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Title: The Miracle Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000931h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2020 Most recent update: September 2020 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Mary Bell always remembered it was the day after her twenty-sixth birthday when she first felt the pain. She was in church and had just got up from her knees when she felt a sharp stab in her side. It only lasted for a few seconds and then went off. But it hurt her again, for quite a minute, as she was walking home.
Then the next morning, when she was in her bath, she felt it and, pressing hard, she could just feel a tender spot. All that week it bothered her on and off, remaining for yet longer and longer periods when it came on. It was worse at night and when she was tired. She thought she must have ricked herself at some time, but she could not remember when. She did not worry about it, however, being sure it would pass off soon.
But by the end of a fortnight it was nearly always with her, unless she was sitting still or lying down. It was not by any means a bad pain, just an ache. She still took no notice of it, for otherwise she felt quite well.
Mary Bell worked in a wheat-broker's office in Pitt street, Sydney, and her salary was 55/- a week. She was an orphan and had no relations, except some cousins in Adelaide with whom she very seldom communicated. She was quite a pretty girl, but could have made herself much more attractive than she did, had she chosen. She had a good complexion, nice, soft brown eyes, and a perfect set of teeth. Also, her hair was wavey. She was of medium height and had a well-formed and beautifully proportioned little figure.
But she dressed cheaply and dowdily, making no attempt to enlist the interest of the other sex. She had had no "affairs," and seemed, without any, to be quite content. She was very quiet and reserved in disposition and had, practically, no friends. In her work at the office she was capable and trustworthy.
She lived in a cheap boarding house in one of the unfashionable suburbs of Sydney and, without realising it, her life was drab and uninteresting.
The ache went on, until gradually it became part of her life, but she found that if she held her left side stiffly and in a certain position as she walked, she hardly felt it, and so, for nearly five months, she was quite content to let it remain like that.
Then one day she happened to pick up a newspaper and read, in an editorial commenting upon the deliberations of a recent medical congress, that the very gravest warning had been given about any pains or swellings in any part of the body which could not be accounted for, and she went grey with horror.
She had had her ache and swelling for nearly five months, and, oh, God, if it turned out to be——!
It was in the sitting-room of the boarding house, just after the evening meal, when she had picked up the newspaper and, turning her head down so that no one should see her ashen face, she tottered up to her bedroom.
Then alone, and with temples throbbing and lying wide-eyed upon the bed, she thought out what she must do.
She would go to a doctor at once and, even if her worst fears were confirmed, it might not be too late for an operation. After all, although latterly the pain had been almost a constant one, the swelling was still very small, and she had to press hard to feel it.
No, she would not go to a local doctor; she would choose a most experienced one. She would go to one of the big consultants in Macquarie street, no matter what she would have to pay. One thing, she could afford it for, thank heaven, she had some money saved.
Then she thought at once of Dr. Oscar Holthusen. She had heard he was terribly expensive, but knew that for more than a generation he had been one of the foremost consulting physicians in Sydney. He was certainly getting old, but he was reputed to be still wonderful and she herself knew he was a kind and gentle man and one of whom no one need be afraid.
She had heard him lecture once at a big girl's club to which at one time she had belonged, and she always remembered what he had said to them then.
He had spoken on the subject that was generally supposed to be nearest to his heart, the power of the mind over the body and how, in sickness, its influence could be far greater than the most marvellous potions of any fabled magician of ancient times. Indeed, he said they were only at the beginning of their knowledge there, and no doubt in years to come perfect miracles of healing would be brought about by the will power of the sufferers alone.
The next morning she rang up his consulting rooms and was given an appointment for the next day at twelve o'clock. The secretary said Mary was very fortunate for, had not a patient just postponed her appointment, she would have had to wait at least a week, the doctor being so full up with engagements.
So the following day, a few minutes after noon, Mary Bell was being ushered into the consulting room and received with an old-world courtesy by the doctor. His face was as kind and gentle as she remembered it, and save for his beautiful silvered hair brushed close upon his head, it was, she thought, not unlike that of some medieval saint in the stained-glass window of a church. He was small and frail-looking, but his deep-set eyes were very bright and burned with a strong vitality.
