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Ex Libris

First published in Cosmopolitan, April 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-11-29
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

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Cosmopolitan, April 1938, with "Whiskey Sour"


Doctor Kildare approached just in time to hear Meg say
to the officer, "I heard a shot outside my apartment, then
a crash. When I ran out, this man was lying on the landing."

A HAND caught interne Jimmy Kildare by the shoulder and shook him, but forty-eight hours of almost constant duty had sickened him with fatigue and he could not be dragged back to consciousness in a moment. First the scenes on the old farm through which he had been dreaming had to whirl away and dissolve, like a landscape viewed from the last platform of an express train. Then he sat up among the heaped bedclothes where he had fallen only an hour or two before.

In the black nausea of weariness the room spun before him, and he made out only dimly the face of the orderly who had roused him. In a great hospital no interne should be overworked, but when Kildare became house surgeon and first tasted authority, he put his teeth into his work and hung on with all the bulldog that was in him.

The orderly bent over and called, "I'm sorry, but there's a pig-faced son of an Irish porker out there that won't see nobody but you. Name of Lafferty."

"I don't know him. I'm done in. I can't come," said Kildare.

"Sure, you don't know half the people that come here yammering to see you," said the orderly, "but the word's gone around this precinct that nobody counts except Doctor Kildare. This Lafferty's done for. You can't help him. Shot through the body."

"Ah!" said Kildare, and was out of bed instantly. He hit the floor, staggered, and kept on staggering until he reached the washstand, where he ducked his head under the cold-water faucet.

"It's hell," said the orderly. "Lemme take him a message that you're sick. You look like your face was thumbed out of dough."

"You tell Lafferty I'm coming," said Kildare.

He dressed as fast as he could, though his fingers were stumbling—those same fingers that had caused the West Side to adopt him as a sort of patron saint because of certain miracles he had worked with them. Small boys followed him on the street; groups of idlers saluted him as "doc." He saw pictures of them as he hurried with blundering feet down the long corridor toward the accident room.

When he opened the door, noise thronged about him with a babbling roar. Four policemen and a pair of detectives helped to take up floor space. Two Negroes were screeching with the agony of deep razor cuts. There were a dozen patients in the big room, but Lafferty was not among them. A nurse took Kildare into the corridor, where the big Irishman waited, doubled over on a chair. He had knotted his coat around his body, perhaps in the vague hope that the pressure would lessen the bleeding of his wounds, but a double trickle of red spattered the floor on either side of him. One huge hand comforted his belly; the other held a pipe.

A big, red-faced policeman was saying, "Go on, Lafferty; don't be a mug; leave them take you into the accident room and plug you up... How'd you come in on this, anyway?"

He asked the question of a red-haired girl who was studying Lafferty with anxious eyes. She was delicate and lovely as a thoroughbred beside the massive, cart-horse strength of the Irishman. Afterwards, she remained a dim pleasure on the horizon of Kildare's mind.

"I heard a shot outside the door of my apartment," the girl said. "Then a frightful crashing fall down the stairs. When I ran out, he was lying on the first landing below."

"Didn't see anybody with a gun?"

"No, I didn't see a soul."

"You wouldn't," said the officer. "Here's the doc... Hey, Lafferty, here's Doc Kildare for you!"

The big Irishman looked up, his face adrip with the perspiration of agony. "Ah, the doc," he said. Then his head rolled back upon his shoulders as he fainted.

Before Lafferty recovered, Kildare had him in the operating room and was scrubbed up to assist the attending surgeon, Stewart Black.

Lafferty came to and waved two gigantic hands toward Black. "You go away," he whispered. "I want the doc."

"Sorry," muttered Kildare. "He doesn't really know what he's saying, doctor."

"Get a stenographer," whispered Lafferty. "Patch me up so's I can talk, doc. I'm gunna tell..." Then he fainted again.

"Looks as though that bullet made a mess of his insides," said Stewart Black. "But you take charge, Jimmy, and make up your mind about it."

Kildare thanked him with a twitching smile and was instantly at work.

He labored with cold sweat on his upper lip. Once weakness made his knees sag. Once he had to stop short until the tremor left his right hand.

