Should a woman deny her husband the right to risk his life?—A tensely dramatic story of a doctor*s dilemma
YAWNING kitchen where widely, his wife Chris was Bentley cooking bacon came and into eggs. the Pale lemon-yellow sunlight fell through a snowframed window.
“The milk was frozen again this morning,” she said. There was no actual complaint in her voice, yet Chris knew the complaint was there. The querulous tone in her usually soft voice had been increasing lately.
He put his arms around her and kissed her reddish-brown hair. Elsa Bentley was a beautiful woman, slender and fair-skinned, with big eyes the color of larkspur.
“Maybe Minnie will be here tomorrow,” lie said.
Elsa lifted a poached egg out of the water.
“Half the servants in towrn didn’t show up yesterday,” she said. Her eyes shifted to the window and her voice dropped to a lament. “More snow. Nothing but snow and ice for months. I’m sick of it.”
Chris laughed although he didn’t feel like laughing. He had been up most of the night.
“That’s something we can’t help, my darling,” he observed.
“If you hadn’t been so set on coming here. W’insport, of all places.” She poked the bacon viciously. Petulance and the pent-up grievances of months broke through the surface of her voice, making it unfamiliarly rough and harsh.
“You know why I came,” he said quietly.
“On the half-hearted promise of a new hospital.”
“Elsa, you surely aren’t blaming me for the loss of Calvin Jamerson’s money, are you?” he demanded.
“We could have stayed in the city,” she reminded him quickly.
“And been just another assistant in a big doctor’s office?”
He was referring to Doctor Famswell who had been his god in medical school, whom he had worshipped through his years of intemeship. Elsa had been a nurse in Famswell’s office.
“You could have been more than that,” Elsa said emphatically. “Famswell told me himself that you were one of the most brilliant young surgeons he had ever worked with. You could have made a name for yourself instead of settling down in a dump like this.” Her voice became smooth again. “Women like good-looking doctors with black hair and beautiful hands and ”
“Good lord!” he said scornfully. “What do you want me to do? Develop a bedside manner, and kid temperamental women with imaginary ills into believing I’m saving them from pain and death?”
“We have to live,” she said pointedly.
“You can’t begrudge the time I give to patients who can’t pay for my services.”
“You mean women like Marietta Rhodes? There s nothing wrong with Marietta Rhodes except a desire for a lot of attention and a wilfulness to run other people s lives. Curly knows that. He knows I have no illusions about his mother’s frequent illnesses. That’s one reason he and I are such good friends. He’s a solid, level-headed kid.”
“Kid,” she repeated. “He’s three years younger than you and you’re twenty-nine . . . The Rhodes could do a lot for you.”
“Meaning she would if I played up to her? Sorry, Elsa, I’m not built that way.”
“She pays her bills promptly,” Elsa argued. “Of course, she’s rolling in money.” She paused and looked at him with a clear gaze. “If she didn’t pay 1 don’t know what we’d do.”
“We’d get along all right,” Chris said stubbornly. He was tired and he wanted his breakfast.
“But you could do so much more,” she insisted. “There are a lot of people in Winsport with money. If you devoted a little time to cultivating—”
Chris gripped her by the shoulders and looked at her sternly.
“Elsa, what’s happened to you?” he demanded. “When you were a nurse you used to go out of your way to do decent little kindnesses for patients. You worked with Famswell and you know how much he did for—”
“I’m sorry, Chris. I’m . . .” Her eyes filled with tears and she blinked rapidly to hold them back.
Chris’s arms slid around her and he held her tightly, proteetingly, against his breast.
“If I could only send you away for a while,” he murmured.
“You could if—”
He released her abruptly, indignantly.
“Never mind about breakfast,” he said, his voice crusted over with resentment that hid the quick hurt of her implication. “The bacon is burned and the eggs are cold. I’ll get something down town. I have an operation in twenty minutes.”
“I hope you get paid for it,” she said, as he went toward the door.
