Chapter XI. Broken Bones

Another bicycle accident! This time it was a head-on collision, two boys riding at each other round a corner, as if for a wager. The young doctor had patched them both up, there being no broken bones, only a dislocated shoulder and many bruises, and was now riding home, reflecting upon the carelessness of the human race in general, and of boys in particular. Here was one of the great benefactions of modern civilisation, a health-and-pleasure-giving apparatus within the reach of all, and often turned into an engine of destruction by senseless stupidity. Mrs. Tree would burn all bicycles if she could have her way; not that Mrs. Tree was stupid, far from it! Miss Phoebe disapproved of them, Miss Vesta feared them, and evidently expected his to blow up from day to day. What would they all say if they knew that he had been trying to persuade Vesta to ride with him? He called her Vesta in his thoughts, merely to distinguish her from her aunt. He was quite sure it would be the best possible exercise for her, now that she was so much stronger. So far, she had met all his representations with her gentle--no! not gentle; Geoffrey would be switched if she was gentle; her quiet negative. Her aunts would not like it, and there was an end. Well, there wasn't an end! A reasonable person ought to listen to reason, and be convinced by it. Vesta did not appear to be reasonable yet, but she was intelligent, and the rest would come as she grew stronger. And--he had no right to say she was not gentle; she could be the gentlest creature that ever lived, when it was a question of a child, or a bird, or-- anything that was hurt, in short. When that little beggar fell down the other day and barked his idiotic little shins, the way she took him up, and kissed him, and got him to laughing, while he, Geoffrey, plastered him up; and it hurt too, getting the gravel out. When that violoncello note gets into her voice--well, you know! Yes, she must certainly ride the bicycle! What could be more restoring, more delightful, than to ride along a country road like this, in the soft afternoon, when the heat of the day was over? The honey-clover was in blossom; there were clusters of it everywhere, making the whole air sweet. Of course he would watch her, keep note of her colour and breathing, see that she did not overdo it. Of course it was his business to see to all that. What was that the old professor used to say?

"There are two hands upon the pulse of life; the detective's, to surprise and confound, the physician's, to help and to heal."

It was that, after all, that feeling, that decided one to be a physician. If he could do anything to help this beautiful and--yes, noble creature, he was bound to do it, wasn't he, whether her aunts liked it or not? even, perhaps, whether she herself liked it or not. Well, but she would like it, she couldn't help liking it, once she tried it. She was built for a rider. He might borrow Miss Flabb's wheel for her. It was absurd for Miss Flabb to attempt to ride; she would never do enough to take down her flesh, and meantime, being near-sighted, she was at the mercy of every stray dog and hen, and likely to be run down by the first scorcher on the highroad. Now with him, even at the beginning, Vesta would have nothing to fear. He would--

At this moment came an interruption. The interruption had four legs, and barked. It came from a neighbouring farmhouse, and flew straight at the wheel, which was also flying, for the young doctor was apt to ride fast when he was thinking. There was a whirl of arms, legs, wheels, and tails, a heavy fall,--and the dog ran off on three legs, ki-hying to the skies, and the young doctor lay still in the road.

Half an hour later, Mr. Ithuriel Butters stopped at the door of the Temple of Vesta. He was driving a pair of comfortable old white horses, who went to sleep as soon as he said "Whoa!" He looked up at the house, and then behind him in the wagon. Seeing nobody at the windows, he looked up and down the street, and was aware of a young woman approaching. He hailed her.

"Say, do you know the folks in that house?"

"Yes," said Vesta; "I am staying there."

"Be!" said Mr. Butters. "Wal, Doctor Strong boards there too, don't he?"

"Yes; I don't think he is in now, though."

"I know he ain't!" said Ithuriel Butters.

Vesta looked with interest at the stalwart old figure, and strong keen face. Most of the wrinkles in the face had come from smiling, but it was grave enough now.

"Will you come in and wait," she asked, "or leave a message?"

"Wal, I guess I won't do neither--this time!" said Mr. Butters, slowly.

Vesta looked at him in some perplexity; he returned a glance of grave meaning.

"You kin to him?" asked the old man. "Sister, or cousin, mebbe?"

"No! what is it? something has happened to Doctor Strong!" Vesta's hand tightened on the rail of the steps.

"Keepin' company with him, p'raps?"

"No, oh, no! will you tell me at once, please, and plainly, what has happened?"

