When a Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XXII. It Was Delirium
I was sure he was dead. He did not move, and when I caught his hands and called him frantically, he did not hear me. And so, with the horror over me, I half fell down the stairs and roused Jim in the studio.
They all came with lights and blankets, and they carried him into the tent and put him on the couch and tried to put whisky in his mouth. But he could not swallow. And the silence became more and more ominous until finally Anne got hysterical and cried, "He is dead! Dead!" and collapsed on the roof.
But he was not. Just as the lights in the tent began to have red rings around them and Jim's voice came from away across the river, somebody said, "There, he swallowed that," and soon after, he opened his eyes. He muttered something that sounded like "Andean pinnacle" and lapsed into unconsciousness again. But he was not dead! He was not dead!
When the doctor came they made a stretcher out of one of Jim's six-foot canvases--it had a picture on it, and Jim was angry enough the next day--and took him down to the studio. We made it as much like a sick-room as we could, and we tried to make him comfortable. But he lay without opening his eyes, and at dawn the doctor brought a consultant and a trained nurse.
The nurse was an offensively capable person. She put us all out, and scolded Anne for lighting Japanese incense in the room--although Anne explained that it is very reviving. And she said that it was unnecessary to have a dozen people breathing up all the oxygen and asphyxiating the patient. She was good-looking, too. I disliked her at once. Any one could see by the way she took his pulse--just letting his poor hand hang, without any support--that she was a purely mechanical creature, without heart.
Well, as I said before, she put us all out, and shut the door, and asked us not to whisper outside. Then, too, she refused to allow any flowers in the room, although Betty had got a florist out of bed to order some.
The consultant came, stayed an hour, and left. Aunt Selina, who proved herself a trump in that trying time, waylaid him in the hall, and he said it might be a fractured skull, although it was possibly only concussion.
The men spent most of the morning together in the den, with the door shut. Now and then one of them would tiptoe upstairs, ask the nurse how her patient was doing, and creak down again. Just before noon they all went to the roof and examined again the place where he had been found. I know, for I was in the upper hall outside the studio. I stayed there almost all day, and after a while the nurse let me bring her things as she needed them. I don't know why mother didn't let me study nursing--I always wanted to do it. And I felt helpless and childish now, when there were things to be done.
Max came down from the roof alone, and I cornered him in the upper hall.
"I'm going crazy, Max," I said. "Nobody will tell me anything, and I can't stand it. How was he hurt? Who hurt him?"
Max looked at me quite a long time.
"I'm darned if I understand you, Kit," he said gravely. "You said you disliked Harbison."
"So I do--I did," I supplemented. "But whether I like him or not has nothing to do with it. He has been injured--perhaps murdered"--I choked a little. "Which--which of you did it?"
Max took my hand and held it, looking down at me.
"I wish you could have cared for me like that," he said gently. "Dear little girl, we don't know who hurt him. I didn't, if that's what you mean. Perhaps a flower pot--"
I began to cry then, and he drew me to him and let me cry on his arm. He stood very quietly, patting my head in a brotherly way and behaving very well, save that once he said:
"Don't cry too long, Kit; I can stand only a certain amount."
And just then the nurse opened the door to the studio, and with Max's arm still around me, I raised my head and looked in.
Mr. Harbison was conscious. His eyes were open, and he was staring at us both as we stood framed by the doorway.
He lay back at once and closed his eyes, and the nurse shut the door. There was no use, even if I had been allowed in, in trying to explain to him. To attempt such a thing would have been to presume that he was interested in an explanation. I thought bitterly to myself as I brought the nurse cracked ice and struggled to make beef tea in the kitchen, that lives had been wrecked on less.
Dal was allowed ten minutes in the sick room during the afternoon, and he came out looking puzzled and excited. He refused to tell us what he had learned, however, and the rest of the afternoon he and Jim spent in the cellar.