HE TURNED and gave her a brief glance, at once penetrating and baffled. That remark was to rankle in his mind all morning and make him unhappy and uneasy. He couldn’t believe the continued freeze was getting on her nerves; she never had nerves before. He didn’t understand her, lately. She knew what a doctor’s life was.
Driving slowly down Front Street, the chains on the wheels of his car making metallic rumbling sounds as they
crunched through the ice-gripped ruts,
Chris looked at the frozen bay, at the boats of the fishing fleet encrusted with snow and ice. A smaller boat, some distance away, had been crushed by the ice floes; it listed dangerously to starboard but it would not sink until the thaw released it from the frozen embrace of the bay.
Some of those boats, he knew, were from Arrowhead.
For several days he had been thinking of Arrowhead, that small island fifty miles east of Winsport. It was a wedge-shaped island, hence its name, inhabited mostly by fishermen
and their families. There were—he made a guess—two hundred and fifty to three hundred inhabitants. Some of them had been his patients last summer—cheerful, grateful people, asking little from life and for the most part getting less than they asked for. He remembered the Travis kid with the burst appendix, old Mrs. Gurley who had come through two abdominal operations, the Kenroy boy with the mangled arm he had saved, who forgot his pain in his eagerness to get back to the island because his young wife was going to have a baby. Chris wondered about those people cut off from the world. He felt a deeper anxiety than had been expressed in the papers the last two days.
He parked his car and plowed through snowdrifts three feet deep beside the driveway of the hospital. The illequipped and thoroughly inadequate hospital was crowded with patients, yet it was so undermanned that the driveway had not been cleared for an ambulance properly to approach the doors.
“Lord,” he said to himself, his thoughts a prayer, “if we could only have a new modem building with modern equipment !”
He shook the snow from his trousers and went to the operating room to begin another gruelling day.
By eleven o’clock he was on his way to his office for a few minutes respite, but he knew what was before him—visits to seven cases of pneumonia, now out of danger, three cases of flu, and a man with a frozen foot he was trying to save. There also was Marietta Rhodes, the wealthiest woman in town. Sometimes he wished he didn’t have Marietta Rhodes for a patient, other times he was glad of it, for he was amused by her inconsistencies. It was Curly—George Dunscombe Rhodes—her own son. who had told him how to handle her. Chris and Curly had liked each other instantly. Curly had said: “She roars at people, Chris. You know”—smiling his crinkly smile—“ro’s lak a lion. Well, just roar back at her. She loves it. She’s had every doc in town, and if she throws you out she won’t lie fit to live with.” Chris remembered with a smile, but as he went into his office he was in no mood to hear Marietta Rhodes ro’ lak a lion.
Before he had closed the door, Mary Moran, his efficient red-headed nurse, was taking his coat off“You haven’t had any sleep.” she said in a gentle rebuke. “You can’t go on like this.” She hung up his coat and hat. opened a cabinet and poured him a drink of old Bourbon. “You need that,” she said with the voice of authority. “Drink it and relax for a while.”
T_TE LOOKED at her gratefully and tossed off the -*• whisky. He sat down and stretched his legs and rested his head against the wall; he closed his eyes and wished he could get about three hours of sleep, wished lie could tell Marietta Rhodes there was nothing wrong with her, wished he had not heard Elsa’s complaints that morning, wished Elsa would snap out of it and be the good soldier she had been when she was in uniform. A tinge of sadness crept up in him with the warmth of the whisky. He had wanted Elsa to face the world with him, proud, courageous, magnanimous. He loved her so. He was a little bewildered now, he had been so sure she was a doctor’s wife. It was a pity she had ambitious dreams.
Through the shadowed reaches of his consciousness—he was almost asleep—he heard a voice.
“ ’Scuse me, miss. Is Doc Bentley—”
Mary Moran said crisply but politely: “The doctor is busy. Is there something I can do?”
Chris got up from his chair and went into the outer office, and saw a man in a thick mackinaw and thick boots, with a face pinched with cold and worry.
“Doc Bentley,” the man said. “I’m Jed Travis from the island. You remember me?”
