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The Secret of Dr. Kildare, Page 2

Max Brand

  "Don't be a dope," said Collins. "I've got more cash here than I can use, and..."

  "Quit it, Tom," said Kildare. "But who brought this damned box?"

  "Old Creighton, the carpenter. He said that he couldn't pay you in cash so he brought you that."

  Kildare tore off the top layer of composition board, lifted the paper packing, and exposed a small model of the World's Fair, done with a cabinet-maker's most delicate miniature touch, from the needle-sharp trylon and perisphere to the amphitheatre on a blue sea of glass.

  "A waste of time," said Collins.

  "Of course," answered Kildare. "But that's why my family will like it."

  Heavy tape was holding his shoe together when he went down to Mary Lamont with the big, flat box under his arm. She looked like somebody's sister, not the probation nurse who had been working with him. It was the first time he had seen her out of uniform, and she took his breath. She had on a wine-coloured coat of a material as soft as camel's-hair, and a hat to match with a quill of yellow and orange stuck in a brim that furled up or down by surprise. Also she wore a scarf the colour of sunlight.

  "You're too expensive," said Kildare. "I couldn't take you even on trial. Put yourself back on the shelf, Mary...I mean, seriously: Look what's happened to my shoes, and now the only show I can take you to is a secondhand shop."

  She refused to stay behind in the hospital, however. The best of any party was simply to get out in the open, she said. So she walked over with him to the express office, where he sent off the Fair model to his mother in Dartford. Then they were in a cellar store buying for two dollars and eighty-five cents a pair of half-soled shoes that once had cost ten or twelve.

  "Now what? A moving picture?" he asked.

  "No. We can't talk in a moving picture."

  "We'll pick up a beer in Sullivan's Saloon then," suggested Kildare. But when he had her there in the back room he was worried. There were three mugs talking loudly at a corner table, and for the first time in all his hours at the old saloon, he noticed the sawdust on the floor.

  "Is it all right for you to be in this sort of a place?" he asked.

  "Of course it's all right," she said. "Men like to talk in dark corners."

  "There's no giggle and jitter about you," said Kildare. "That's one of the ways you're different...What'll you drink?"

  "Beer," said Mary Lamont.

  "You don't want beer. I can be a little more expensive than that."

  "I want beer," she insisted, "if it's on draught."

  "I'm going to hate the blighter who marries you and takes you away," said Kildare. "Hello, Mike. Two beers when you get a chance."

  "Okay," said Mike. He went over to the corner table and said grimly: "Why don't you guys pipe down and give the doc a chance to hear himself think?"

  "What doc?" one of them asked.

  "It's Kildare," said Mike. "Don't you know nothing?"

  "Is that him? I thought he'd be twice that size. Let's take these into the bar..."

  They went out. "Hi, doc. How's things?" they said.

  "Stay where you are," urged Kildare.

  "Ah-h-h, we know when a guy wants elbow room," said one of them, and winked at the intern. This remark tickled them all, and they went into the bar on a great blast of laughter.

  Mike came back with two wet glasses of beer.

  "You shouldn't have troubled those fellows," said Kildare.

  "Yeah, and why not?" asked Mike. "Why shouldn't you have your beer in peace, like usual?"

  He was rubbing off the table with a painful thoroughness, throwing side glances at the girl.

  "We used to see a lot more of you, doc," he complained. "But maybe you got better things to do with your time."

  "No, Mike. But I'm standing double duty now in the hospital."

  "He doesn't like me," said the girl as Mike left the room. "He thinks I'm a bad influence."

  "Mike? He likes everyone," said Kildare.

  Big Weyman, the ambulance driver, entered the room and lounged back toward the table of Kildare.

  "Mind if I ask you something, doc?" he was saying.

  "It's all right," broke in Mary Lamont. "It's only I, Weyman."

  The ambulance driver stopped short.

  "Yeah, what d'you think of that dumb Mike telling me the doc was in here with a—Excuse me, Miss Lamont." Weyman went out in haste.

