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By Mignon G. Eberhart
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1936 Mignon G. Eberhart
All rights reserved.
"And so," the doctor said quietly, watching Marcia, "he's well. He's cured. And he's coming home."
Marcia got up and went to the window. It was a cold, wet morning in April. The sheathed, green points of tulips looked bare and thin; the brown flagstones leading down to the garden were shining with moisture, the vines were wet and yet brown over the summerhouse down by the pool. Beyond the garden wall she could see a red brick corner of the Copley house.
She was aware of the doctor's waiting for her reply, but she stood rigidly still, her hands clenched in the pockets of her yellow sweater so the doctor could not see them, her chin thrown up a little to ease the sudden contraction of muscles along her throat. She said finally, "When?"
She could hear Dr. Blakie rising, too, and walking restlessly about the room. He said "Today" shortly and prowled toward the end of the long library and stood there, looking into the cloudy green depths of the small aquarium which held Ivan's pet goldfish.
Presently Marcia said, "I must tell Beatrice."
"She already knows. I told her while I was waiting to see you." Dr. Blakie was nervous. He left the goldfish and wandered toward the opposite end of the room, pausing before Ivan's long mahogany desk, picking up small objects on it and putting them down again, turning to the globe on a standard beside the desk and spinning it absently.
The small sound of the spinning was the only sound in the Godden house. Ivan's house, which, though it had remained almost entirely unchanged since Ivan had been the owner of it, still bore his imprint so indelibly and so inescapably that during those weeks of his illness it had seemed like an ambassador, an emissary, silently and secretly watching and storing up the records of that passive espionage.
The library was particularly Ivan's room, for everything in it reminded her of Ivan; even the ranks of glass covers along the bookshelves, which reflected rather eerily every light and motion in the somber room, now and then seemed actually, in the most curious way, though Ivan was not there at all, to reflect the faintest glimpse of his handsome, pale face and the secret, shadowy indentations at the corners of his mouth. It was no real inflection, of course; it was as if the blank glass cases held and retained the distorted half-reflections they had gathered and could, incomprehensibly, afford flashing reglimpses of faces and things. But it was in the main a shadowy room, brown-walled and high-ceilinged, with heavy brown carpets and high, narrow windows, too much curtained in lace and brown velvet. A white bust of Caesar—was it?—looked blankly down from one corner upon the things below it. The leather-cushioned chairs held, that dark morning, small dismal highlights, as did the shining, massive mahogany desk and tables. It was Ivan's desk, and he liked to sit there caressing a favorite green glass paperweight with his beautiful white fingers.
Marcia was looking fixedly at the row of budding lilacs beyond the french doors—one of the more recent additions to the Godden house and leading down to the garden. There were small brown buds, chilly-looking, and she examined them with the most intense scrutiny, deciding whether or not the late frost had touched them. If she turned toward the room which pressed so strongly upon her she would see Ivan sitting at that desk.
His pale, handsome face—only a little too long and too narrow, with too cruelly pointed a chin. His black, wavy hair, so becomingly touched with white at his narrow temples. His thick eyebrows making a black slash across his white face, and above, but not shadowing the light, queer eyes which, looking at Ivan Godden, you were first and strongly aware of, for they were a very blank light aquamarine with tiny, hard black pupils like pencil points. Their expression seldom varied, and Marcia never understood just how she knew so certainly and so instantly when he became angry.
He would be sitting there behind the desk, his well-manicured fingernails faintly rosy against the whiteness of his fingertips and the glass paperweight. The paperweight was heavy and globular and contained strangely mingled sea-green flowers which were almost the color of his eyes and in the most extraordinary way shared their look of light, inscrutable blankness. It was his habit to look into the mingled green shadows of the paperweight and speak to her: "Marcia, I'm sorry to be obliged to tell you ..." "Marcia, much as I dislike to remind you of my generosity ..." "Marcia, will you kindly remember ..." "Marcia, come to me ..."
It became too real. Her heart was pounding in a curious, suffocating way which had asserted itself during the past year and was extremely distressing. To calm it she said to the doctor, still not looking at him:
"Everyone is talking of what you did for him. They say you made him live; that no other doctor would have done the things you did. I want—You must know how very grateful—" She couldn't finish.
Dr. Blakie measured the distance from Madagascar to London, spreading his fine, deft surgeon's fingers along the rounded surface of the globe.
"I did what I could," he said dryly.
Marcia thought of the night at the hospital following the auto accident in which Ivan had been injured. Of the nurses and the doctors in consultation. The smell of ether. Dr. Blakie in a queer white coat, loose, with a mask on his face.