The father of the boy with the burst appendix, Chris thought.
“Oh, yes. Mr. Travis,” he said. “How is the boy?” Travis lifted forlorn eyes.
“I guess all the folks on the island is in trouble, doc. I come over in the last boat before the freeze. That’s eight days ago. They’re froze in. And doc, there’s folks over there that’s sick, and there ain’t much food left. There’s only two stores and they don’t handle much ’cepting can goods. I’ve worried myself nigh sick.”
Chris regarded the old man thoughtfully.
Travis went on: “We thought the ice would go out any day and we could get a boat through. I got a boat full of foodstuff froze in the bay. Ain’t much good now. Doc,
they ain’t been a freeze-over like this in fifteen years, and the paper says it’s going to keep on freezing.”
Chris rubbed his forehead with his big hands, his long slim fingers massaging his temples gently.
“I’ve been worried about them,” he said. “We’ll have to get to them some way.”
“There’s no boat here powerful enough to get through,” Travis said. “Ain’t no way but in an airplane, and I guess nobody wants to fly one of ’em in this sort of weather.”
Chris knew he wasn’t thinking clearly, he should have known that was the only way. He shook his head like a swimmer clearing water and knew what he had to do. He picked up the telephone and dialled Marietta Rhodes’s house. Curly answered.
“Curly? Chris talking. Can you fly me to Arrowhead?”
“In this weather?” Curly Rhodes demanded.
“In this weather, Curly. Today, right now. Those people need medical attention and food.”
“Hold it, Chris,” Curly said. “I’m coming down to your office. I can’t talk here.”
Chris understood. Marietta Rhodes would never let her one and only son fly to Arrowhead if she could prevent it.
URLY WALKED into Chris’s office fifteen minutes later. He was a rangy, well-built fellow, with curly brown hair and keen slate-blue eyes set deep in a windburned face. There were crinkly lines around his eyes when he smiled.
“Curly, I wouldn’t ask it,” Chris said, “if I didn’t know your ability, but ...” He explained the situation.
Curly nodded and turned to Travis.
“Any decent place to land?”
“Ice on the beach is apt to be piled up pretty rough,” Travis said. “Might try the baseball field at the schoolhouse.”
“We’ll have to try it, Curly,” Chris said urgently.
“We will, but we’ll catch hell from mother,” Curly grinned. “But it won’t be the first time. What do you want, Chris?”
"Coffee and milk and green vegetables and fruit. If there’s pneumonia, and I’m sure there is, I’ll need oxygen tanks and a tent. You’ll have to make two or three trips, Curly.”
“Taking a nurse?”
“Certainly.” Mary Moran said quickly. “He’s taking me. He can’t do everything over there. He’s dead on his feet now.”
“Mary,” Chris said gravely, “I’m not asking you to go. It’s going to be tough.”
“I can be tough, too,” she said.
“Good girl,” Curly said.
Chris, with his eyes, thanked her for her loyalty. She smiled at him reassuringly.
“I’ll pack what we need,” she told him. “You go home and get some hot food in you and get into some heavy clothes.”
Travis put his hand on Chris’s arm.
“I don’t know jest how to thank you, doc,” he said with the unsteady voice of a man not used to favors.
“Don’t,” Chris said quickly. Thanks and praise always embarrassed him. “It’s part of my job. Thank Mr. Rhodes.”
Curly smiled his crinkly smile and said. “Don’t be silly. I’m just going for the ride.” He flipped his hand in a salute. “I’ll pick up the groceries and be ready to take off by one.”
Chris went home, and Elsa opened the door for him as he came up on the porch.
“Chris,” she said, her blue eyes sparkling, “don’t tell me you’re actually home for lunch.”
She’s forgotten this morning completely, he thought. He put his arms around her and kissed her. The weariness seemed to leave him as if through the touch of her lips he drained some of her strength and vitality.
“I want lots of good hot food and plenty of coffee,” he said with a smile. “I’m flying to Arrowhead.”
“Chris! You’re not!” She took his face between her hands and looked into his eyes. “You’re not, really?”
