Chapter XXVI. Ghosts That Walked for Bertram
 

October proved to be unusually mild, and about the middle of the month, Bertram, after much unselfish urging on the part of Billy, went to a friend's camp in the Adirondacks for a week's stay. He came back with an angry, lugubrious face--and a broken arm.

"Oh, Bertram! And your right one, too-- the same one you broke before!" mourned Billy, tearfully.

"Of course," retorted Bertram, trying in vain to give an air of jauntiness to his reply. "Didn't want to be too changeable, you know!"

"But how did you do it, dear?"

"Fell into a silly little hole covered with underbrush. But--oh, Billy, what's the use? I did it, and I can't undo it--more's the pity!"

"Of course you can't, you poor boy," sympathized Billy; "and you sha'n't be tormented with questions. We'll just be thankful 'twas no worse. You can't paint for a while, of course; but we won't mind that. It'll just give Baby and me a chance to have you all to ourselves for a time, and we'll love that!'

"Yes, of course," sighed Bertram, so abstractedly that Billy bridled with pretty resentment.

"Well, I like your enthusiasm, sir," she frowned. "I'm afraid you don't appreciate the blessings you do have, young man! Did you realize what I said? I remarked that you could be with Baby and me," she emphasized.

Bertram laughed, and gave his wife an affectionate kiss.

"Indeed I do appreciate my blessings, dear-- when those blessings are such treasures as you and Baby, but--" Only his doleful eyes fixed on his injured arm finished his sentence.

"I know, dear, of course, and I understand," murmured Billy, all tenderness at once.

They were not easy for Bertram--those following days. Once again he was obliged to accept the little intimate personal services that he so disliked. Once again he could do nothing but read, or wander disconsolately into his studio and gaze at his half-finished "Face of a Girl." Occasionally, it is true, driven nearly to desperation by the haunting vision in his mind's eye, he picked up a brush and attempted to make his left hand serve his will; but a bare half-dozen irritating, ineffectual strokes were usually enough to make him throw down his brush in disgust. He never could do anything with his left hand, he told himself dejectedly.

Many of his hours, of course, he spent with Billy and his son, and they were happy hours, too; but they always came to be restless ones before the day was half over. Billy was always devotion itself to him--when she was not attending to the baby; he had no fault to find with Billy. And the baby was delightful--he could find no fault with the baby. But the baby was fretful--he was teething, Billy said--and he needed a great deal of attention; so, naturally, Bertram drifted out of the nursery, after a time, and went down into his studio, where were his dear, empty palette, his orderly brushes, and his tantalizing "Face of a Girl." From the studio, generally, Bertram went out on to the street.

Sometimes he dropped into a fellow-artist's studio. Sometimes he strolled into a club or café where he knew he would be likely to find some friend who would help him while away a tiresome hour. Bertram's friends quite vied with each other in rendering this sort of aid, so much so, indeed, that--naturally, perhaps--Bertram came to call on their services more and more frequently.

Particularly was this the case when, after the splints were removed, Bertram found, as the days passed, that his arm was not improving as it should improve. This not only disappointed and annoyed him, but worried him. He remembered sundry disquieting warnings given by the physician at the time of the former break--warnings concerning the probable seriousness of a repetition of the injury. To Billy, of course, Bertram said nothing of all this; but just before Christmas he went to see a noted specialist.

An hour later, almost in front of the learned surgeon's door, Bertram met Bob Seaver.

"Great Scott, Bertie, what's up?" ejaculated Seaver. "You look as if you'd seen a ghost."

"I have," answered Bertram, with grim bitterness. "I've seen the ghost of--of every `Face of a Girl' I ever painted."

"Gorry! So bad as that? No wonder you look as if you'd been disporting in graveyards," chuckled Seaver, laughing at his own joke "What's the matter--arm on a rampage to day?"

He paused for reply, but as Bertram did not answer at once, he resumed, with gay insistence: "Come on! You need cheering up. Suppose we go down to Trentini's and see who's there."

"All right," agreed Bertram, dully. "Suit yourself."

Bertram was not thinking of Seaver, Trentini's, or whom he might find there. Bertram was thinking of certain words he had heard less than half an hour ago. He was wondering, too, if ever again he could think of anything but those words.

"The truth?" the great surgeon had said. "Well, the truth is--I'm sorry to tell you the truth, Mr. Henshaw, but if you will have it-- you've painted the last picture you'll ever paint with your right hand, I fear. It's a bad case. This break, coming as it did on top of the serious injury of two or three years ago, was bad enough; but, to make matters worse, the bone was imperfectly set and wrongly treated, which could not be helped, of course, as you were miles away from skilled surgeons at the time of the injury. We'll do the best we can, of course; but--well, you asked for the truth, you remember; so I had to give it to you."