He made her feel quite at her ease at once, and in a few moments she was unburdening to him all her fears.
He smiled when she told him of the warning she had read in the news papers.
"Not at your age, young lady," he said. "It is highly improbable."
Then he was just stretching out his hand to the bell upon his desk when, suddenly, a great change came over his countenance, his lips parted, his calm expression altered to one of some excitement, and he drew back his hand sharply. Then he stretched it out again, he hesitated, and finally the hand came to rest upon his knees.
A short silence followed, with the doctor staring very thoughtfully at a big engraving of "The Martyr"' upon the wall.
At last he turned again to Mary and, with his deep-set eyes regarding her most intently, began asking her a lot of questions.
He wanted to know all about her temperament and disposition; was she self-reliant, had she good powers of self-control, was her will strong, and could she concentrate. Then he asked a lot about her home surroundings; what was her occupation, did she go out much, did she make many friends and was she engaged to be married.
"I like to get to know as much as possible about all my patients," he explained smilingly, "so that in my treatment I can deal with the mind as well as with the body."
He touched the bell upon his desk, with no hesitation this time. "Now, I'll examine you. Just go behind that screen, please, and Nurse will help you to undress."
His examination was very thorough and carried out in perfect silence. His face was very grave all the time. Then with a curt gesture he motioned to her to put on her clothes and, leaving her to the attentions of the nurse, left the room.
When she was dressed again the nurse told her to resume her seat by the desk until the doctor returned, but the latter appeared almost before she had had time to sit down.
"Well, I can't give you any decided opinion, Miss Bell," he said slowly, and Mary thought with a pang that he was avoiding her eyes, "until you've been X-rayed. You've got something there, but what it is I can't tell." He took one of his cards out of a case and wrote quickly upon it. "Now, I've just spoken on the telephone to this Dr. Neville, and you are to go over to him at once, he's only just across the street. He'll X-ray you straight away, and I'll get the skiagram tonight. Then you can come and see me tomorrow at five minutes to twelve and I'll tell you everything."
The following day, the moment she entered the consulting room, Mary saw by the expression upon the doctor's face that he had bad news to tell.
"I've got something?" she asked breathlessly. "There is something there?"
He nodded very slowly. "Yes. I'm sorry to tell you there is, Miss Bell."
"And I shall have to be operated upon?" she gasped.
He shook his head. "No," he said, "it is inoperable. It has reached the walls of the great arteries. You have left it too long," and then, when Mary covered her face with her hands and broke into convulsive sobs, he came and stood over her and laid his hand in deepest sympathy upon her shoulder.
"Poor little woman!" he exclaimed. "I am so sorry for you, and you'll want all your courage now. It seems awful that a beautiful, white young body like yours should house so hideous a thing, but there it is. Nature strikes blindly, and a queen upon her throne and the poorest beggar-girl may both suffer in the same way."
Then, with Mary controlling herself and beginning to calm down, he told her exactly what would happen. She had about nine months to live, but for the first five or six she would feel very little different and the pain would not get worse. She was to come and see him regularly once a month, and when the pain began to get really bad he would put her in a hospital and see she suffered as little as possible.
"So for five or six months," he said, "you can lead what life you will and I'll tell you how to make the best of everything." He spoke most earnestly. "You must get accustomed to this horrible thing and not let its dreadful presence frighten you. Get to grips with it at once and let it become familiar to you. Concentrate your mind upon it. Put your hand upon your side and say, 'I know you're there, but you're not going to terrify me. I'll regard you just as an ordinary occurrence.'" He nodded. "Yes, prove your courage and show how the mind can triumph over the body."
Poor Mary Bell drank of a bitter cup in the ensuing days, and it needed all her courage to let no one sense the terror in her heart. She was a little quieter, perhaps, and even a little more reserved, but she was always ready with her grave smile, and in her work she was as competent and thorough as ever.