“I have to, Elsa. They—they need me.”
She stared at him as if his words were too incredible to consider. Slowly her hands drew away from his face.
“You—you can’t,” she said. “It’s suicide. No one can fly in this weather.”
“I -er—we are,” he corrected.
“You can’t, Chris,” she protested. “I won’t let you.”
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“Listen, Elsa. I’m a doctor. There are people sick on the island. There’s no doctor over there. They need one. They need me. Don’t you understand?”
“No! I don’t understand.” Her voice was rising to a pitch of desperation. “There’s no reason for you to risk your life.”
“Speaking of reason,” he said, “don’t you be unreasonable. I’m going to fly to Arrowhead—if I can—and I’m not going to play golf or shoot craps. I’m going to save human lives, if I can. And I’m not trying to be dramatic. Now, are you going to help me or make it tougher for me? I want some hot food—at once.”
“You’re not going,” she continued stubbornly. “You’re not going to risk your life. You’re not going to leave me. Chris, Chris ! You’re all I’ve got.”
“Elsa darling. Nothing is going to happen to me.”
“Why can’t the county or the province pay someone to—”
“It’s not a question of pay,” he said stiffly. “It’s an obligation.”
“You have an obligation to me,” she said reproachfully. “I’m only your wife, but what will happen to me if something happens to you?”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.” he tried to assure her. “If there’s no fog or snow . . . Curly said it’s quite—” “Curly?”
“He’s flying me over.”
“She won’t let him,” Elsa said quickly. Chris smiled. “She doesn’t know it—if you mean his mother.”
“But she will know it,” Elsa argued. “And she’ll blame you. She’ll blame you and she’ll get another doctor and—” “Don’t say the rest of it,” Chris warned her. The sudden hardness of his eyes, the sharpness of his voice, stopped her. “Curly has a mind of his own, thank heaven, and guts enough to fly.”
ULSA LOOKED at him steadily and in her eyes gathered a quiet rage tempered with desperation.
“Chris,” she said slowly through her teeth, her lips barely moving, “If you go to Arrowhead—”
The shrill sound of the telephone ringing insistently interrupted her. Chris moved away and picked up the instrument.
“Chris?” It was Marietta Rhodes.
“Good morning, Mrs. Rhodes,” Chris said.
“Where’s my son?” she demanded belligerently.
Oh lord, she knows, Chris groaned to himself. “Just at the moment I don’t know,” he said.
“Don’t lie to me,” Marietta Rhodes snapped. “What’s this I hear about you and him flying to Arrowhead? It’s a lot of tommyrot. Tommyrot, I tell you! It’s bad enough to have him flying around risking his neck in decent weather, and I’ll not have him flying around this kind of weather. I’ll not have it, I tell you! It’s something you put him up to. I know that. Now, you find him and tell him I won’t allow it.”
Chris’s voice was quiet and calm. “Curly’s flying me to Arrowhead, Mrs. Rhodes, because he’s the best pilot in town and because he has the best ship.”
“He’ll do nothing of the kind,” she said. She’s beginning to roar now, Chris thought. “Do you think I’ll let him risk his neck just because—”
“I’m risking mine, too,” Chris reminded her.
“Well, you’re a fool,” she roared. “It’s eight above zero and—”
“And the people on the island need food and medical attention and someone has to see that both reach them,” Chris said. “You should be proud—”
“Don’t tell me what I should be.” She spluttered inarticulately for a moment. “Let ’em get their own doctor. You’re my doctor and I’m a sick woman and you’re supposed to be here at four o’clock. If you’re not here at four you need not come at all. I’ll get a doctor who’ll pay some attention to me.” .
“Then you’d better get someone else, Mrs. Rhodes, because at four o’clock I will have been at Arrowhead two hours or more.”
“I’ll report you to the Medical Association for deserting your patients,” she bellowed.
His calmness fled as complete anger took possession of him. His face turned a brick red and he roared, his voice filling the room.