When he finished, he looked up and felt the hard, bright eyes of the attending surgeon upon him. "Beautiful!" said Black.

Kildare tried to laugh casually, but he giggled like a girl.

"You need a bed or a drink," said the attending surgeon. "Go get it."

Kildare had hardly reached his room, ready to fling himself on his bed, when an orderly brought word that Doctor Gloster wanted him at once. Kildare dashed cold water over his face and went. He had a vision of himself confronting Gloster, who was the archangel of the hospital hierarchy, and he could hear his voice saying, "Doctor Gloster, will you please go to hell?" That inward voice made him shudder. He recognized fatigue like a poison in his blood.

Gloster was a hard, keen, wise old man. He handed Kildare a newspaper with a pencil mark against the item of a columnist. The item read:

We hear there's a young interne on the West Side who could vote the whole district. We suppose that comes from knowing the right people to take care of at the city's charge. Well, we may as well have our politicians out of the hospitals as out of the gutter.

Doctor Gloster said, "That's a reference to you, Kildare. It's not the sort of news we wish to send out from this institution."

"I never intended—" said Kildare.

"I'm not interested in intentions. I'm interested in facts," said Gloster. "I want no more of this. A man is what he seems to be. Leave your low-class cronies. You can't raise them; but they can pull you down. If this subject comes to my attention again, I shall have only one more thing to say. Good night!"

Kildare went slowly back to his room.

He ought to sleep, but a greater duty was to say good-by at once to one-eyed Jeff, the bartender, and to big Pat Hanlon, and to all the rest with whom he drank his two beers daily in McGuire's saloon; not to speak of District Leader McGuire himself!

It was true that they loved Kildare and that he loved them, though only for services rendered freely, from the heart. But Gloster was right. A man's life cannot embrace two such opposites as an interneship and the dingy cheer of McGuire's saloon.

Kildare got out of the whites and into his shabby street clothes. He was delayed in leaving by a memory of his last look at Lafferty. The anesthetic should not have made such a difference in his appearance.

Kildare could not say what was wrong with Lafferty but as he recalled the greenish color, the wooden texture of the man's face, he went to the telephone and rang up the ward nurse. "Watch Lafferty closely," he directed. "Temperature, pulse, respiration—and the look of him." Then he left the hospital.

When he came to McGuire's place under the elevated he pushed the door open on a busy scene. The tables along the wall were fully occupied. Half a dozen men leaned their elbows on the bar.

"Hi!" said the one-eyed bartender. "Will you have one on me?"

"You know I like to pay for my own. Thanks just the same, Jeff," said Kildare. "Can I see Hanlon and McGuire?"

"Wait a minute," answered Jeff, and went into the family room.

Big Pat Hanlon, dressed as sleekly as Broadway's best, was in there, and fat McGuire with his usual cigar. There was also that pretty redheaded girl who had been with Lafferty at the hospital.

"The doc's out there having his beer," said Jeff. "He wants to see you both."

McGuire started to heave his bulk out of the chair but the girl said, "Don't you want to talk this out?"

"I don't want to talk. That Harry of yours is no good," said McGuire.

"Sure he isn't," she answered. "He's so bad that if Lafferty squeals on him, he'll squeal on you!"

McGuire slumped down in the chair. "Go keep the doc talking for a while," he said to Jeff. The bartender left the room, and McGuire said to the girl, "Now, what's all this mean, Meg?"

"Harry's scared to death," she said. "He knows he'll go up Salt Creek if Lafferty talks, and Lafferty's going to talk. He was trying to all the time in the hospital. If Lafferty blabs, Harry'll say everything he knows."

"Harry don't know so much," said McGuire.

"It's not what Lafferty and Harry know," answered the girl, "but what they think they know. And they'll yell loud enough to get into the papers, Uncle McGuire; loud enough to knock all the politics out of you."

"Yeah," nodded McGuire. "My hands are clean, but there's enough dirt in some newspaper headlines to sink a saint, halo and all."

"That's no fooling," said Hanlon. "But Lafferty can't talk. He's got his ticket, hasn't he?"

"I guess he has," answered Meg, "but faith will keep him alive long enough to do the dirt, and he's got the faith of a hunting dog in Kildare. Is that little mug such a great doctor as all that?"