She did not mind the day so much, but the nights were hours of haunting horror for her. Then her fears overcame her and it was not until she was utterly exhausted and the grey dawn was creeping into the room, that she would sink into a brief and fitful slumber.
But one day something happened, and her mind turned a complete somersault. She took a grip of life again and vistas of happiness, more wonderful than she had ever known before, suddenly opened up before her.
It happened in this way.
When she was passing along Pitt street in the dinner hour the traffic was suddenly held up, and she stopped, with curiosity, to regard a very unusual looking car that was close to the kerb.
The car was an open single-seater one and, richly appointed with its silver-plated bonnet, it looked to Mary the last word in luxury. Inside were two very pretty girls and, beautifully gowned, they were talking animatedly together.
With a fierce pang of anguish in her heart Mary thought how different their lives were going to be to hers. They had probably everything the world could offer—health, riches, love, friendship, and happy homes—while she—she was an untouchable, friendless, loveless, and so soon to pass away in the white and narrow bed of a hospital ward.
Ah—and a clarion call rang through her! She had five months yet when she could enjoy life! She had money saved, and why shouldn't she then spend it all to pack in that short remaining time such memories of happiness that they would be an anodyne in the few but awful weeks that would follow after?
Oh, heaven, why hadn't she thought of it before?
That night in her bedroom, all feelings of depression left her, and flushed and excited, she was considering what she would do.
She would give up her daily drudgery at the office; she would leave the dreary boarding house, she would be gowned by Madame Lamontaine, she would go and stop at one of the best hotels, she would have drives in motor cars, she would go to concerts and theatres, and she would live the life of a rich and carefree girl!
Ah! but she had only just £252, and that wouldn't last long! She couldn't carry out her programme upon that! Her dresses alone would cost at least £100!
Her great hopes began to droop and wither, and then another thought came to her and she was all excitement again.
She must gamble with this £252! She must risk everything, and either lose it or turn it into £1,000!
Risk was no stranger to her, for in her nine years in a wheat-broker's office she had lived the whole time in an atmosphere of gambling, or "speculation," as it was called. Wheat was always going up and down, and the rise or fall of a penny a bushel often meant huge sums of money to the men who frequented the office day by day.
The next morning she drew out her £252 from the bank, and that same afternoon presented herself to her employer in his private room.
"I come on business today, Mr. Bentley," she said calmly to the keen-eyed and rather poker-faced middle-aged man who was seated at a large desk there. She laid down five £50 notes before him. "I want you to buy wheat for me with this upon a three-penny cover."
"Say it again," said her employer frowningly, and when she had complied with his request, he asked with a scowl, "Whose money is this?"
"Mine," replied Mary. "I've just drawn it from the bank."
"All your savings, I suppose," he grunted. He pushed the notes away. "Well, I'll do no business for you. The market's panicky, and I won't encourage you."
"But, Mr. Bentley," pleaded Mary tremulously, "I have to risk it. Something has happened in my life, something I can't tell you, and I must have much more money or none at all. Just this £250 will not help me, and if I lose it I shall be no worse off." She spoke with great earnestness. "Please do as I want you to or it will only mean I shall have to go to someone else and may then get cheated."
Without a word her employer drew out a slip of paper from a pigeonhole and commenced to write. There was silence for a few moments and then he looked up and said. "Now let us be quite clear. Wheat stands at 4/10 today, and I am to buy enough with this £250 so that if limits are reduced 3d. a bushel your cover will have run off and you will have lost all your £250. You quite understand, do you not?"
"Yes, perfectly," nodded Mary, "and if it goes up 3d. a bushel and I ask you to sell, I shall have made £250 or thereabouts."
"Exactly!" he said dryly. "If it goes up." He smiled a grim smile. "But don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
However, Mary's good fortune was in the ascendant, for after remaining stationary for two days the market went up a penny and the following day twopence. She sold at once, with Mr. Bentley making no comment, but when two day's later wheat had dropped a penny and Mary came in, this time with £400 to speculate, he expressed himself forcibly.