“All my patients will be taken care of but you. The people on the island need me more than you do, for you don’t need a doctor at all. There’s nothing wrong with you but a foul temper and a prima-donna desire for attention. All you need is to find an interest in something besides yourself.”
He was suddenly doubtful that it was he, Christopher Bentley, who had spoken those words, but when he heard Marietta Rhodes’s outraged expletives crackle over the wire he knew he had not only said those words but she had heard them. He laid down the telephone and felt, inexplicably, a great relief.
He turned and looked into Elsa’s indignant eyes.
“How dare you!” she said breathlessly. “How dare you talk to her like that !”
“Because I’ve stood all I’m going to stand,” he said, his voice still unnecessarily loud.
“Oh, you fool! Don’t you see what you’ve done? You’ve ruined your career in this town. She will get another doctor and she’ll—”
“Yes,” Chris roared. “She’ll get another doctor and I won’t get any more cheques from her. That's what you mean.” He saw her shrink from the violence of his voice and the anger in his eyes. Then his anger subsided and his voice grew mild. He said, censoriously bitter: “I thought you were a
doctor’s wife,” and went out of the room.
When he came back, dressed in heavy clothes and hunting boots, he said:
“Don’t bother about food. I’ll get something down town as I did this morning.”
Elsa crossed the room to him and laid her hand on his arm.
“Chris—Chris, you aren’t going?”
“I have to, Elsa. You know that. Curly and Mary are waiting for me.”
“Mary? Is Mary Moran going?” Elsa demanded.
“Yes. And I didn’t ask her to. She’s going because she knows she’ll be needed.” “Chris, if you go and leave me, I won’t be here when you come back.” Her voice was flat and deliberate.
Chris felt as if he had been struck in the face.
“Don’t be a fool,” he stormed, while in his heart he had a mad desire to take her in his arms and tell her nothing mattered but her own lovely self. But the madness went by like a fleeting thought. Only fear remained. “I have to go,” he said doggedly. “You’re acting like a child.”
She turned and ran out of the room and slammed a door.
Chris swallowed with difficulty and his eyes blurred with sudden mistiness. He looked at the door with intense longing, then he turned up the collar of his coat and went out of the house.
AT THE FIELD beyond the country club that served as an airport, Chris found Curly standing beside the plane. Two men were loading crates of food and cans of milk. Mary waved to him from inside the cabin. He tried to smile, but Curly said:
“What’s the matter, fella?”
Chris said listlessly: “I’m washed up.” “What do you mean?” Curly demanded, shouting into the wind.
“Elsa. She’s—she’s leaving.”
Curly looked at him for a moment and then laughed.
“Don’t kid me,” he said lightly. “No gal that hooked you is going to lose you.” Chris forced a smile. Let Curly think that. It helped to feel that someone thought that.
“And your mother,” Chris said. “I insulted her over the telephone.”
Curly smiled his crinkly smile. “Did you ro’ lak a lion?”
“We both did,” Chris said and smiled without forcing.
“Bet she liked it,” Curly said. “She’s been trying to find me since twelve o’clock.”
“Yes. And she accused me of everything but mayhem and murder. I’m no longer her doctor.”
Curly said: “Huh! She’s disinherited me at least twenty times. Well, let’s go.” Curly had difficulty lifting the heavily loaded plane from the ice-covered field, but he pulled it up sharply and skimmed over the frozen trees at the edge of the road with a few feet to spare. When the ship gained altitude Chris knew they were bucking a terrific northeast wind. The airspeed indicator showed they were making average cruising speed, but his eyes told him they were making half that speed. He saw Mary brace herself against the plunging of the plane.
Maybe we won’t make it, he said to himself, maybe we’ll crack up on the ice, and it won’t matter. I lost my head and roared at her and Marietta Rhodes and I’ve lost her—and everything else. Nothing matters now except to get to Arrowhead.
He stopped thinking about himself as he watched Curly’s skilful hands at the controls. It took them an hour to cover the distance Curly would normally make in less than thirty minutes.