  "Was he trying to take care of me?" asked Kildare. "Did Mike send for that gorilla of a Weyman because he thought..."

  He sat up straight in his chair and looked angrily at nothing in particular.

  "People are always going to try to take care of you," stated Mary Lamont.

  "Do you mind telling me why?" he asked politely.

  "Because you get absorbed in things and forget about yourself. Bulldog,'re always finding a lost cause and locking your teeth on it. That's why I'm picking on you, Jimmy. I want to find out what hurt you so much today."

  "Gillespie," said Kildare. "Can't you see that he's burning his life out and pouring himself away working day and night on this meningitis experiment?"

  "Do you mean that he's in danger?" she asked.

  "Of course he is. Every old man is suffering from an incurable disease—I mean old age itself is a disease. There's my own father out there in the country in need of a sort of help that I can give him; but he's only an ordinary man. A Gillespie—why, every month or day that's whittled away from his life is a gift that's gone from the world."

  "Is that what upset you?"

  "Isn't it enough? I've got to find a way to make Gillespie slow up. How can I do it?"

  "I don't know," said the girl, "but I'm sure that you'll find a way, regardless of expense."

  "Why do you smile when you say that?" asked Kildare.

  "Because you're always getting ready to spend the last breath in your body on something or other."

  He sat back to consider this strange statement and fell into such a brown study over it that before he knew it both their glasses were empty.

  * * *


  MARTHA KILDARE wangled it SO that Beatrice Raymond came over to see the box opened when Stephen Kildare brought it home before lunch. Mrs. Kildare knew that Jimmy and Beatrice, without the slightest malice on either side, had turned their lives away from one another, and she was perfectly convinced that eventually she would be able to arrange a match between them; in the meantime she did what she could to keep them fresh in one another's memory. Jimmy's note read: "Dear Mother, I'm passing on to you a present given to me by a patient who knows that interns can't take money. Maybe you have room for it somewhere. Anyway, there are things like this going on in town, so why don't you come to look at them and let me see you at the same time?" That was all the note said.

  "You see," said the mother, "he doesn't write letters. He doesn't know how to write letters."

  Beatrice Raymond smiled at her. She said: "You don't have to explain him, Aunt Martha. You don't have to apologise either. I was reading in a book about young men the other day, and now I know all about them."

  "Do you?" asked Martha Kildare, watching the smile of the girl.

  "Yes. The book says that they're only half real."

  "What's the other half composed of then?"

  "Legend," said Beatrice.

  "But what legend, my dear?"

  "The legend of what they want to be or think they are."

  "Did you read that or discover it for yourself?"

  "I may have dreamed it," confessed Beatrice Raymond.

  "And what do young girls do about them—supposing the girls care a rap?"

  "Young girls are made up of equal parts of patience, stupidity, and hope, aren't they?" asked Beatrice Raymond.

  "Well, that's what the poets used to say about them."

  "Was it ever true?"

  "No, thank God...Look, Beatrice!"

  She had worked off the cover from the box and the Fair model sparkled under their eyes.

  "Stephen!" called the doctor's wife. "Oh, Stephen! Come here!"

  She hurried into the front room which had once been changed from a New England parlour sanctum into an office for young James Kildare before the old people knew how far away ambition was driving their son. Once altered, they never had been able to bring it back to the old semblance. They could not take down the diplomas from the wall or displace the big mahogany desk, and yet every memento of Jimmy gave them a sadder assurance that he never would come back to them again. They had glimpses from time to time, but his devotion was like that of a novice to some great and ascetic religious order. They felt about him equal parts of pride and grief.

  Old Doctor Kildare was found by his wife studying a letter which he crunched almost guiltily in his hand and then tossed into the fire. It glanced back from an iron firedog and rolled on to the hearth again.

  "Come see what Jimmy has sent me," she called to him, but when he came hurrying out she lingered for a moment to pick up that soiled and crumpled letter from the floor; but she did not open it until her husband had left the house to answer a patient's call. Then she took Beatrice Raymond into her confidence and smoothed the typewritten sheet of paper face down on the table.