"The doc ain't so little," said Hanlon sharply. "You see him doing his stuff and he's the biggest guy you ever met. If Lafferty needs five minutes of breath to spill the beans, the doc'll give them to him, all right."

McGuire said, "My God!"

"Does the point begin to get into you, Uncle McGuire?" asked the girl. "Look, you've got Kildare here now. Can't you make it hard for him to leave?"

"Well?" demanded Hanlon.

McGuire stared at him. "Because I do a couple of good turns for that dirty rat of a double-crossing Harry," he said, "because I paid him for some electioneering a coupla times, I gotta be pulled down in the dirt by a flock of yeggs like I was a gangster or something."

"Don't cry about it, uncle," said the girl. "What can you do about keeping Kildare away from the hospital?"

"I couldn't lay a finger on the doc," McGuire confessed.

"You're damn right you couldn't," said Hanlon.

"You wouldn't let everything go crash because you like the doc, would you?" said Meg to Pat.

"Wouldn't I?" said Hanlon.

"Shut up, Meg," said McGuire. "You don't understand nothing. Pat would of burned, once, except for the doc."

"Well, let me have a chance at Kildare," said the girl. "He's waiting for you. Go breeze in from the street entrance. Coupla minutes later, I'll happen in through the family entrance. If red hair and green eyes make him absent-minded that's nobody's fault, is it?"

"What you say, Pat?" asked McGuire.

"I dunno," muttered Pat. "If he wants to waste some time on a gal, I guess that's his own business."

THAT was why Pat Hanlon and McGuire arrived in the saloon a few moments later, coming in fast. When they shook hands with Kildare, he said, "May I speak to you alone?"

"Clear out the back room, Jeff!" commanded McGuire. "Come on back, doc. Jeff, send in something, will you?"

Jeff came into the family room with beer and a whisky and started out again.

"Wait a minute, Jeff, will you?" said Kildare. Jeff came back importantly.

"What is it, doc?" asked McGuire.

"Over at the hospital," said Kildare, "they want an interne to be just a doctor. They don't want him doing other things or being in other places. They don't want to have an interne talked about on the outside. I've only a short time left at the hospital, and I've got to do what they want. When I get out, all I'll have will be a surgical reputation—and it has to be good. You fellows mean a lot to me, but I've come over to say good-by."

"You mean you won't be dropping in for a pair of beers now and then?" McGuire asked.

"Ah, shut up!" said Hanlon. "Are you gunna make it hard for the doc?"

"Yeah, I'll shut up," said McGuire. Jeff said, "Doc, you keeping away from us account of the hospital don't mean we're out, does it?"

"Jeff has always gotta play the fool," said Hanlon.

But all three waited as Kildare's eyes ran helplessly from face to face.

At that moment the rear door of the family room opened.

"Keep out!" shouted McGuire.

"It's only me, Uncle Tommy," said the girl.

She came into the light, and Kildare recognized her. She wore a red-fox fur and a rust-colored tweed suit. Her hair was auburn; that and the green of her eyes colored Kildare's mind with beauty and with brightness.

"I'm no uncle of yours, Meg," said McGuire. "Go away and don't bother us."

"Wait a minute, Meg. You keep the looks," said Hanlon. "How you do it? What you use?"

"Cellophane," said Meg. "Jeff, bring me a whisky sour, will you? It's on the house. Hello! Here's Doctor Kildare."

"He's no business of yours," said McGuire.

She looked steadily at Kildare and smiled. "No?" she asked. "Not a bit my business?"

Sleepiness began to run out of Kildare like so many scampering rabbits. Meg held out her hand to him, and when he took it, she drew closer to him, looking up in such a way that suddenly he felt tall and strong.

"Think how long I've been hearing about you!" said Meg. "But I thought you were a lot older, doc. The way everybody looks up to you, I thought you'd be all gray, sort of. When I saw you in the hospital this evening I couldn't talk, I was so surprised. How's poor Lafferty? Has he a chance?"

"I like to feel that everyone has a chance," said Kildare.

"Oh, do you?" murmured the girl. She took the drink Jeff brought in. "Thank you, Jeff," she said, and added, "I don't know why sour goes so well with whisky... But here's to you, doc!"