As the ship appeared over the island they saw dozens of people, men, women, children, run out of buildings, their hands lifted, their faces turned upward. Curly circled the island, spotted the ball field beyond the schoolhouse, and flew low over it for a quick inspection. It looked smooth enough from the air, but Chris knew Curly was afraid of nosing over in the snow. Curly turned and came back into the wind. The wheels touched, the ship bounced once in a hurry of loose snow, then settled down. Chris slapped Curly on the back and grinned.
Before the ship stopped rolling, the islanders were lined up at the edge of the field; when it stopped they ran forward, cheering, some of them crying. An older man came up to the ship as Chris stepped down from the cabin with his black bag in his hand.
“Thank God, you’ve come, doc,” he said. “We got some mighty sick, folks here. I’m the mayor. Tell me what you want.”
“Get that food unloaded for Mr. Rhodes,” Chris said crisply, “and see that it’s distributed properly. Let me see those who need immediate attention. Come on, Mary.”
Thirty minutes later Chris was back at the ship with a small procession carrying three children wrapped in blankets.
“Pneumonia,” he said to Curly. “Get ’em to Winsport as quick as you can. Lord, if we just had a decent hospital to take care of them ! I need oxygen tanks and an oxygen tent. Give this note to Spywens at the hospital. And get back here as soon as you can, Curly. I need oxygen.”
Chris didn’t wait to see Curly take off, he went back to his patients.
Curly landed on the island the second time about three hours later.
“Half of Winsport was at the field,” he told Chris. “The place was knee-deep in reporters and photographers.”
Chris, with his hand on the oxygen tent, said: “Maybe they’ll make the town
realize what we need.”
“I’m staying with you, Chris.”
“No, you’re going home,” Chris directed. “If we have another blizzard I don’t want you grounded here. Even though you can’t land on the island, you can always drop food and supplies. You’re more valuable to me at the home base where your ship can be protected. So, on your way. But get here the first thing in the morning with fresh vegetables and fruit and milk. And bring me one of your leather jackets. I can’t get around in this heavy coat. Get going before it gets dark.”
Curly said anxiously: “You’d better let me stay with you. You need sleep and there are lots of things I could do.”
Chris said: “I can’t bring these babies milk they’ll need in the morning. You can. Get going, fella.”
He watched Curly climb in the cabin and lift the ship over the schoolhouse; his eyes followed it for a distance over the icelocked bay, and as he turned away, he said : “How she ever had a son like that . .
CHRIS HAD expected to find certain deplorable conditions on the island, but he had not realized that most of the islanders had subsisted for months on staples and practically nothing else. Consequently their usual vitality had been depleted, their resistance to influenza and pneumonia was low; they were helpless prey to any disease that follows such conditions. Ilis job, now that the three most desperate cases were in the hospital, was to take care of those requiring immediate attention and start building up the resistance of the others. He found a universal fortitude and a noticeable lack
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of complaint; the people of Arrowhead seemed to accept their plight as they accepted the inevitable winter. They accepted Chris as something God-sent and told him so. Their simple blessings and sincere praise got under his skin and bothered him—not because he resented it, but because it embarrassed him and made him self-conscious about his work.
As he labored through the long evening in the inadequate light of kerosene lamps, he heard the low murmuring of voices, anxious and interrogatory. It was the same in each house he visited, a monotonous murmuring, rising and falling in queer cadence. It was like an inharmonious choral counterpoint lifting behind the clear cheerful voice of Mary Moran. Chris heard it dimly, as if it were only touching the fringe of his consciousness, and he knew weariness was attacking his nerves, for he wanted to scream for quiet.
Some time after midnight Mary persuaded him to get some rest.
“You won’t be any good tomorrow if you don’t,” she said.
He took off his boots and lay down on a couch that was too short for his six feet of j tired body. Mary threw his heavy coat over him and tucked a blanket around his feet.
