A Woman Friend
MARY LAVIN does her writing today looking out on one of the loveliest curies of the River Boyne. with the famous Hill of Tara rising above the distant trees. A protégée of Lord Dunnsany. she turned to the Atlantic with her first short stories, which when published in 1942 in book form, under the title Tales from Bective Bridge, were awarded the James Tail Black Memorial Prize. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, was serialized in our columns, and her second, Mary O’Grady, was published in 1950.
ARKRWARUS, when the investigations were over and he walked out of the board room, every-thing might have been the same as before– onlonly for Bina. As a matter of fact the whole thing passed off well. It had envisaged been anything like the ordeal that he had envisaged on that awful night when the boy died and he roused Bina in the small hours. No blame had been attached to him at all. The charge of negligence was dismissed after the first five minutes. The boy would have died in any case. Possibly there was some bungling in the diagnosis, but that was not altogether his fault: the boy was sent up as an appendectomy from the county infirmary. And could he be sure that he would have made a new diagnosis if t hey had succeeded in reaching him with that urgent summons in the middle of the night ?
Why, now it almost seemed like a stroke of luck that he was not available when they phoned him: whereas at the time it seemed so disastrous. That of course was because of the way the staff behaved; and then there was the unfortunate encounter he had with the boy’s mother as he was running up the steps in the early hours of the morning — when the boy was dead. That had unnerved him more than anything.
It was probably that which caused him to behave So ridiculously in Baggot Street, although there was undoubtedly something in what Bina said about his being overworked. If he hadn’t been under such a strain already, he wouldn’t have paid any heed to the poor wretched woman.
He ought to have had more confidence in his reputation. If anything, it was higher after the investigation. There was so much stress laid on his attentiveness—his late visits to the wards, his interest in the aftercare of his patients.
Admittedly there had been an awkward moment when he was asked why he was not available to answer the phone after saying that he was going back to his rooms. They had phoned repeatedly. But at that point, seeing that opinion was generally favorable to him, he took a chance, he had a brain wave really, and asked if it was certain they were connected with the right number; there had been some technical flaw in the hospital switchboard that week, and he just recalled that fact at the right moment. There could have been some confusion in the porter’s office. Had that occurred to anyone? It seemed all the more likely since they succeeded in reaching him in the early hours of the morning. Wasn’t that odd? And then, seeing that he had scored a point, he followed up with a counter-allegation against the hospital.
“Did it not occur to anyone in the hospital to send a messenger over to my rooms? After all, Fitzwilliam Square is not a hundred miles away! It would only have been a matter of seconds—”
The Attorney-General interrupted him just there.
“And would they have found you in your rooms, Dr. Anderson, if they had done as you suggest?”
That was the climax of the investigation. There was a hush of suspense. The attorney may have thought himself exceptionally sharp. As a matter of fact the man had played right into his hands.
“Unquestionably.” That was his answer.
“Yes or no, Doctor, if you please.” “Yes.”
“You understand that you are on oath, Doctor?”
“Certainly—I mean yes.”
But his first answer filled the bill to a nicety because unquestionably they would have found him: without going up to the doorway at all they would probably have noticed his car outside the door, and if they went up to the door and got no answer they would surely have wondered at the car being outside, and taken a look into it. And all the subsequent bother for everyone would have been avoided.
Well, no matter; the boy would not have been saved. That was the main point. When that was made evident there was less stress laid on his failure to answer the phone.
Integrity counted for something after all. And he had no scruples. It is quite possible that they would have believed him if he told the absolute truth, but that night —or early morning rather — when he broke down in Baggot Street, it seemed fantastic to expect them to believe that he had fallen asleep.
It was all very well for Bina to say it was the most natural thing in the world, but then Bina was Bina.
“It was only to be expected!” she said. “I was often in dread that you’d fall asleep at the wheel going home from here some night.”
He had often been afraid of that himself, and when he got into the car that night in particular he was deadly tired. It was a wonder he reached Fitzwilliam; it wouldn’t have surprised him in the least if he woke up and found that he hadn’t started the car at all but that he was still outside the little hotel in Baggot Street.
IT WAS in Baggot Street, of course, that he got the habit of dropping off to sleep regardless of the company. It was there that it first happened anyway; not when he was a student, needless to say, but years afterwards on one of his rare visits — all too rare indeed — when he called back, as he had promised, to see how they were getting along, Bina and her mother. As a matter of fact it must have been a good few years later, because it wasn’t until after she got the second stroke that Mrs. Cussen became bedridden. After the first stroke she still managed to get downstairs to the basement for a few hours at night after Bina got finished with the work. But she wasn’t downstairs the night he fell asleep in his chair. Bina was alone. She was getting him a cup of tea before he went back to his rooms. She was standing in front of him with the teapot in her hand waiting for the kettle to come to the boil on the bars of the little black grate, and he was leaning back in the battered old armchair, looking at her, when quite suddenly he fell asleep. It was only for a few minutes; a few seconds. He woke with a jerk. But when he opened his eyes Bina had made the tea, and in the series of small actions that led from lifting the kettle to replacing the lid on the teapot he had missed a whole sequence in the middle. He had been as soundly asleep as if he were stretched in his bed.