Kildare found his beer and took a long swallow. When he lowered the glass, he was aware that Hanlon was muttering in the girl's ear.

She said, "Oh, quit it, Pat, will you? Try your weight on your own feet for a change. Why is the sour so good with the whisky, doc? You tell me!"

"It's the sweet and the strong with the sour and the weak—isn't there a saying about that?" said Kildare.

"Look! He had the answer!" said Meg. "Let's go somewhere and have a talk, doc. I know you have all the answers."

"I'd like to," said Kildare. "But I have to get back to the hospital pretty soon."

"Please waste some time on me, doc," she pleaded. "I'm not trying to put anything over."

"The hell you're not!" said Hanlon.

"We'll take a ride in my car. It's a nice time of day," said Meg, "and I want to talk to you about something."

Kildare glanced through the plate-glass window. Darkness was swirling outside it. "I'd like it a lot. You mean you really want me to go?" he asked.

"Haven't I been begging?" she said.

"Ah, well," said Hanlon to McGuire.

Meg began to sing, "Rum, rum... to Kingdom Come..."

"I knew you could sing," said Kildare.

"How'd you know that?" she asked.

"Just by looking at your throat."

"Is that good? That's a honey!" said Meg, laughing. "Let's make a start," she suggested.

They went out to her car, a convertible coupé with the top up. As they started down the street, she began to sing a bit of a song about "pone and m'lasses."

When her song ended, Kildare asked, "Are you from the South, Meg?"

"Can't I be from anywhere I want?"

He said, "You can be from any place I could take you. That doesn't make sense, does it?"

"There's a lot of time wasted making sense that could be used to make better things," she declared. "Where'll we go?"

"Anywhere," said Kildare. "It doesn't matter. Just the going..."

"Good old Jimmy. You know!" she said. She was swinging along under the elevated. "We'll slide up the Drive."

"You wanted to talk to me about something?"

"Oh, nothing, really. What you think? Will poor Lafferty get well?"

"I don't know," Kildare said. "Just what the bullet has done to him internally, I can't tell. But I'm going to fight!"

She said, "D'you know he's just a poor mucker? He's spent half of his life in jail."

"I don't care," said Kildare. "Where he's been or where he's going doesn't matter if I can keep life in him."

All the laughter, all the smiling sureness deserted the face that stared at Kildare. "Jimmy," said Meg, "I know why they all love you. I love you, too."

All this while, the weariness had not left Kildare, but now the numb fingers of exhaustion were unclasped from his brain. Only a small pulse kept up a tremor high in his throat.

"Don't say that, Meg," he protested.

"I'm not ashamed. I'm proud of saying it," she answered. "It isn't as though I were talking to you for the first time. I've seen people's faces when they speak about you. They all love you, Jimmy."

"Yes. Like a brother," said Kildare.

"Oh, damn the brothers!" said she.

She laid her gloved hand on his, and they looked at each other and laughed together. As he listened to that laughter of hers, he knew that the sound of it would never be out of his ears.

They turned at Seventy-second and so reached the wind that never dies along Riverside Drive. With his head back, his eyes half closed, Kildare watched Meg and let the breeze blow joy through his soul.

At last, far up the Drive, she pulled off into the semicircle which overlooks the Hudson and the cliffs of the other side. Night had covered New York; but from the Drive it was possible to see the pale end of day over the Jersey shore.

"Nice here, isn't it?" asked Meg. "Your eye gets a jump-off into space. It makes me want to go places and do things."

"It makes me want to be right here," said Kildare.

Meg took the glove from her right hand. A square-faced jewel gleamed on a ring. "You're happy, Jimmy, are you?"

He said nothing, but leaned forward and stared at her. The pulse in his throat was like a small, jabbing, insistent finger, a pain that was not a pain, but as though his heart had shifted up there. After a moment she melted back against the cushion, her head resting on the top of it, so that he could see the clean, pure line of her profile.

He raised her ungloved hand and kissed the palm of it. It was cool. It closed over his mouth and chin. He pushed her hand down and pressed it against the wild pulse that throbbed and ached in his throat.

"When I hold your hand like this," he said, "it's as though I had you close in my arms."