Vesta spoke quietly; in her normal condition she was always quieter when moved; but the colour seemed to fall from her cheeks as her eyes followed those of the old man to something that lay long and still in the cart behind him.

"Fact is," said Mr. Butters, "I've got him here. 'Pears to be"--the strong old voice faltered for an instant--"'pears to be bust up some consid'able. I found him in the ro'd a piece back, with his velocipede tied up all over him. He ain't dead, nor he ain't asleep, but I can't git nothin' out of him, so I jest brung him along. I'll h'ist him out, if you say so."

"Can you?" said Vesta. "I will help you. I am strong enough. Will your horses stand?"

"They can't fall down, 'count of the shafts," said Mr. Butters, clambering slowly down from his seat, "and they won't do nothin' else. We'll git him out now, jest as easy. I think a sight of that young feller; made me feel bad, I tell ye, to see him there all stove up, and think mebbe--"

"Don't, please!" said Vesta. "I am--not very strong--"

"Thought you said you was!" said Ithuriel Butters. "You stand one side, then, if it's the same to you. I can carry him as easy as I would a baby, and I wouldn't hurt him no more'n I would one."

       *       *       *       *       *

"There are two hands upon the pulse of life!" said the young doctor.

No one replied to this remark, nor did he appear to expect a reply. The room was darkened, and he was lying on his bed; at least some one was, he supposed it was himself. There was a smell of drugs. Some one had been hurt.

"There are two hands upon the pulse of life," he repeated; "the detective's, to surprise--and confound; the phys--phys--what?"

"Physician's," said some one.

"That's it! the physician's, to help and to heal. This appears to be-- combination--both--"

The hand was removed from his wrist. He frowned heavily, and asked if he were a Mohammedan. Receiving no answer, repeated the question with some irritation.

"I don't think so," said the same quiet voice. "Then why--turban?" he frowned again, and brought the folds of linen lower over his nose. They were quietly readjusted. The light, firm hand was laid on his forehead for a moment, then once more on his wrist. Then something was put to his lips; he was told to drink, and did so. Than he said, "My name is Geoffrey Strong. There is nothing the matter with me."

"Yes, I know."

"But--if you take away your hand--I can't hold on, you know."

The hand was laid firmly on his. He sighed comfortably, murmuring something about not knowing that violoncellos had hands; dozed a few minutes; dragged himself up from unimaginable depths to ask, "You are sure you understand that about the pulse?"

Being answered, "Yes, I quite understand," said, "Then you'll see to it!" and slept like a baby.

When he woke next morning, it was with an alert and inquisitive eye. The eye glanced here and there, taking in details.

"What the--what is all this?"

There was a soft flurry, and Miss Vesta was beside him. "Oh! my dear-- my dear young friend! thank God, you are yourself again!"

Geoffrey's eyes softened into tenderness as he looked at her. "Dear Miss Vesta! what is the matter? I seem to have--" He tried to move his right arm, but stopped with a grimace. "I seem to have smashed myself. Would it bother you to tell me about it? Stop, though! I remember! a dog ran out, and got tangled up in the spokes. Oh, yes, I remember. Am I much damaged? arm broken--who set it? that's a nice bandage, anyhow. But why the malignant and the turbaned Turk effect? is my head broken, too?"

"Oh, no, dear Doctor Strong, nothing malignant; nothing at all of that nature, I assure you. Oh, I hope, I hope the arm is properly cared for! but it was so unfortunate his being laid up with pleurisy just at this time, wasn't it? and a severe contusion on your head, you see, so that for some hours we were sadly--but now you are entirely yourself, and we are so humbly and devoutly thankful, dear Doctor Strong!"

"I think you might say 'Geoffrey,' when I am all broke up!" said the boy.

"Geoffrey, dear Geoffrey!" murmured Miss Vesta, patting his sound arm softly.

"I think you might sit down by me and tell me all about it. Who is laid up with pleurisy? how much am I broken? who brought me home? who set my arm? I want to know all about it, please!"

The young doctor spoke with cheerful imperiousness. Miss Vesta glanced timorously toward the door, then sat down by the bedside. "Hush!" she said, softly. "You must not excite yourself, my dear young friend, you must not, indeed. I will tell you all about it, if you think--if you are quite sure you ought to be told. You are a physician, of course, but she was very anxious that you should not be excited."

"Who was anxious? I shall be very much excited if you keep things from me, Miss Vesta. I feel my temperature going up this moment."