"They said that night that what you were doing to save him would become surgical history," she said. "Don't think we don't know how you worked—how you saved him by sheer genius and will power when everyone else gave up and said it couldn't be done."
"Oh, come, come, my dear." He spun the globe impatiently, checked it, and measured now from Cape Town. "If a doctor can't work a little harder for his friends ..."
She turned finally to look at him. He was a slight, gray man, in his middle forties perhaps, young for his achievements. His hair was thinning a little over his high forehead, his mouth was controlled and rather tight, there was a delicate network of wrinkles around gray eyes, hidden on occasion by gold-rimmed spectacles. His color was clear and good, his hands incredibly deft, and every muscle and nerve in his body had the most perfect and exact co-ordination, as if—as was true—he hated any kind of waste. He was a fine surgeon, he was kind in a rather remote and detached way, as if a nearer approach might involve him or his well-arranged emotions, and he had a fine brusque impatience for things that were unimportant. Human life was important, it was at the very top of his scale, and for Ivan he had flung off every shred of that neat, quiet detachment and plunged fully—white and sweating and tense—into combat. He had made Ivan live.
"A little harder," said Marcia gently. "Do you think we don't know what you did for him? The surgery itself—the care you gave him afterward. They said you didn't leave the hospital for two days."
"Well, I did," he said. "Went to my office both days. The nurses made too much of it. Although as an operation it was—well," he admitted, "it wasn't bad. Old Dr. Leonard was watching. He said I couldn't do it. Swore. Well, I did. And after the first few days Ivan made a rapid recovery. He's pretty tough—you know. Takes care of himself, too. You won't have any trouble about that. He's been coddled quite a lot in the hospital, and he's not going to take any chances. Just see he doesn't walk much on that foot. But he won't."
He spun the globe again. The little whirring sound diminished, and Marcia said:
"He is—altogether well, then, except for the foot?"
He looked at her quickly and replied indirectly, "You've been at the hospital every day, Marcia."
"I know. But he never walked. Never felt awfully well." Her heart was starting that suffocating pounding again. She said quickly, "Is there anything in the way of—oh, diet? General care?" A sudden thought occurred to her, and she leaped at it. "Perhaps the nurse is coming along?"
The doctor glanced at her again and then bent over the globe.
"No. He didn't want a nurse. Doesn't need one now. Anyway, he was a little difficult about nurses after the first few days."
"Oh. That's why they changed so often?"
He nodded. Then said dryly. "He wasn't easy to take care of, I must say. I may have had more cantankerous patients, but I can't remember any."
"That doesn't mean Ivan isn't grateful to you. It's just his way."
"Damned unpleasant way," said Dr. Blakie. "However, it's all in a day's work."
"You won't admit," said Marcia, smiling rather stiffly, "that you did anything out of the ordinary for Ivan."
He gave the globe a final twirl and turned abruptly away from it and toward her, so that the gray, clear light from the window fell directly on his face.
"Suppose I did," he said abruptly. "He's your husband, my dear."
Her husband. And he was returning that day. In an hour. Two.
The four weeks of peace and of strange, cautious tranquillity had passed. A little time more, she thought dimly, and she might have found herself again. But Ivan was returning, and at that thought there was again that distressing quiver and flutter running along her pulses.
Dr. Blakie knew it this time, and took a quick, neat step toward her, put one hand on her wrist and turned her so the light fell now on her own face and he could see her eyes. He said quite suddenly:
"What are you afraid of?"
She met his eyes helplessly. They saw too much. He was too wise about people, about his patients, about the things they didn't tell him.
"You mustn't be afraid," he said quietly. "Don't tremble. What is it?"
And as she still did not—could not—reply for fear of breaking forever the protecting barrier of silence she had so painstakingly and painfully built up, he said rather gently, "Is it Ivan?"
He did not seem to expect a reply to that. He let his cool gray eyes search her own for a moment, then suddenly took his hand from her fluttering wrist and with the quiet neatness and economy of motion that characterized him took out a cigarette and lighted it. She watched him select the cigarette and open the small cardboard flap and pull off and strike the match with a very passion of fixity, as if the small routine of it held an engrossing interest. But no matter how many small objective things one fastened one's attention upon, there were still those other things, things one couldn't escape.
He puffed blue smoke and turned a little to look upon the new greens of the lawn, uncannily bright in the rest of the overhanging grayness of the world; a robin dug briefly and tersely for a worm, secured it and winged importantly away.