From the time he had landed on the island he deliberately had thrown out of his mind any thoughts of Elsa. He had worked with a driving fury in order to drive out j thoughts of her, but now, relaxed, with fatigue drawing him toward the luxury of sleep, he reviewed every detail of his ! parting. He could hear her rage and indignation and accusation concerning the phone call of Marietta Rhodes; he could hear Marietta Rhodes’s imperious voice; he could hear the strange calmness of Elsa’s threat. It was that strange calmness of ¡ deliberation and determinat ion, he thought, that hurt and made him believe she would carry out her threat. He still was baffled ; he couldn’t believe it was just a case of nerves.
He mumbled brokenly: “But I had to go. I had to go, and she knew it.”
“You say something, doc?” a sleepy ■ voice said from across the room.
Chris made no reply. There was a lump in his throat.
About nine-thirty next morning, one of the men came into the house where Chris was examining a feverish child.
“The plane’s coming, doc,” the man j said. “Looks like she’s having some trouble.”
Chris went outside. The wind tore at his face as he squinted his eyes and looked up into the skies. His eyes spotted the plane and he saw it drop suddenly, then bounce up with the right wing thrown high, he saw the left wing come up quickly as the plane levelled out again.
Ignoring the fear in his own heart, Chris said casually:
“He’ll make it.”
He stood there thinking of the things ¡ that might happen. He was a little sick for a moment. Curly was the only thing left to cling to.
TWENTY minutes later Curly brought , his ship down to a perilous landing. Chris saw it disappear behind the schoolhouse as he again stood outside the doorway, waiting in the bitter cold.
“Tough, wasn’t it?” he said when Curly reached the house. He couldn’t express his relief.
“Tough?” Curly repeated. “I thought we were gone once or twice. That wind is blowing in seven directions at the same time. Brought you everything you wanted. | Jacket and—oh, yes. I’ve got a letter for j you.”
“Letter?” Chris gave Curly a look, at once fearful and hopeful. He wanted to find something in Curly’s face that would tell him what the letter was, but Curly just looked at him with his blue eyes and handed him an envelope and said nothing.
He took the envelope and saw at a glance that the handwriting was not j Elsa’s. He ripped the envelope open and read:
You’re an impudent cub, Chris Bentley, and you ought to have your face slapped. You made me so mad I got out of bed and haven’t been back— except to sleep. The fool newspapers are agitating a campaign for a new hospital, but we don’t want a lot of meddling fools sticking fingers in the pie, so when you’re through playing Florence Nightingale, come to see me and bring an architect—a good one.
He read the letter in amazement; he looked at Curly and smiled.
Curly grinned broadly and said: “Yeah. I know. I saw it. I told you she liked people who ro’d lak a lion.’’
Chris folded the letter carefully and put it in his pocket.
“Curly,” he said hesitantly, “is—is Elsa at home?”
“No, Chris. She’s not at home.”
Chris turned quickly and went back into the house.
“Chris!” Curly called.
Chris closed the door abruptly. He picked up a thermometer and couldn’t read it. He sat down and blinked his eyes to clear his vision. Presently he heard the door open and he hoped that Curly would not be persistent. Just now he couldn’t
talk to anyone—not even Curly. He wished he hadn’t asked Curly anything.
Chris raised his head in time to see Elsa close the door. He could see a nurse’s uniform under her fur coat which was partially open. Her cheeks were flushed with the cold. He thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He stood up, staring. Curly had said she wasn’t at home. Of course, she wasn’t at home.
“I thought you might need another nurse,” Elsa said quietly.
She went to him and put her arms around him and kissed him. He held her locked in his arms, and the fresh sweet scent of her hair came up into his nostrils. There was nothing he wanted to say. He was content to hold her in fierce embrace and forget all the things that had been said.
“Let’s not talk about it,” she said. “I was out of my mind yesterday. I made Curly bring me. He didn’t want to, but I made him, and we had an awful trip. Chris, I was so scared. But I had to come because this is where I belong—beside you.” She lifted her head proudly. “I am a doctor’s wife. And I’m so proud of you, darling. I don’t care if you did roar at Mrs. Rhodes.”
Chris smiled and said: “It does a man good to roar sometimes.”