"Cupid with a Scalpel"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Hungry Tiger Of Oz, King Kojo, etc.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 20, 1927.
"Women!" groaned old Doc Burrill as the door closed stormily on his last patient. "Women are the very mischief!" Scrubbing away at his already immaculate fingers, he glared resentfully at his young assistant.
"Meaning her?" Propped languidly against the glass partition of the inner office, Dr. Jack waved in the direction of the departing footsteps, then with a terrific yawn, for it had been a hard and grippy afternoon, sank into the chair reserved for nose and throat cases.
"Mmm--mm!" grunted the doctor, drying his hands gingerly on the paper towels, an innovation to which he had never become really reconciled. "Mm--mm!"
"Oh, well!" With another yawn Dr. Jack conveyed his supreme indifference to women in general and to this one in particular. Though why, that being so, he had found it necessary to make three separate trips to the medicine chest in the outer office is not on the cards. The first trip had confirmed his hastily formed impression as she entered. The girl was a whiz! On his second, ostensibly for some sterile gauze, their eyes had met in one of those strange flashes of fellowship as unexplainable as April sunshine--that "Where-have-I-seen-you-before!-When-may-I-see-you-again?" look, first turned by Adam upon our long-ago and lovely ancestor Eve. But the third pilgrimage to the chest had shown him that his girl, this small marvel of every perfection, was in tears and quite certainly getting the worst of an argument with the chief. (Old dromedary!) The discovery was so unnerving that Dr. Jack on his return to his own office had given Grandmother Atchison his pocket comb instead of rheumatism pills. He was still mentally cataloguing those tears when Dr. Burrill slumped heavily down on the revolving stool before him.
"Don't sit there yawning like a pelican!" he wheezed irritably. "I've had all the tongues and tonsils I can stand for one day. D'ye think I want to see yours?" Suffering for information about this girl, but determined in no wise to show it, Dr. Jack began jiggling backward and forward upon his own chair, while the elder man, still grumbling and wheezing, passed his handkerchief over his bald head.
"Healthy as a young tree and yet--I tell you women are the very mischief!"
"What's the matter with this little Miss, chief?"
"Matter?" choked the doctor, enraged at the untimely pun. "Same thing that's the matter with all of your generation. No respect for anything! No reticence--no balance! No control--no sense--! Matter? That little idiot wants her appendix out because--" He paused, a twinge of doubt as to the wisdom of revealing his small patient's particular idiocy assailed him. But the devilish unconcern on the young face before him was not to be endured. It goaded him on. "Because"-- he rasped harshly-- "she needs a crisis!"
"Crisis!" gulped Dr. Jack, thrown completely off his guard. "Well, I'll be doggoned!"
"Mm--mm. Don't doubt it!" Enjoying the sensation produced by his words, Dr. Burrill rushed ahead. "Seems there's a young chap dangling around in danger of dangling off, and this--this, er--crises is to make him walk the plank, as it were. She expects me to stage an operation like the last scene in a musical comedy and bring the hero with a large bunch of roses to the bedside. Pretty, isn't it?"
"Pretty plucky!" Somehow Dr. Jack got the words out, though a dreary and dreadful hollowness had struck him amidships. The courage of the idea fascinated him. But to know that she was in love! Involuntarily he groaned. Naturally a girl like that would be in love.
"'Tisn't decent," persisted the chief, taking no notice of the groan, "to tell me all that--to come on me like this. Why--why, I don't know what to make of it. Sh'd think she'd be ashamed of herself. Don't know what the young folks are coming to."
"Why, they're coming to the truth; nothing so awful about that, is there?" With a slightly shaky hand, Dr. Jack lit himself a cigarette. The crude rendering of the little story somehow offended his own sense of decency. "Suppose if she'd fallen back on the 'Alice, Ben Bolt' stuff and gone off to die of a broken heart you'd have thought it all right. Well, that's old stuff, Doc. When we want anything nowadays, we go get it. Turned her down, didn't you?" Dr. Burrill nodded emphatically.
"Think I'm going to make a fool of myself at the hospital? Anybody'd know she hadn't got it. Why, she no more has appendicitis than you have. Bedsides, I'm not going to have her cut up for the benefit of some young jackass."
"Well, wha'd she say?" Dr. Jack lunged forward so suddenly the nose-and-throat chair gave a screech of protest.