"I'm going to meddle," said Dr. Blakie abruptly, as if coming to a decision. "And I hate meddling. But I've seen you change, Marcia—from a healthy normal girl to a—white-faced, nervous, hunted-looking woman.—Don't say anything. I'll finish in a minute. I don't have much to say. It's only this: You have one life to lead. Just one. I don't know what Ivan—and Beatrice—have done to you, but you are—you are what those tender young tulip sheaths would be if I walked on them. You are beaten down. Crushed. Your body, your initiative, even your common sense isn't functioning as it ought to do."
"Common sense," said Marcia with dry lips, "doesn't have much to do with it."
He looked at her quickly again and then away.
"Useless, huh? Against their combined strength. Well, my dear, I've said too much. I'll say only one other thing, but I want you to remember it: In the end your life lies in your own hands. Do you understand me?"
She didn't really understand him; the thought of Ivan's impending return so filled and possessed all her consciousness that everything else was veiled and obscure. She felt again, but in a faraway and half-recognized way, that if she had been given a few days more of peace and precious loneliness, she might have arrived at something that would be like a fort, a standing ground.
He was looking at her again, shaking his head a little.
She said belatedly and stumblingly, "I know you mean to help me—I can't—I don't know—there's nothing I can do. Besides—how do I know I'm right?"
Her faltering question hung in the air between them, while the library listened and watched and laid that moment away in its store. Finally Dr. Blakie shrugged. He turned crisply away, as if he recognized futility. He said, all resonance gone now from his voice, so he was again detached and impersonally kind, as for a moment he had been direct and urgent, "Very well, my dear. You know yourself, I suppose. But when the time comes—as it will probably come, for there's still courage somewhere in you, Marcia, and there must be stamina—when, the time comes that you need a friend, remember—" His voice was becoming deeper.
He checked himself and finished in a light, dry tone, "Remember the old doctor, my dear."
He stopped again beside the desk, his neat, fine hands touching it with their fingertips. He said thoughtfully and in a thin, small voice which was infinitely far away and unapproachable—the voice he used at the hospital with nurses, with other doctors; a voice deprived of all personal feeling, and as neat and economical as the figures in a ledger, "Perhaps you'd better call Beatrice. She wanted to ask me something or other before I left. And I'm due at the hospital in an hour."
Marcia turned in a kind of automatic obedience toward the door. She did pause before opening it to take a long, queer breath, as one does before lifting a familiar and heavy burden.
The library watched her. The glass covers of the bookcases reflected impressionistically a slender woman in a canary-yellow sweater and skirt—a glimpse of a small head with soft light hair, smoothly waved and clinging. A flash perhaps of dark-gray, shadowed eyes and a too sensitive mouth, set now in lines that went ill with the rather fine and delicate planes of her face. Unhappiness did not become Marcia; she had no tragic beauty. Instead it took spirit and luminousness from her and a certain light, flying grace. She was likely to seem, except in rare moments, flat and one-dimensional, without depth and passion—a woman who might have been beautiful had there been feeling in her regular, merely pretty face. Who might have been interesting had she said anything but automatic, pleasantly bright and social nothings.
Dr. Blakie, watching her again, said suddenly, "There's danger, you know, Marcia, in bottling up too much. You are supple, you've got the slender, tough resiliency of a willow. But you can't—"
"Don't!" It was her own voice, but it was short and harsh and full of breath and tore its way from somewhere deep inside her. "Don't you see?" cried Marcia Godden. "I can't let go."
"Oh, my child," said Dr. Blakie pitifully. But he said it to the waiting room, to the blank white head of Caesar, to the gray world outside the windows. For Marcia had gone out and closed the door behind her.
The hall, as always, was a pool of shadow. At her right on a landing of the broad ascending stairs were stained-glass windows through which light fell downward in mingled bands of red and yellow and green, giving a curiously patterned and disagreeable glow and patina to the objects in the hall below. Behind the stairs was a door leading to Beatrice Godden's study—a small, neat, and very ugly room where she was wont to sit for hours, arranging the affairs of the household, giving orders to the cook—"Name Emma Beek; age forty-six; worked in the Godden family for twenty years; says she knows nothing of the murder; questioned however gave evidence as follows:" It was to appear in certain records, that and the evidence she gave with such curious willingness—or to the housemaid, or to Ancill.
Ancill was in the hall. Marcia did not see him at once, only when he moved, for he had already put on a dark coat and carried his chauffeur's cap in his hand, and he was at the far end of the hall, so he was in its deepest shadow, very near the wide, dark panels of the outside door. He moved toward her, and she had an instant's altogether untraceable impression that when she opened the library door he had been much nearer it than when she discovered him.
He said a little too respectfully, as if she were a child readily fooled by words, "Is Madam ready to go to the hospital?"
Excerpted from Fair Warning by Mignon G. Eberhart. Copyright © 1936 Mignon G. Eberhart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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