"Don't be so foolish, Miss Bell," he snapped. "You've made good once and be content with that."
But Mary was firm, and in the end he gave way. Then Mary had a very worrying week, and all the pain in her side was forgotten in her anxiety about the price of wheat. It dropped a penny, recovered twopence half penny and then dropped a penny again. Finally, three days in succession it rose a penny and Mary, tempting fortune no longer, instructed her employer to sell.
"And you're a very lucky young woman," said the latter, when later he handed her a cheque for well over £800. "To turn £250 into more than £800 in ten days is what few of us are able to do who have been in wheat all our lives." He waved her aside. "Now don't you come near me again."
Mary looked very embarrassed. "And I shan't be coming near you at all soon," she said, "for I want to give you notice now. I have to give up my work here."
Mr. Bentley looked astonished. "Give notice!" he exclaimed. He pointed to the cheque in her hand. "You've got a nerve, haven't you?"
"I am so sorry about it," said Mary apologetically, "but the truth is I am to have a serious operation in about six months, and I want to take a long holiday to get strong for it."
"Ah!" exclaimed her employer. He nodded. "Yes, I believe you. I've noticed you've not been looking well lately. Well, you can go at the end of the week. Come and see me when you are strong again."
A fortnight later a very elegant looking Miss Dorothy Bell—Dorothy was Mary's other Christian name and she thought it sounded more important than Mary—had taken up her residence at the magnificent Semiris Hotel, and making arrangements to stay at least three months she had been accommodated with sitting-room, bedroom and bathroom en suite for the trifle of £12 12/ a week.
She was beautifully gowned, and everything about her suggested good taste, and ample means to indulge in it. Very wisely she had placed herself entirely in the hands of those best able to judge what styles would suit her, and the result was a very sweet, charming, and even a distinguished-looking young woman.
At the Semiris she was soon referred to by everyone as "The Mysterious Lady," because no one seemed to know anything about her. She was never seen to speak to anyone, she never had any visitors, and no letters ever came for her.
She could have made friends in plenty had she wanted to, for everyone was interested in her, and the men especially so. But she kept herself to herself, firmly but politely discouraging any advances.
She regarded herself as an untouchable.
She was not unhappy, however, and appreciated to the full all her luxurious surroundings. She revelled in the peace of everything. She loved her bright and comfortable rooms, with their incomparable view over the glorious harbor. She enjoyed the food and was never weary of the fine hotel orchestra. She had her motor drives, as she had promised herself, and she went to concerts, theatres, and pictures whenever the mood took her.
Strangely enough, her side was better and not nearly so painful, but Dr. Holthusen warned her that, unhappily, she must build no hopes upon that, for, as the growth invaded the surrounding tissues, it might paralyse the sensory nerves, and they would then fail to pass on sensations.
She had been to the doctor upon three more occasions and he had been kindness itself to her. He had been most interested to learn if she had been concentrating upon her trouble as he had advised her to, and when she had told him, rather fibbingly, that she had, he seemed very pleased.
"That's right," he said encouragingly, "and then it will lose all its terrors for you."
She had been X-rayed again after every visit, but each time she had been sent to a new radiologist. The doctor had explained he was not at all satisfied with the old ones.
When she had been at the Semiris just over three and a half months, it came to her all of a sudden one morning, that the promised period of immunity from pain was quickly passing, and had now a bare two months to run.
So, acting upon an impulse, she resolved to go for a sea voyage, and selected the one to South Africa, because she found there was a boat of the same line returning only two days after she would arrive at Capetown.
Then one glorious summer evening she found herself upon the good ship Nestor, and watching with moist eyes the dim and quickly receding lights of the great city.
"And when I see you again, you dear old Sydney," she murmured chokingly, "I shall be among the ways of pain. I shall be near the end then and my days will be almost done."
It had been her intention to be as reserved as ever upon the boat, but she soon realised that it was quite impossible, as everyone wanted to be so friendly. So almost at once she was whirled into all the gaiety of shipboard life, and to her astonishment she found she was enjoying it.