"Oh, some nonsense about fixing it up herself. Threatened to break a leg or arm, something like that. But she won't!" Snapping open his watch, the doctor rose. Whenever he spoke determinedly like this he usually convinced others and always convince himself. "Gave her a dose of nux vomica," he finished cheerfully. Then, with a yawn and stretch that shook all memory of the little unpleasantness from his shoulders, he reached for his hat. "Well, I'm off. Taking the 7 to New York to connect with that consultation in Boston tomorrow. Don't forget old Mr. Peterson's dressing, and if anything important turns up wire me at the Parker House. G'night!" With a quick look around the office the chief seized his coat and was gone.
"Nux vomica!" Dr. Jack spat out the word and the remedy. The look almost of desperation the girl had flashed back over her shoulder stayed uncomfortably with him. Just what he would have prescribed under the circumstances was not quite clear, but nux vomica! Oh, Lord! He recalled a certain dark moment in his own past when he had returned from college to find his school sweetheart married to a druggist. Awful! Everything was awful! A dull sadness stole over and completely enveloped him. Lonely business making your way in a strange town. Nobody knew! Nobody cared! Couldn't think of a single girl who'd have her appendix out for him. There was something oddly depressing in the thought, though he couldn't care a whole lot about that either. Wouldn't be any girl worth caring about now. No, she was the one. The conviction struck like an open hand upon his heart. Imagine a man daring to dangle around a vision like that. Who was she? Who was she? As if in answer to his unspoken query the record card, still face up on the blotter, flashed whitely under the desk lamp. Hungrily Dr. Jack seized upon it. "Kenworthy, Elizabeth Ann. Age, 22." An address in Walnut street, a few notations as to cold medicine and a recent tonsil operation completed the short medical history. But it was enough. "Elizabeth! Lovely name! Twenty-two--lovely age!" Holding the card dreamily between thumb and forefinger, Dr. Jack closed his eyes in an effort to revisualize that charming face and figure. Brown hair, shading to red; blue eyes, darkening to violet. Ah--!
A furious splutter and screech from the telephone shattered the picture into fragments and sent him bounding across the room. With an effort he jerked himself back to reality and took off the receiver.
"Burrill? Thank God, you're still there! Come up at once! Betty's had a accident with the car. Kenworthy speaking. What? What's that? Why don't you answer me?" With the suddenness of thunderclaps the awful words rushed over the wire and broke upon his eardrum. "Kenworthy! Betty! Her!" Muttering incoherently into the mouth-piece, he slammed on the receiver and spun round. Where was his hat, his bag? So she'd done it. Why hadn't he asked the worst at once? Nux vomica! Burill was a fool! Three minutes later he was at the Walnut street mansion. Charging up the steps after the agitated butler, he was confronted on the second landing by an equally agitated father.
"Where's Burrill?" gasped that distraught gentleman, growing, if possible, a trifle more distraught.
"Boston!" Breathless from hurry and an even more suffocating emotion, Dr. Jack shot out his sentences. "Boston. I'm his assistant. Walton's the name. Where is she? Which arm is it?" By this time he had persuaded himself that it was an arm.
"Arm!" With a groan that lifted Dr. Jack's heart from the pit of his stomach to a point just beneath his chin, Kenworthy propelled him through a swinging door into a rose-and-white bedroom.
The young man caught hold of the footboard in an effort to steady himself. Crumpled down among the lace coverlet and pillows was the tiny lovable figure of the afternoon, but the face, the exquisite, adorable flower-like face, had disappeared under a bloody mask of cuts, bumps and hear-rending bruises.
The eyes, looking like mere slits under heavy purple swellings, were, so far as he could judge, uninjured. The lips! He took a sharp breath and did some quick work with his surgical needle. Thank heaven it was underneath and wouldn't show. Teeth bent back, but all there. After five minutes of the dreadful business he looked up and, catching the tortured eyes of the girl's father, nodded reassuringly:
"Mostly surface! Nothing serious, better get a little air," he advised huskily. With a gulp of relief, Kenworthy staggered out of the room. The maid had gone for ice, and Dr. Jack, for a moment alone, let down his guard. Poor little kiddie!~ Leaning over, he eased her into a more comfortable position and placed his head for one delicious second above the fluttering heart. A clash and clatter in the hallway made him straighten up. By George, he'd forgotten he was figuring in a crisis. A crisis and the cue for the hero and his roses. Well, here he was, judging form the sounds below. Ejaculations and inquiries in a high, excited tenor accompanied by the butler's jangling explanations in bass floated up ahead of the heavy tread upon the stair. Dr. Jack cast an apprehensive glance at Betty (to himself he already called her that). The stage was set, but not, he felt somehow, as called for in the specifications! He wondered uncomfortably if she realized how far and mean,ly fate had overplayed her hand and made of an appealing situation a rather frightful little comedy.