Her lips parted. She said, as though she had hardly strength and breath for the saying, "How real is this, Jimmy?"

"I don't know," he answered. "It's never been this way before. Not with me. Do you feel it too, Meg?"

She closed her eyes, and made a murmuring sound of content. He could have kissed her if he wished, but he refrained. Other faces blew past him on the steady wind—that freckle-faced girl who used to meet him at the junction when he rode down from the farm for the mail; another in high school, in college; a nurse, trim in her white uniform; but all of them had been no more than a touch of sweetness, like spring, to prop his eyes open while he saw invisible things.

"You're more beautiful. Is that why you're real?" he asked her.

"I've always been such a fool," said Meg. "Do you know how big a fool I am, Jimmy? I could cry. I'd better drive back. Otherwise, I'll be dripping tears and go smash in the traffic. I suppose I'll just take the thought of you home and cry over it. Will you go home with me and have a drink or something?"

"Yes," said Kildare. "I don't want to end it."

"You lie back and relax. You're tired."

He lay back, his head resting on the top of the cushion, as hers had been.

She turned the car and started back.

The tar-thick blackness of sleep was welling up about him. His head kept falling. He slept...

When he wakened, the car was standing still. He found himself with his head on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry!" he gasped, jumping up.

She had both arms around him; his movement pulled them away.

"How long—" he began.

"It was just happiness. I don't know how long," she said.

They got out of the car and he went behind her uneasily, up the steps of the old brownstone house. She fitted her key into the lock.

"You'll see me again, Meg, before long?" he asked.

"Why should I stop seeing you now?" she asked, as she pushed the door ajar.

"The hospital," he said. "I've got to get back. Good night!"

"You don't just say good night, do you, Jimmy?" she asked.

He touched her forehead with his lips.

"That's not a very big kiss," said Meg, still waiting with her head lifted.

A cold tremor shook Kildare. "You're beautiful. And—you're beautiful!"

"Thanks," said Meg, and stepped back into the doorway. "You're such an upstage idiot, Jimmy—you darling."

She vanished behind the door, which began to close slowly. He set a hand against it, cast it wide. She was standing right behind it.

Kildare got into the hall and shut the door behind him. One ceiling light poured a moonshine highlight down the balustrade.

"You didn't—" began Kildare. "You knew that I'd— You waited, Meg."

She said nothing. Only, when he came closer to her, she tilted back her head. Her eyes lifted, studied him, moved from feature to feature.

Someone else had looked at him like that, a thousand years before, in another life, but staring down, not up.

"Meg!" he said. He took her in his arms. "Meg, you love me!"

"I love you, Jimmy," she said.

"I'm not going to kiss you, Meg."

"No, Jimmy?"

He stepped back from her. "No, I'm going to save all the happiness. We're going to burst out—like summer—like summer after winter—like blue heaven—you and I, Meg, when we're married."

He got out into the street somehow and walked with his hat off, laughing a little to himself. His steps wandered as though he were drunk, for he was still seeing her as she had stood at that last instant, wide-eyed, stunned, as though a light had flashed and blinded her.

When he reached the hospital he went straight to Lafferty.

The nurse met him at the door of the ward and murmured a report. "We've given sedatives, but Lafferty's terribly nervous. There's something on his mind. You see the way he's rolling around? That's no good for a man hurt the way he is."

Kildare leaned over the bed and took the big, hairy wrist in his hand. "Hello, Lafferty," he said.

Lafferty's restlessness ceased gradually, and consciousness returned to his glazed eyes. "Hi, doc!" he murmured.

"How are things?" said Kildare.

"Queer. Sort of restful," said Lafferty. "Like being asleep with your eyes open. When do they get a stenographer so I can talk?"

"You can't talk now. Just rest," said Kildare. He took the nurse aside. "Watch Lafferty," he said. "Record his pulse and respiration every hour."

"Yes, doctor. What did you do to him just now? He's as quiet as a baby."

"Why—I—sort of prayed," said Kildare, and managed to laugh.

A moment later the nurse was saying with stealthy softness over the telephone, "Lafferty is still hanging on. I thought he was dying a minute ago but Doctor Kildare brought him around and sent him to sleep like a child. I don't know how he does it, Mr. McGuire."