What did it matter, she asked herself. She would never see any of these people again! They would pass out of her life just as she was going to pass out of life itself. So she would take the best the hours could give her, and it would be a bright memory to her as she lay stretched upon the hospital bed.
So she played bridge, she danced, and she joined in all the sports. She was a great favorite with everyone, and seemingly of so natural and happy a disposition she disarmed all the jealousy the women might have had because of the attention the men gave her. The men were her great trouble, and with several of them she had difficulty in preventing their flirtations developing into serious love-making. But she managed it somehow, except in the case of one elderly widower, and he, getting her alone on deck one night, two days before they were due to arrive at Capetown, made a proposal of marriage to her.
He was well-to-do and a very nice man, and when she regretfully refused him was most dejected. They parted at Capetown, but after the boat had left for England she received a registered packet at her hotel, and, opening it, found it contained a very beautiful diamond ring. "My poor wife's," wrote the donor, "and no one but you shall wear it." And as he put no address on the letter she knew she would have to keep it.
The return voyage to Australia followed much upon the same lines as that from Sydney. Again she was most popular and, as before, quickly came to have her bevy of admirers. Her side had begun to hurt her quite a lot now, but she put it resolutely out of her mind, and her happy, smiling face told nothing of the dreadful fate which she knew was overshadowing her.
One man among the other passengers soon singled himself out as her most attentive admirer, a young doctor who was coming out to Australia to make it his permanent home. He told her he had been suddenly summoned from London because an uncle of his had been taken very ill. The doctor's name was Errol Strone, and he was very good-looking, with a strong, firm face and calm grey eyes.
He had taken a great fancy to her and was always hovering about wherever she was. She felt instinctively that his interest in her was becoming serious, and took good care that she should never be with him alone.
One night, three days before the boat was due to arrive at Port Adelaide, there was a fancy dress ball, and Mary went as "The Spirit of Night." She thought in grim amusement that her choice was most appropriate, as her own night was so soon to fall.
Another girl passenger who had been a mannequin in London had improvised the dress for her, and the general opinion was that Dorothy Bell was absolutely beautiful that night. Her pain was saddening her and there was a wistful, haunting look in her eyes that made an irresistible appeal.
Towards midnight, tired out and unable to stand her pain any longer, she slipped away from the ball-room and, getting hold of her cabin stewardess, asked for a boiling hot bath. Then, lying back, soothed and made drowsy by the heat of the water, she suddenly realised she was about to faint.
She had just strength enough to call out, "Help! help!" and then she remembered nothing more until she came to and found herself in her own bed.
She was wrapped in a blanket and Dr. Strone and one of the ship's nurses were bending over her, with a very anxious-looking stewardess hovering in the background.
"That'll do now, Sister," said the doctor. "She's coming to and must have a little brandy in some hot milk."
He shook his finger reprovingly at Mary. "Fie, fie, young woman," he said smilingly, "you should never have a bath as hot as that. It was enough to knock out a strong man, to say nothing of a girl who had been indulging in violent exercise all the evening."
He left her in a few minutes and she sank into a troubled sleep. She dreamt that someone was offering her a cup of great happiness, and then, just as she was about to drink from it, it was dashed from her lips.
The next morning she felt quite all right again and, except that her side was aching, no worse for her adventure in the bath.
She thanked the doctor prettily, but he made light of it. "The stewardess happened to find me first," he said, "and that's how I came to attend you." He smiled. "In the ordinary way, you know, it's the privilege of the ship's doctor to attend to all the pretty girls."
The night before they were due to reach Port Adelaide, she made her way alone up on to the boat deck and, leaning over the rail in sad contemplation of the beautiful moonlit sea, was suddenly startled by the sound of footsteps she had come to know so well.
Then before she could make a movement to prevent it, she felt an arm encircle her waist, she was drawn close to a tall figure, her face was tilted up and Dr. Strone was kissing her passionately upon the lips.