Instead of a romantically reclining lace-wrapped little heroine, the old lady had juggled the cards and handed out a comic picture. Well, maybe--Dr. Jack grew tense between jealousy and anxiety--maybe the old lady knew best. A stiffening in the girl's figure told him that she was aroused and listening. So this was the dangler, confound his impudence. Well, if the fellow came up to specifications, he couldn't stand it. If he didn't, he'd pitch him downstairs. Unaware of the impending violence to his person, unaware of the star part he was cast to play, the hero, a blond but unconvincing giant, strode into the room and advanced to the center of the stage.
"Holy horror." The words, not so awful in themselves were so charged with shock, dismay and an undisguised and shuddering disgust, the air became fairly vibrant. "Why, she'd disfigured herself!" Almost angrily the giant turned upon Dr. Jack, whom he seemed to see now for the first time. And some imp of perverseness in that young man made him assume as grave an expression as his already seething resentment permitted of. "Know she'd have an accident! Dread-flee reckless girl. Jolly and all that, but not--you know---not well balanced.
"Lord!" he groaned finally. "This takes me all of a heap." Dr. Jack's lip curled. Him all of a heap. How did he suppose it had taken Betty? Ungrateful hound! Hadn't she done it all for him---couldn't he act a little human? Why, in his place-- But the giant, pale with self-pity and distaste, was backing toward the door.
"You--you'll tell Betty I was here, won't you, doctor? I'll call up in the morning and if there's anything I can do--!" With a last horrified glance in the girl's direction he fled down the entry. Tingling with contempt, anger and an almost unbelievable relief, Dr. Jack bent over the sorry little heroine. Two tears had forced themselves beneath the swollen lids.
"No luck! Nothing right! Meant to break leg--truck got in way--hit telegraph pole!" The words trickled miserably from the poor swollen lips "Dis--disfigured for life. Oh, Dick!" There was such a break of disillusion and hurt in the sobbed-out name Dr. Jack dropped remorsefully to his knees.
"Listen!" He pressed his lips close to the small aching head. "You're going to be all right. Not a scar, nothing to show you've ever had an accident. I promise it!" Gathering the tiny clenched hands into his own big, capable ones, he gave them a heartening squeeze.
"Not Dr. Burrill!" The words gasped themselves out, and with a terrific effort the eyelids lifted a fraction and two frightened flashes of violet shone through. "Heavens, the young assistant! What had she told him in those first tortu4red moments? How much did he know?" Another wave of misery rose and threatened to engulf her. But the pressure on her hands tightened. What was he saying now? "Forget it! Don't forget to forget!" Funny way to talk to a person when everything was perfectly over. But she wouldn't be disfigured! Clutching at this spar of comfort in an ocean of despair, she relaxed into the pillows and lay utterly still. Notwithstanding and nevertheless, the play went right on. For Dr. Jack, snatching a hasty bite of supper with Mr. Kenworthy, had stayed on, applying ice packs and stringent with a determination and cheerfulness extremely heartening to the girl's only and distracted parent.
"Can't think how Betty ever had such an accident," he fumed over and over.
The swiftness with which Dr. Jack catechized, sprayed and maneuvered his own and Dr. Burrill's patients out of the door next morning would have shocked that exceedingly proper and always deliberate gentleman. The number of calls in one day to a certain address in Walnut street would have scandalized him still further. For between each patient he visited, Dr. Jack rushed back to Betty's, to change a dressing, suggest a new treatment and assure himself and her that she really and truly was going to be all right. A huge and imposing bunch of roses in the front hall had caused him not even a momentary flutter. If they had been upstairs-- But, no, the hero had missed his cue, and all the roses in the world wouldn't help him now. Besides, hadn't he given strict orders that Miss kenworthy was to see no one? And the little heroine,, after a terrified glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, had been glad enough to comply with these orders.
But on the second day, with the swelling a bit down, a more hopeful Betty had begun to look through her disguise. Of course, everything was over, nothing left in life but art and orphans, but even so she began to watch rather wistfully for that handsome and energetic Dr. Jack. And her watching was not for long, nor in any wise in vain. Sometimes she felt that she had known him always. Somehow, she sensed when he looked at her so kindly that he knew about the whole miserable business and did not blame her at all. The third day they began to joke a little, the fourth day, between professional question and answer, they began to exchange small, eager confidences. The fifth day Dr. Jack daringly suggested a ride after dinner. Certainly, she needed the air. "Well?" She touched her swollen lips uncertainly, "If he didn't mind the way she looked?" Mind! Dr. Jack rushed all the way downstairs to keep from shouting. And after that, the evening rides in the snug little roadster became an important part of the treatment. And all this while Dr. Jack, with a deep and wicked cunning, had kept the whole affair from the chief. Dr. Burrill had returned on the second day from Boston and might never have been the wiser had he not run into Kenworthy himself at the Union League. Taking for granted that the doctor knew all about his daughter's accident, that gentleman forthwith burst into such a pean of praise for young Dr. Jack.