Weariness was so great in Kildare that he had to make separate efforts to keep awake, and each effort caused his heart to jump and sink back again like a horse unable to take the fences. He went dizzily through his round.

At eight o'clock he was called to the telephone. It was Meg, saying, "Jimmy, can you come over for a minute?" In the background he heard other voices.

"I'm on duty," he said. "Unless it's terribly important, I can't come."

"Jimmy, don't be a doctor all the time; be a darling and come over."

He thought of Gloster, waiting above him like a hawk at the pitch. One fault on his part, and Gloster would make an end of him. "If I leave the hospital, all sorts of hell might break—"

She broke in, "Jimmy, will you come—for me?"

"I'll come," he answered, and turned from the telephone.

He saw the assistant house surgeon at once. "I've got to leave the hospital for half an hour. Will you cover me, Tom?"

"Leave the hospital?" echoed Tom. "Well, you know what you're doing. I'll try to cover you. But Gloster—"

"I've got to go," said Kildare.

"‘Got' is a hell of a big word," said Tom. "If some of those frozen-faced old buzzards at the head of the hospital get you down, they'll squeeze the heart out of you... Well, go ahead. I'll cover you all I can."

As Kildare got into his half-ragged street clothes, he kept telling himself that it had to be something important or Meg would not have insisted. He got out of the hospital, slinking like a thief for the first time in his life. As the taxi shot him north toward Meg's, he sat forward on the edge of the seat.

They pulled up in front of the brown-stone house. He found the apartment bell and rang; the latch clicked rapidly.

Before he reached the second floor, a door flipped open, letting out a chorus of laughter, man-laughter. Meg stood on the threshold with a half-filled cocktail glass in her hand.

"Hello," she said. "That you, Shorty? Come in and meet the boys, Jimmy."

Kildare went past her into a long, narrow living room. A queer dread gripped him.

Three men were in the room. One was pouring a drink from a cocktail shaker. A big, handsome fellow in a brown suit looked at Kildare with grinning curiosity.

Something about him sickened Kildare. He could look at nothing else. He could not even see the shimmer of the white dress that molded Meg's body. She was a mist, off there on the horizon of his mind—the horizon of the past.

She called out, "I thought you boys were all so big you ought to have a little variety. This is Doc Kildare. He's the poor little fellow that wants to marry me. Stand up straight, Jimmy, and try to look like a real man! I forgot to tell you that I was married already. Meet my husband, Harry. Harry, shake hands with the doc."

Kildare could not see the other faces, but Meg's remained in the mirror that topped the mantelpiece. She was sipping her drink, still smiling.

Kildare said, "I'm sorry I was such a fool, Meg," and turned out of the room.

Before the front door slammed behind him, Pat Hanlon entered the room by a rear door. He hooked his thumb over his shoulder. "Out! Get out!" he commanded.

"Sorry, boys," said Harry. "But he seems to know more than the rest of us about where we belong."

That was all anyone said as they slunk past the tall, rigid figure of Hanlon at the door. He slammed it after them.

When he turned, Meg had thrown herself back among the cushions of the davenport. "You knew that he was coming?" demanded Hanlon.

"I sent for him," she answered.

"You've double-crossed McGuire. You've smacked us all down, have you?" said Hanlon. "You could have strung him along... The nurse says it's only the doc that's keeping that crook of a Lafferty alive. You've let us all down, and the yarns that Lafferty tells when he pulls through will make McGuire and all of us seem like dirty crooks. And what was that crazy stuff about the doc wanting to marry you?"

"He did want to. He told me so this evening," said Meg.

"And you—" began Hanlon, almost shouting. He stopped himself. "Yeah," he said in a changed voice. "You fell for the old doc, did you? Well, to hell with us! He's worth the whole pack of cards."

"Stop talking about him," she said.

Hanlon poured some whisky into a glass. "Get outside of this," he directed.

"I don't want to be cured. I want to be sick," said Meg. "Pat—he took it big, didn't you think?"

"He took it big and silent. Yeah," said Hanlon. "He wouldn't take nothing any way else. Just big."

"It's when they bleed inside that they die, isn't it? I want to die. I don't want to live."

"Quit it, Meg, will you?"