The day dragged on. Downstairs people ate and read and wrote letters, and outside newspaper men talked together and gazed over at the house and photographed the doctors coming in and the doctors going out. As for me, in the intervals of bringing things, I sat in Bella's chair in the upper hall, and listened to the crackle of the nurse's starched skirts.
At midnight that night the doctors made a thorough examination. When they came out they were smiling.
"He is doing very well," the younger one said--he was hairy and dark, but he was beautiful to me. "He is entirely conscious now, and in about an hour you can send the nurse off for a little sleep. Don't let him talk."
And so at last I went through the familiar door into an unfamiliar room, with basins and towels and bottles around, and a screen made of Jim's largest canvases. And someone on the improvised bed turned and looked at me. He did not speak, and I sat down beside him. After a while he put his hand over mine as it lay on the bed.
"You are much better to me than I deserve," he said softly. And because his eyes were disconcerting, I put an ice cloth over them.
"Much better than you deserve," I said, and patted the ice cloth to place gently. He fumbled around until he found my hand again, and we were quiet for a long time. I think he dozed, for he roused suddenly and pulled the cloth from his eyes.
"The--the day is all confused," he said, turning to look at me, "but--one thing seems to stand out from everything else. Perhaps it was delirium, but I seemed to see that door over there open, and you, outside, with--with Max. His arms were around you."
"It was delirium," I said softly. It was my final lie in that house of mendacity.
He drew a satisfied breath, and lifting my hand, held it to his lips and kissed it.
"I can hardly believe it is you," he said. "I have to hold firmly to your hand or you will disappear. Can't you move your chair closer? You are miles away." So I did it, for he was not to be excited.
After a little--
"It's awfully good of you to do this. I have been desperately sorry, Kit, about the other night. It was a ruffianly thing to do--to kiss you, when I thought--"
"You are to keep very still," I reminded him. He kissed my hand again, but he persisted.
"I was mad--crazy." I tried to give him some medicine, but he pushed the spoon aside. "You will have to listen," he said. "I am in the depths of self-disgust. I--I can't think of anything else. You see, you seemed so convinced that I was the blackguard that somehow nothing seemed to matter."
"I have forgotten it all," I declared generously, "and I would be quite willing to be friends, only, you remember you said--"
"Friends!" his voice was suddenly reckless, and he raised on his elbow. "Friends! Who wants to be friends? Kit, I was almost delirious that night. The instant I held you in my arms--It was all over. I loved you the first time I saw you. I--I suppose I'm a fool to talk like this."
And, of course, just then Dallas had to open the door and step into the room. He was covered with dirt and he had a hatchet in his hand.
"A rope!" he demanded, without paying any attention to us and diving into corners of the room. "Good heavens, isn't there a rope in this confounded house!"
He turned and rushed out, without any explanation, and left us staring at the door.
"Bother the rope!" I found myself forced to look into two earnest eyes. "Kit, were you very angry when I kissed you that night on the roof?"
"Very," I maintained stoutly.
"Then prepare yourself for another attack of rage!" he said. And Betty opened the door.
She had on a fetching pale blue dressing gown, and one braid of her yellow hair was pulled carelessly over her shoulder. When she saw me on my knees beside the bed (oh, yes, I forgot to say that, quite unconsciously, I had slid into that position) she stopped short, just inside the door, and put her hand to her throat. She stood for quite a perceptible time looking at us, and I tried to rise. But Tom shamelessly put his arm around my shoulders and held me beside him. Then Betty took a step back and steadied herself by the door frame. She had really cared, I knew then, but I was too excited to be sorry for her.
"I--I beg your pardon for coming in," she said nervously. "But--they want you downstairs, Kit. At least, I thought you would want to go, but--perhaps--"
Just then from the lower part of the house came a pandemonium of noises; women screaming, men shouting, and the sound of hatchet strokes and splintering wood. I seized Betty by the arm, and together we rushed down the stairs.