"Dear! dear!" cried poor Miss Vesta. "Try--to--to restrain it, Geoffrey, I implore you. I will--I will tell you at once. As you surmise, my dear, a dog--we suppose it to have been a dog, though I am not aware that anyone saw the accident. An old man whom you once attended--Mr. Butters; you spoke of him, I remember--found you lying in the road, my child, quite unconscious. He is an unpolished person, but possessed of warm affections. I--I can never forget his tender solicitude about you. He brought you home in his wagon, and carried you into the house. He volunteered to go to Greening for Doctor Namby--"

"Namby never put on this bandage!" interrupted Geoffrey.

"No, Geoffrey, no! we do not think highly of Doctor Namby, but there was no one else, for you seem to feel so strongly about Doctor Pottle--"

"Pottle is a boiled cabbage-head!" said Geoffrey. "He couldn't set a hen's leg without tying it in bow-knots, let alone a man's arm. Who did set it, Miss Vesta? I'm sure I must be up to 105 by this time. I can't answer for the consequences, you know, if--"

"Oh! hush! hush!" cried Miss Vesta. "He had the pleurisy, as I said; very badly indeed, poor man, so that he was quite, quite invalided--"

"Pottle had? serve him--"

"No, no, Geoffrey; Doctor Namby had. And so--she was quite positive she understood the case, and--Mr. Butters upheld her--oh, I trust, I trust I did not do wrong in allowing her to take so grave a responsibility--Sister Phoebe in bed with her erysipelas--Geoffrey-- you will not be angry, my dear young friend? Little Vesta set the arm!"

The word finally spoken, Miss Vesta sat panting quickly and softly, like a frightened bird, her eyes fixed anxiously on the young doctor.

The young doctor whistled; then considered the arm again with keen scrutiny.

"The de--that is--she did, did she?" he said, half to himself. He felt it all over with his sound hand, and inspected it again. "Well, it's a mighty good job," he said, "whoever did it."

Miss Vesta's sigh of relief was almost a gasp. Geoffrey looked up quickly, and saw her gentle eyes brimming with tears.

"You dear angel!" he cried, taking her hand. "I have made you anxious. I am a brute--a cuttlefish--hang me, somebody, do!"

"Oh! hush, hush! my boy!" cried the little lady, wiping away her tears. "It was only--the relief, Geoffrey. To feel that you are not angry at her--Sister Phoebe would call it presumption, but Vesta did not mean to be presumptuous, Geoffrey--and that you think it is not so ill done as I feared. I--I am so happy, that is all, my dear!"

She wept silently, and Geoffrey lay and called himself names. Presently--"Where is she?" he asked.

"Sister Phoebe? she is still in bed, and suffering a good deal. I am continuing the remedies you gave her. I--I have thought it best to let her suppose that Doctor Namby had attended you, Geoffrey. She is very nervous, and I feared to excite her."

Geoffrey commended her wisdom, but made it clear that he was not thinking of Miss Phoebe. Couldn't he see Miss Little Vesta? he asked. He wanted to--to thank her for what she had done, and ask just how she had done it. There were all sorts of details--in short, it was important that he should see her at once. Asleep? Why--it seemed unreasonable that she should be asleep at this hour of the morning. Was she not well?

"She--she watched by you most of the night!" Miss Vesta confessed. "Your head--she was afraid of congestion, and wanted the cloths changed frequently. She would not let me sit up, Geoffrey, though I begged her to let me do so. She will come as soon as she wakes, I am sure."

"I told you I was a cuttlefish!" said Geoffrey. "Now you see! I--I believe I am getting sleepy again, Miss Vesta. What is that pretty thing you have around your neck? Did she sit in that chair? What a fool a man is when he is asleep!"

Seeing his eyelids droop, Miss Vesta moved softly away; was called back at the door, and found him looking injured. "You haven't tucked me up!" he said.

Miss Vesta tucked him up with delicate precision, and drew the snowy counterpane into absolute smoothness. "There!" she said, her gentle eyes beaming with maternal pleasure. "Is there anything else, dear doctor--I mean dear Geoffrey?"

"No, nothing--unless--I don't suppose angels ever kiss people, do they?"

Very pink indeed, even to her pretty little ears, Miss Vesta stooped and deposited a very small and very timid kiss on his forehead; then slipped away like a little shocked ghost, wondering what Sister Phoebe would say.