Just for one fleeting second she made an effort to wrench her face away, but the ecstacy of his kisses sapped all her strength, and she soon found herself in abject surrender, folded unresistingly in his arms, and even returning his caresses.
For the moment she was lost to everything but his nearness to her, and with her arms around his neck, her kisses were as long and as fervent as his own.
Her madness lasted longer than a minute and then she realised what was happening. She—the untouchable to all men—was allowing a man to kiss her and actually kissing him in return!
She suddenly thrust him away from her. "No, no," she choked, "you ought not to have kissed me. It was wicked of me to let you do it. You must not touch me at all."
"But why not?" asked Dr. Strone. "You're not married already are you? You're not engaged?" He spoke passionately. "Then why shouldn't I kiss you. I want you to promise to become my wife."
"Oh, no, I can't promise you," she wailed. "Please go away now. I'll answer you some other time."
"Well," he smiled, quite unperturbed, "I'm leaving the boat, as you know, tomorrow, and going overland to Sydney." He sighed. "So, I suppose I'll have to wait until you get there. Give me your address, anyhow."
So it was left at that, and the next morning she said good-bye to him in front of all the others, giving him no chance to speak to her alone. Then as he was going down the gangway she whispered. "And please don't meet the boat when it arrives at Sydney. If you do, I shall be terribly angry. You can come and see me the next day."
She saw him land upon the wharf with dreadful feelings in her heart, for she knew she would never see him again. She had given him a false address.
Then for five weeks she hid herself away in a good class guest home, to which was attached a large garden. She never went beyond the garden, fearful that she might meet Dr. Strone. She often wondered what he thought of her and hoped he had forgotten her. Her side hurt her a good deal now, and she could no longer walk far. Strangely enough, she found she was not losing weight.
At last when nearly seven months had sped away since her first visit to Dr. Holthusen, she rang up for an appointment with him, believing that her going into a hospital could not much longer be delayed.
It was a strange voice that answered her and she realised the old doctor must have got a new secretary. Yes, she could come on Thursday at four o'clock, she was told, and then she was asked if she were a new patient. When she said no, there seemed to be some hesitation at the other end of the wire and then the voice repeated that Thursday at four would be all right.
So at the appointed time she arrived in Dr. Holthusen's waiting room, and the nurse at once appeared. "It's a long time since we've seen you, Miss Bell," said the latter smiling, and Mary thought she seemed rather embarrassed.
"Yes, I've been for a sea voyage," explained Mary. "Will the doctor be very angry, do you think?"
"No-o, I don't think so," replied the nurse. "You see, he's——" but at that moment a bell rang, and with an apology the nurse slipped away.
A minute or two later, Mary was shown into the consulting room, and she thought the door was closed very quickly behind her. Then she saw someone, whom she knew instantly was not the doctor, with his back towards her, and as he turned quickly at hearing the door close, to her consternation she saw it was Dr. Errol Strone.
For a moment they both stared at each other without speaking, and then Dr. Strone exclaimed incredulously, "You! It's you!" He picked up an index-card, off the table. "You're not this Miss Mary Bell referred to here?"
Mary felt her knees sinking under her and from a deathly pallor her face flamed to a furious red. "Yes, I'm Mary Bell," she faltered. "Mary's my other Christian name." Her voice steadied. "I want to see Dr. Holthusen, please. I'm a patient of his."
But Dr. Strone was still staring at her in abject amazement and then he turned his eyes again upon the card. "Left iliac region," he muttered, "probably sarcoma!" He drew in a deep breath. "Sit down, will you please, Miss Bell."
"But I want to see Dr. Holthusen," repeated Mary nervously.
"He is away, very ill," said Dr. Strone. "No, he'll never come back, and I am taking on all his patients. I am his nephew—by marriage." He smiled faintly. I told you I'd been called to Australia because of my uncle being ill."
"But I can't let you attend me after the friends we've been," said Mary, warmly. "I wouldn't think of it."
"Nonsense," said Dr. Strone sharply, "you're nothing but 'a case' to me now. Sit down at once."