"What's this about Betty smashing herself up in the car?" He shot the words out almost as soon as he returned to the office. Dr. Jack, in the very act of calling Betty on the phone, put the receiver carefully back on the hook.
"Miss Kenworthy," he stressed the "Miss" rather unnecessarily, "Miss Kenworthy has had a slight accident." Fixing the chief with a hard and granite eye, he fairly dared him to infer anything else. Before the flinty stare the elder man's eyes dropped. He remembered his own indiscretion in revealing Betty's poor little secret. Well, the boy hadnt given him away; he had a head on him, that lad!
Now it was, as they say on theatre programs, three weeks later. The time a bit after 11 on a balmy spring night. The place, a certain small roadster built cozily for two.
"Betty!" For the last several minutes Dr. Jack had been choking on a long-rehearsed and important small speech. But somehow, the words wouldn't come right and fate, that meddlesome old lady who spoils nearly all of our high moments and lofty utterances, put in her mischievous finger. "Betty, d'ye s'pose you could ever fall for me?" The slang boyish phrase once out, Dr. Jack fairly stiffened with horror. Great grief, would she think he was reminding her of the crisis--of that other fall. Great-- But Betty, a restored and again beautiful little Betty, didn't think. She just dropped her head a few inches lower on a certain comforting shoulder.
"Yes!" admitted Betty quite distinctly. "I could." And then, because even in our most heavenly moments we are still human, she began ever so faintly to chuckle.
"You rascal!" Dr. Jack's arm caught her up tightly. "D'ye mean it? Well, this time, don't forget to fall--on your feet!"
"I have!" The words were rather smothered, but perfectly satisfactory. Small use in recording the conversation after that, just a series of whispers and contented murmurs.
"Mmm--m!" But you know, and I know, it's the finest talk in the world. And so we hurry on to the last act, which, as in all proper plays, brings us back to the staring point and another late afternoon in Dr. Burrill's office.
"Business kinda slack, Chief?" Dr. Jack, picking up the paper knife, ran his finger absently along the edge. "Good time--good time as any. In fact, I'd like two weeks off!"
"Off!" spluttered the elder doctor, swinging upon his assistant. "Mother sick again?" Dr. Jack shook his head.
"Fact is--the fact is--I'm going to commit matrimony!"
"Wh--at?" The doctor's glasses, never riding very securely on the high old nose, fell the full length of the black cord. "Mat--rimony!" His brows drew together, and Dr. Jack, seeing a storm of protest, good advice and useless remonstrance gathering, seized his hat. But before he made for the door he snatched a card from the index and thrust it into the chief's hand. For a full minute after he had gone Dr. Burrill sat dazedly blinking at the card.
Kenworthy, Elizabeth Ann. And underneath, in Dr. Jack's illegible scrawl: Walton, Elizabeth Kenworthy. So the crisis had worked out after all, but on Dr. Jack!
"Women!" groaned the old doctor, lifting himself indignantly out of the old chair. "Women are the very mischief!"
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
From the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 10, 1916
The Forgetful Poet went to visit his sister-in-law's first cousin last week and he was so busy packing and hunting up time-tables for Dramby in the Woods (that's where his sister-in-law's first cousin lives, you know), he didn't have time to make any puzzles. So he said he'd just send you some verses. Sh-----h! Don't tell any one, but I think his verses are more puzzlesome than his puzzles. And his spelling! My wordy, his spelling is even worse than mine. Well, well, I'd better not be talking so much or I'll be taking up all his space:
MY TRIP--By MYSELF
(The Forgetful Poet.)
I turned my buro upside down
And broke my nu nose _____.
I packt the cote I ment to ware
And lost my railroad passes.
I left my silk umbrella in
The train--rode past my _____;
Yes, traveling I find, my dears,
A frightful dissipashun!
I caught a really frightful cold
And dosed myself with bitters
And suffered much internal pane
From eating lobster fritters.
But still, I quite enjoyed myself--
Yes, had a lovely trip--
The doctor says he rather thinks
I've also had the _____!
Yours, in extreme haste.
Copyright © 2002 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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