  "There's something in this that hurt the doctor," she said, "and he's trying to hide it from me. Beatrice, do you think it's wrong for me to look into it?"

  "If I were you I wouldn't dare," said Beatrice. "But then, I'm not you."

  Attacked in this unexpected manner by conscience, Mrs. Kildare looked down to the floor and tried to find a ready way out.

  "There was such a look about him, Beatrice," she explained. "You take a glance at it, dear, and tell me if there's anything I need to know about poor Steve."

  "We'll look together," said Beatrice. "That'll give him two people to blame." She turned the letter face up.

  "It's from Doctor Carboys!" whispered Mrs. Kildare. "What has Steve been doing with that terrible man."

  "But isn't Doctor Carboys a very fine physician?"

  "He's one of those good men who never have anything but bad news...I can't make it out. You read it aloud, Beatrice."

  So she read:

  "Dear Steve, I have the complete laboratory reports now on the blood, urine, and nonprotein nitrogen. These are all within normal limits, I'm very glad to say. The electrocardiogram and the X-ray plate of the chest are not quite so favourable, however. I am sending them over to your office tomorrow.

  "I have to consider your symptoms after eating, of a marked sense of fullness in the upper abdomen together with enduring substernal pain, some constriction about the chest, radiating pains down the inner side of the left arm, shortness of breath and an impending sense of death. In addition, as you know, in recent years you have had signs of renal changes, your heart has become somewhat enlarged to the left, and you become more and more easily fatigued.

  "In considering these things, I must remember that you are not growing any younger and I've tried to take that into consideration, but these are the findings on the heart.

  "The ECG report is as follows:

  Auricular rate...78

  Ventricular rate...78

  Rhythm regular

  Voltage variable

  "QRS excursion greatest in lead 1, upright in lead 1, diphasic in lead 2 and inverted in lead 3. Slight slurring is present. Lead 4 had a relatively small Q. PR interval is .20 seconds. T is upright in leads 1 and 2. ST interval is slightly above the base line in leads 1 and 2.

  "The slurring and variable voltage indicates the presence of some myocardial damage, and this, in conjunction with the raised ST interval in leads 1 and 2 and in lead 4, the relatively small Q, probably indicates the presence of coronary changes. The inversion of the QRS complex in leads 2 and 3 indicates the presence of left axis deviation.

  "In addition the chest plate shows, together with the enlargement of the heart to the left, elongation of the aortic arch with possible sclerotic plaques visible along the arch of the aorta.

  "Now that I've given you the facts, you can interpret them yourself clearly enough. You hardly need to have me say in black and white that I believe you have had a coronary occlusion. You ought to go to bed and stay there for a long time. Bed rest for two or three months is my idea for you, and this should be followed by a complete change of occupation to remove all stress and strain. My dear Steve, it is a terribly unpleasant duty for me to say that you may live ten seconds or ten years, but the chances for the ten years are not so good. Tell me when I may come to see you, and we'll talk over all the details.

  "Affectionately yours,


  The scientific terminology had kept Beatrice stumbling until she came to the last paragraph, but this was expressed in such layman's language that its meaning was all too clear; her voice lowered as she proceeded with the reading. The thousand wrinkles of pain in the face of Mrs. Kildare made her look down, and she did not look up at once after reaching the signature, and she still was trying to draw words into her mind when she heard the steady, firm voice of Mrs. Kildare saying: "I suppose it's the end."

  "What will you do?" asked Beatrice pitifully.

  "Everyone manages to get along somehow. If we can't run, we can walk. If we can't walk, we can creep. If we can't creep, we can lie in bed and remember better days. But Jimmy must not know. Not a breath of it must come to him, or he'd throw up his career and come home to help."

  "But what else is it right for him to do?" cried Beatrice Raymond. "You can't let him stay on in the city..."