Feeling weak and tottery and unable to resist his stern command, Mary did as she was requested, and with his face all puckered up into a frown, Dr. Strone went on looking from her to the card and then to her again. "You've been here five times," he said, looking very puzzled, "and you've had four X-rays for trouble that began five months before my uncle first saw you! What did he say you'd got?"
"A growth," whispered Mary faintly. "He gave me about nine months to live,"—she could hardly speak—"and the time expires in about two months. I've had trouble for more than a year now."
"Good God!" exclaimed Dr. Strone, and he looked the very picture of bewilderment. Then he said very quietly, "Well, now you just tell me everything, everything right from the very beginning."
And so, choking back her tears and her voice gathering strength as she went along, Mary told him the whole story of the past twelve months; how she had been a typiste in an office when the pain had come on, how she had read the medical warning about unaccountable pain, how she had consulted his uncle and what she had been then told, how she had gambled with all her savings to get enough money to live the last months of her life in luxury, and all that happened after.
And all the time Dr. Strone listened intently; frowning when she told of her visits to his uncle, smiling, as he heard of her successful gamble in wheat, and with a calm impassive face when she mentioned her hotel life and the voyage to South Africa. "Now just one question," he said when she had finished, and he pointed to her right side. "Did you get that long scar there only from having your appendix taken out?"
"Yes, it had to be done suddenly, when I was in the country," she replied, "and the young doctor there said he had great difficulty in finding it." A sudden thought struck her and she grew scarlet. "But how do you know about that long scar?"
He spoke with studied carelessness. "I noticed it when I was lifting you out of the bath that night," he said. "I happened to be passing in the corridor when the stewardess heard your cry for help. Then I climbed over the bathroom door and got you out." He touched the bell upon the desk "Now we'll have a look at those X-rays."
But his study of the X-rays only made him frown more heavily. "Not a sign of anything there," he snapped. "But I'll have a look at where the pain is."
So, as upon each visit before, Mary was taken behind the screen and the nurse helped her to undress. Then Dr. Strone proceeded to examine her, much as his uncle had done, only that he was much quicker and did not press her side so much. He made her lie upon her back, then turn over, and finally she had to stand up and bend slowly down. All the time he looked as solemn as if he were at a funeral.
Then he said sharply. "You've no growth at all. You've nothing the matter with you except that one of your muscles is badly torn and, as you've been going about with it like that for longer than a year, it'll take some little time to heal. I'll strap up your side with plaster now, and you'll go straight into a private hospital, for at least a fortnight, and be kept perfectly still."
"But you're sure?" gasped Mary. "You're perfectly sure?" and when he repeated he was, she burst into a passionate flood of tears.
"Put on your clothes," he said curtly, "and I'll talk to you."
Mary came round the screen to find him seated at the desk and looking very grim and stern. She sat down as he bade her and the nurse left the room.
A short silence followed and then, as if with a great effort, Dr. Strone began to speak. It seemed as if he were struggling under the stress of some very strong emotion.
"You've been a very wronged woman, Miss Bell," he said huskily, "and no words can express the grief I feel." He drew in a deep breath. "My uncle has deliberately imposed upon you to further his dreadful scientific ends. He wanted to find out if, by telling you you had a growth in your side, the concentration of your mind could ultimately produce one." He gritted his teeth. "It was a fiendish thing to do."
Mary was crying softly. "Oh, it was awful of him," she sobbed, "and he ought to be punished."
"He is punished," said Dr. Strone sternly. "He is in an asylum for the insane."
A long silence followed, and then he went on. "You see, Miss Bell, he was an old man and the study of the influence of the mind upon the body had been the obsession of his later years. His concentration had eaten into his sanity. He knew, as we all know, that willpower can cure many diseases and he wanted to prove most definitely and without a shadow of a doubt that it can also create them, even organic ones. You came along with your fears of a malignant growth. You tempted him and he fell."
Mary was drying her eyes. "Well, I shall forget it all in time, shan't I?" she asked. "I shall become an ordinary woman again one day?"