"I don't know what's the matter with me. He was so nice, or something."

"Yeah, you love the old doc, I guess," said Pat. "So does McGuire. So do I."

"We could have been so happy, Pat! Why did he have to want to marry me, and me hooked up to that big sap of mine? I could have kept Jimmy away from the hospital all night, but marriage! It broke me down, Pat."

"I'm sorry, Meg."

"Shut up, Pat, will you?" she said. "I feel sick."

"Sure I'll shut up," said Hanlon. "I know how you feel. It'll be a month before you wake up in the morning and want your ham and eggs. Wait till I take the bad news to McGuire, though. He'll be off his feed for fair."

WHEN Kildare reached the hospital, he did not try to sneak in unseen. He went to his room slowly.

He was changing into whites when the assistant house surgeon broke in upon him, crying, "They've got you! Jimmy, I'm sorry as hell! Stewart Black. Gloster. They know you sneaked off. Lafferty went sour. Everybody looked for you, and you were gone."

"Forget about me," said Kildare. "Damn Gloster and the rest. But Lafferty! Tell me about Lafferty!"

"High fever and delirious."


"I don't know. The head nurse was watching him closely because you'd told her to. When he went sour, she paged you all over the hospital. I was there on the spot, but I couldn't make head or tail of Lafferty. He came to and began to call for you. You could hear him three wards away!"

"And then the nurse called the attending surgeon?"

"Yes, Black came and took a look. He wouldn't talk to me, except to ask where you were. It had to come out that you'd skipped off duty."

"All right," said Kildare.

"It's not all right. Stewart Black hit the ceiling. Then Gloster came in. When he heard you were out, he says, ‘You wouldn't expect such a good politician to waste his time in the wards, would you?'"

"I'll go up and take it," said Kildare.

"You've got the guts," said the assistant house surgeon. "But they're going to ruin you, Jimmy. I'm sorry."

When Kildare got to the ward Stewart Black glared at him with a silent intensity of disgust.

The acid voice of Gloster said, "Ah, I hope you finally lined up the votes on the right side, Kildare."

Kildare went over and took Lafferty's hand. "Lafferty," he said.

The eyelids fluttered. "Hi, doc!" Lafferty said, and smiled. But he relapsed at once into the delirium. His pulse was crazy. He plucked at the bedclothes with his hands. One of his hands seemed slow and useless. On one side of his face there was a slight twitch now and then.

"In the army," said Gloster, "they shoot a deserter. In this hospital—I can only say that it is a large hospital but that there is no room for you, Kildare."

"Do you mind if I sit and look at him?" asked Kildare. "I know I'm through."

"I dare say you may sit and look," said Gloster, "if you like to watch sepsis kill a man." He turned to Stewart Black, and said, "Let's get down to the operating room."

They went out. Kildare sat down by Lafferty's bed and took his hand. "Lafferty," he said.

There was a shudder of Lafferty's eyelids. "Hi, doc!" he whispered. The queer twitching ran up one side of his face. Instantly he was lost in delirium again.

Kildare closed his eyes. He was very tired... After a time he went over to the window and looked out. He could see a big star shining toward the west. It seemed strange that a star could shine over New York, where Meg lived.

He sat by the bed again. Lafferty's pulse was slow and hard, very hard. He breathed more slowly, too.

"Lafferty!" said Kildare.

There was a shudder of the eyelids, a parting of the lips. No sound.

"I think he's dying," whispered the nurse.

"He's not going to die," said Kildare through his teeth. "He's going to live. God wouldn't let him die," he added to himself. "Not on account of a thing like Meg." Then he said, "Get this man ready for operation. And send word to the operating room—to Doctor Gloster—that Lafferty is not dying of sepsis but of a fractured skull—a compression."

Gloster and Stewart Black came back.

"An accurate diagnosis," said Gloster. "Take Lafferty to the operating room... Kildare, if you wish to do one final thing in this hospital, you will be permitted to assist. Go scrub up—if you wish."

Kildare scrubbed up. When he got to the operating room, Stewart Black stood on one side of the table and Gloster on the other, looking like white-robed inquisitors in a torture chamber. Lafferty looked like one already dead; his face was a pale, purplish marble. The shaved part of his scalp was as white as paint.