  "Why not?" asked the mother fiercely. "We've tried to help him forward. Are we going to hinder him now simply because we've lived too long? I'd rather we both dropped dead—now—this instant!"

  * * *


  THE head of the hospital, Dr. Walter Carew, had only two facial expressions—one weary and one ferocious. This evening he looked merely weary as he regarded Kildare across the shimmer of his great desk. He kept his chin on his fist and his face inclined, which exaggerated the likeness between him and Cicero; it was a trick which he had used for so many years that he was unconscious of it now.

  "How often have you been here on the carpet, Kildare?" he asked. "I mean, how often has your medical career faced a firing squad in this office?"

  "Twice, sir," said Kildare.

  "Twice—twice—" nodded Carew. "It seems more often than that. Most of our young men get out of the hospital before I have a chance to know them, and I suppose they thank God for it; but I've had occasion to know you, my friend."

  This speech suggested no ready answer, so Kildare was silent. Carew went on with his reflections.

  "A hospital is like a family of children, a preposterous, huge, sprawling, bawling family of brats, always out at the toe and the elbow, always with empty bellies, winter coming on and no coal in the cellar. For twenty-five years I've been growing more and more tired of dodging and stealing and fencing and fending for this damned institution. It's enough of a public hospital to make it subject to every twopenny politician in the town; and it's enough of a private hospital to send it begging to every rich man's table in hope of scraping together a few crumbs of charity. As sure as my name is Walter Carew, I've been a beggar. I wear my trousers out at the knee. If I'd said as many prayers for the good of my soul as I have for the sake of this place, I'd be too good for the earth; I'd be in heaven already."

  He lifted his head and looked upon Kildare more wearily than ever. "Directly or indirectly, you've been a source of benefactions or a cause that has attracted them to this hospital directly or indirectly." He was repeating himself like an after-dinner speaker. Now, however, as he came to the point, he faltered a little. "Do you think I can steal you away from Gillespie for an evening, my lad?"

  "Doctor Gillespie is in the middle of an experiment..."

  "The meningitis affair. I know. I know."

  "He seems to need me for one thing or another most of the time."

  "I know
that too. He sharpens the claws of his ugly nature on you; he wipes the boots of his bad temper on you. That's his greatest need of you, isn't it?"

  Kildare, looking back through his memories of the storms which recently had been blowing about his devoted head, smiled a little.

  "He seems to find me useful—in one way or another," he said.

  Carew stared at him, open-mouthed.

  "And you don't mind him?" he asked.

  "No, sir. Not a bit," said Kildare.

  "I wish I could say that," sighed Carew. "For twenty-five years that great bully has harried me up and down and back and forth like an old rag of paper in a high wind. I'm the scapegoat of this hospital, not the head of it. Within its four walls everything good is attributed to Leonard Gillespie, and Walter Carew is damned day and night for everything that goes wrong. Admit that that is true!"

  "No, sir," said Kildare. "I don't think so."

  "Don't try to flatter me," sighed Carew. "There's not a suture that breaks except through my fault; if an ambulance tyre goes flat it's because I buy the wrong sort of rubber; if a resident or an intern gets a bellyache it's because Walter Carew is too stingy to buy decent food...But the point is: Do you think that I can beg or borrow or steal you from Gillespie for this one evening? I mean to say: Will you ask him for the time off?"

  Kildare hesitated.

  "You have it coming to you," insisted Carew. "By a freak of circumstance it becomes highly probable that you could be useful to this institution, Doctor Kildare, if I can dispose of you for one evening. And you have time off coming to you. It's the talk of the whole place that Gillespie works you like a dog—like a dog—day and night—he's making an old man of you."

  "I'd hate to ask him for time off," said Kildare slowly.

  "I know," nodded Carew. "You're afraid that he'd blow your head off."

  "No, sir. He'd give me as much time as I want—if I ask him seriously."

  "Now you amaze me!"

  "But the fact is that when I'm not here he does the work of two men. He doesn't sleep. He burns himself up. And he's not young, you know."