"Of course, you will," replied the doctor stoutly. "With the wonderful strength of character you have, in a few weeks, even, it will be all only a memory to you." He spoke in business-like tones. "Now this is what we are going to do. I'm ringing up a private hospital, and when I've finished with the two patients who are now waiting, Nurse and I will take you there in my car. Nurse will go and get any clothes that are necessary." He hesitated a moment and seemed rather embarrassed. "Now as to funds." He smiled. "Have you spent all that £900?"
Mary blushed furiously. "Certainly not. I've still got more than £80 and that——"
"Will be ample," interrupted the doctor, "until I get you another position." He nodded. "I've plenty of influence, and there will be no difficulty there."
And then for a month it seemed to Mary that the days flew by in a delicious but very troubled dream. At first, and when in the hospital, she saw Dr. Strone almost every day, but never dared to look him straight in the face, lest he should see her feelings for him in her eyes.
She could not make him out. He was kindness itself to her, but always most coldly professional, and even when she had left the hospital and was visiting him again at his consulting room, he never showed the slightest trace of any personal interest. The nurse was always present and, the examinations over, he bowed her out, she thought, as quickly as possible. The passionate lover of the boat-deck had completely faded away.
Then came her last visit to him, she knew it was to be the last because he had told her a few days previously that it would be, and her appointment was for five o'clock, a much later hour than was usual.
He examined her side carefully and pronounced her quite cured. Then, when the nurse had left the room, and she herself was thanking him for his great kindness and preparing to say good-bye, he interrupted her with the nicest smile he had given her all the time he had been attending her.
"Oh, I've not quite done with you yet," he said. "I promised I would get you another position, and I've found it, and am going to take you to see if you would like it, straight-away."
"But Dr. Strone——" she began.
"No!" he interrupted, "I've arranged it all. Now, I shan't be five minutes and you go and sit in my car outside until I'm ready."
Hurt and dreadfully saddened that her romance was all over, she was half inclined to refuse, but he bustled her out quickly and she found herself seated in his car almost before she knew what had happened. Her heart beat a little tremulously at the thought of a drive alone with him.
He did not keep her waiting very long and then, with hardly a word spoken, they drove through the city. It was not a long drive and in about twenty minutes they were turning into a side road that went down to one of the innumerable little bays of the harbor.
"Here we are!" he exclaimed as they passed through a gate leading into a curving avenue of overhanging trees. Through the trees Mary could see a dainty little bungalow perched upon the low cliffs, and just above the sea.
But Dr. Strone did not drive the whole length of the avenue, and proceeding only just far enough, so that they were out of sight of any people passing in the road, brought the car abruptly to a standstill. The spot was a secluded one, and Mary's knees began to tremble.
Then her companion suddenly slipped his arm around her, and without a word, drew her close to him. He tilted up her chin and looked into her eyes. A moment's waiting and he bent down and started to kiss her passionately.
Mary made no pretence that his kisses were unwelcome, and for a long minute clung to him in ecstacy. A supreme happiness was surging through her, and Heaven was no farther than that garden by the sea.
But they had to pause at last to take breath, and then he asked mockingly: "And I suppose, sweetheart, you've been expecting me to kiss you like this, every time you've come to see me!"
"Oh, no, I haven't," she replied instantly, and in smiling indignation. "I never thought of such a thing." Then she gave him a demure look and added softly: "Still, I might not have been very angry if you had."
"Well, I simply didn't do it," he laughed merrily, "because on principle I never kiss anyone during professional hours." He regarded her tenderly. "Yes, you little darling, I made up my mind you should become my wife that night as I was lifting you out of that bath." He drew her to him again. "I had rescued you, and thought you sort of belonged to me from that moment. So we'll be married straight-away, this week or next, and"—he pointed to the bungalow—"our honeymoon will be spent there."
And then so deep and long a silence followed that a willy-wagtail came and perched himself upon the bonnet of the car. It would, however, have been more in accordance with the fitness of things had the wagtail been a bird of Paradise.
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