"His pulse is fifty," said Gloster to nobody. He held out a hand toward Kildare. A little scalpel glistened in his finger tips. "Go ahead," said Gloster.

Kildare took the knife, looked into the keen, clear eyes of Gloster, and his brain grew as clear as winter starlight.

He went to work, cutting the section from the side of Lafferty's scalp, holding the flap back with retractors. He heard the anesthetist say, in answer to a question of Gloster's, "I think it's too late; he'll be decompressed too late."

Kildare looked up at them. "It's not too late," he said. "I'll have no more comment in my operating room."

He cut the bone of the skull on three sides and broke it off on the fourth. It would grow better that way, when the piece was inset again. The blood clot was exposed before him.

Kildare lifted out the clot. From a small blood vessel blood was oozing almost inappreciably. With exquisite delicacy, Kildare picked up the ruptured blood vessel with small hemostats and tied it off.

He could hear Lafferty's breathing. He could see the powerful rise and fall of that great chest.

Kildare paused, leaning on the edge of the table. "Thank God!" he whispered.

Black went out, and the nurses, and the anesthetist; there was only Gloster's cold, drilling eye to confront Kildare after the senseless body on the table was wheeled out.

Gloster said, "It was because I'd banked on you so much that I talked that way. Was it a woman, Jimmy?"

Kildare reached out, mentally, for support. Gloster had called him Jimmy.

"No. It wasn't a woman," said Kildare. "I wouldn't call her that."

"That was a beautiful diagnosis," said Gloster. "A beautiful operation."

He walked out of the room. Kildare dragged off the operating clothes, washed, and went up to Lafferty's ward. He sat by the high bed and stared at the huge bulk of the man under the bedclothes. It seemed to him that Meg stood on the farther side of the bed. He set his jaw. The ache in his throat brought tears to his eyes.

He held a forefinger on Lafferty's pulse. It was quickening, steadier, softer.

"Lafferty," he said.

Lafferty's lips parted. "Hi, doc!" he whispered. "I can breathe. I can talk. Get this: I had a fight with Harry—McGuire's man."

"Ah, d'you know my friend McGuire?" asked Kildare.

Lafferty's eyes found Kildare's face. "McGuire—is he a friend of yours, doc?"

"He's been as good a friend to me as anyone could be," said Kildare. "Go to sleep, and don't talk now."

Lafferty stared sadly at the ceiling a moment. At last he whispered, "All right. Give McGuire a ring, will you? Tell him I said everything's all right. McGuire or Hanlon."

"I'll do that. Will you sleep, Lafferty?"

"Sure—I'll sleep!" muttered Lafferty.

There was no need to telephone. A moment later word came that Hanlon was in the reception room, and Kildare went down to him at once. The big fellow looked old and tired.

"How's Lafferty, doc?" he asked.

"He's going to get well, Pat, I think. And by the way, he wanted me to tell you or McGuire that everything is all right."

"He wanted you to tell us what?" asked Hanlon with a sudden booming in his voice.

"That everything is all right. He seemed to want you and McGuire to know that he was getting well, when he found out that you and I are friends."

"Ah! Is that it?" said Hanlon. He leaned heavily on Kildare's shoulder.

"What's the matter, Pat, old fellow?"

"Nothing," breathed Hanlon. "But if it's that way—there's someone outside in my car. She's crying a good deal, doc. Would you step out a minute?"

"Crying?" said Kildare. And he went quickly out the main entrance and down to the curb, where the car waited. He pulled open the rear door and saw her in the darkness like an image in a well.

"Jimmy—Jimmy!" said her broken voice.

He sat down on the floor of the car and looked up at her. "I think I understand," he said. "It was an operation. You had to cut me out of your life. But your hand shook a little. Was that it?"

"Are you forgiving me?" she asked.

"A right sort of patient has to trust his doctor," said Kildare. "And I'm glad I've heard your voice again. It's a sweet voice, Meg, and it will never get out of my ears as long as I live."

"God bless you, Jimmy, and good-by," she said.

He got up from the car. Rain made a trembling halo around the street lamp and showed Hanlon patiently waiting.

"All right, doc?" he asked.

"All right," said Kildare.