she sat very erect and said:
“Well, it’s my way out. And please don’t try to do anything about it.”
Puzzled, the doctor wrinkled his very straight nose, a nose exactly like Peter’s.
“When did you decide all this?” he asked. “Didn’t you choose a pretty awkward time—just after he’s been ill?” “But I didn’t decide just now,” she insisted. “I decided a week ago, the first night he was in the hospital. I didn’t want to, but I came face to face with it and there wasn’t anything else I could do.”
“What do you mean—face to face with it? Face to face with what? With the fact that he’d be better off with Althea Bruce? Well, what on earth brought you face to face with that?”
Rufus’s lip trembled.
“When I was a little girl, doctor, ever so little, I nearly died of typhoid fever. And when I used to be unconscious and raving, my mother would come in and take my hand and hold it, and as soon as she did, I’d quiet down and behave. I never really knew she was there, but somehow I felt, I guess, that there was someone there who was so absolutely indispensable to me. I didn’t react that way when anyone else held my hand. Not even my father. He’s a darling but he’s—he’s not mother.
“That night when they took Peter to the hospital I went there and sat beside him and held his hand, but he just kept on raving and ranting and fighting that awful fight in his imagination—and I couldn’t do a thing to quiet him down.
“And then Althea Bruce came in with Peter’s mother, and Althea just sat down beside him and took his hand and spoke his name and he—he b-b-became quiet as a la-lamb right away; because you see Althea’s the kind of person Peter is used to. And if I couldn’t be as much as that to him, why I’d—I’d rather—I think we shouldn’t be serious about a f-foolish infat-fat-fatuation !”
“Now, now,” insisted Dr. Carriburton. “No showers. No showers, please.”
But Rufus disregarded his stipulation and began to dab at her eyes with a little handkerchief, and Dr. Carriburton sat there opposite her with his large bald head tilted a little to one side, his brow working with the puzzling element that the matter contained.
Then all of a sudden he solved it and said:
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear me.” Rufus
looked up. “Where is the telephone in this house? It’s worth a long-distance call. It’s worth it easily. Come along now and show me where that telephone is.”
He put through a call to the Great Heart Hospital and asked for Dr. Harris. That was the blonde young doctor.
“Would you be good enough, doctor, to get hold of the hospital record and charts of Peter Carriburton and bring them to the phone? I’ll hold the wire.”
Some minutes later the blonde young doctor returned to the other end of the wire and said that he was ready. Dr. Carriburton put the receiver in Rufus’s hand and motioned to her to listen.
“Go ahead, doctor,” said Peter’s Uncle Ben, and this is what Rufus heard:
“ . . . Peter Carriburton . . . brought into hospital in condition of acute mania, resulting from blows received in prize fight. Great psychomotor activity associated with hallucinations. Lacerations, abrasions and contusions of face and forehead cleansed and dressed . . . Hypodermic of morphine sulphate, one quarter grains, in combination with hyoscine hydrobromide, grains one one-hundredand-fiftieth administered subcutaneously to quell violent physical outbursts; given at 11:15 p. m. by Dr. Carriburton. Patient did not begin to quiet down until about 11:25 ...”
“My dear,” said Dr. Carriburton when they had rung off, “Peter was in such an overwrought condition, and he’s a man of such powerful physique that the morphia took a good ten minutes to work. I knew that it might, but I didn’t think it would cause all this trouble. Apparently Althea got there just as it began to do things to him. Now, do you see what a silly little goose you’ve been? What an imagination you have! Nobody could have done anything for him by just sitting there and holding his hand. He was too far gone, child. But not nearly so far gone as he is on you, to put it frankly and without finesse. And that means that he needs you far more than he needs Althea Bruce. Do I make myself clear?”
Rufus’s dark eyes had begun to get very large and the next instant Dr. Carriburton knew what it was to be hugged and kissed by a soft armful of a girl like Rufus. Doctors are lucky people. They run into so much gratitude, in one way or another.
He waited patiently for her to get through and even held her close a little bit when she was through. But then he remembered that he hadn’t come on this journey alone and he went to the door, opened it and said loudly to his big car that stood out there in the dark:
“Peter, Peter! Do you hear? Come in at once. If this young lady has to kiss somebody, it might as well be you!”