But Bina had noticed nothing. Didn’t that prove there was no affectation about it? Not that night anyway, and perhaps not at any of the other times either. Somehow or another he was always dogtired the nights he called at Baggot Street. Perhaps indeed that was why he felt like dropping in there. It was so homely. And then again it was always pretty late when he got there. He never seemed to get around to calling early in the evening. And anyway he knew the run of the little hotel; it fitted in with Bina’s routine as well as with his own, to leave it till after ten o’clock to call. At ten o’clock the little hotel stopped ticking. The maids went to bed; the hot bottles were filled and put up in the rooms, and Bina was able to go downstairs to her little sitting room. It was in the basement: for privacy, Bina said. She managed to keep the residents out of it, too. (In all the years he was staying in the place he had never once set foot in it.) The stairs that led down to it were steep, narrow, dark, and were blocked midway down by a green baize door beyond which only the most accustomed foot could descend in safety. And that was by day. At night, when the light could only be switched on from below, the stairs was a black hole, and the privacy of the little sitting room was secure. And after eleven, when Bina made her last ascent to put the chain on the hall door and turn out the hall light, the little room in the basement might as well have been a little cave tunneled under a mountain.
And once they descended to their little cave and sank into the battered armchairs either side of the fire Bina and her mother had things so arranged that they seldom had to stand up again until they stood up for good. Everything was to hand. They even had a little tin kettle — specially small to fit on the bars of the narrow little parlor grate — so that they could heat the water for their own hot bottles or make a cup of tea for themselves if they felt like it. They even — and this always made him smile — they even had an old gray woolen sock hanging on the knob of the tongs to catch hold of the handle of the kettle. It was a man’s sock, too, he noticed one night, with amusement. It might even be an old sock of his own after all this time. He left a lot of odds and ends behind him when he was shifting to Fitzwilliam, because it wasn’t as if it were an ordinary lodgings: he knew they would treasure everything belonging to him. And he could pick t hem up at any time. He’d be dropping in to see them very often. In fact he promised. He knew it would mean a lot to them.
It had been a bit of a break for him leaving the little hotel. But he couldn’t afford to let the grass grow under his feet, It wasn’t as if he were buying a practice. The Pierce Malone medal, alone, gave him the right to set up in Fitzwilliam, but he had to put up his plate straightaway before he was backnumbered. He did —be set up without any delay, in the thick of the established men: the usual thing, reception room and consulting room on the ground floor, with accommodation in another part of the house; not exactly homely, not exactly comfortable, but he had a good eye for whal was right in such things. His rooms were just the same as those of any other specialist in the city; and just as cheerless. But he didn’t mind. They were as he envisaged them, when he was a student, taking note of the rooms of the big specialists. There was a coldness that characterized them and everything belonging to them — their manner, their voices, their hands, and above all, their austere rooms that were never more than moderately heated. He used to think there was an air of touch-me-not about their furniture, with its high cold gloss. He knew so well from his student days the feeling of shame that came over one when a ring of mist spread suddenly under one’s hands, and then as suddenly contracted again almost as if the highly polished wood shrank repulsed from the contact.
Well! he had the same cold mahogany now in his own reception room, but it did not mist or shrink from his hands, because they were no longer hot and moist. They were acclimatized now to the cool atmosphere of professional life.
Anyway he was very seldom in his rooms for long. And as for sitting down! As he said to Bina one night, he hardly ever sat down in an armchair except when he dropped into Baggot Street to see her.
It was true. When did he get a chance to sit down? He was in the operating theater from nine to eleven every morning, and after that he had his clinics. A good part of the afternoon was spent in the wards. From three to six he saw private patients, and then the night \ isits began. He had only himself to blame for them, of course. In the beginning of his career — whether from ambition or from conscientiousness he could not now say, although he was inclined to be a bit scrupulous in his early days — he had formed a habit of paying a late visit to the hospital before he went to bed every night.
They were a mistake in a way, those late rounds, although there was no doubt that they helped to establish a reputation for him. But they imposed an unnecessary strain upon him as well, and in the end the staff became so accustomed to having him drop in around midnight that they began to count on his coming, and decisions that should have been the province of the matron or the house surgeon — or even of the nurses in many cases — were deferred instead to him. It really meant, in the long run, that everyone shifted his or her responsibility onto his shoulders, day and night. And the worst feature of it was that, as time went on, they lost sight of the fact that this nightly attendance was voluntary. It would seem like neglect of duty if he failed to put in his appearance.
But he didn’t mind. It was all part of the price he had been prepared to pay from the start.
Per ardua ad astra. He hadn’t forgotten his motto when he got to the top like some of the other fellows that qualified with him. It wasn’t enough to get to the top; you had to stay there; and as far as he could make out, to stay there meant ruling out comfort for good.
How many of his contemporaries had fallen back into mediocrity for the sake of some bodily comfort. It was usually marriage, of course.
Almost without exception his contemporaries had made indifferent marriages. They never seemed to have considered suitability to be a necessary ingredient of matrimony. And what had determined their choice? As far as he could see, it was nothing more than propinquity or contiguity; they had almost all married nurses, or else their first receptionist or their first secretary.
It was really very noticeable that the wives of the specialists were so different from the wives of general practitioners. He used to think they must be a special breed, but when be made a few inquiries he w as surprised at the origin of some of them. As a matter of fact Mandeville’s wife came from a small hotel, just like Bina. But it was at some seaside resort, Kilkee or Tramore, and that made a difference, he supposed. Because you couldn’t imagine Bina ever turning into a Mrs. Mandeville. Not that he was criticizing Bina. On the contrary, he always had the highest opinion of her. He often wondered that she never married. He felt that she ought to have made a good marriage too, with someone who could give her a comfortable home. Bina was used to comfort. But she never made any effort to have friends, men or women. She was very unambitious. He used to think she might marry one of the middle-aged men staying in the hotel, especially after she began to get on a bit in years.
It was mostly men who stayed in the little hotel. And although Mrs. Cussen didn’t like keeping permanent boarders —nor Bina either —it came to almost the same thing in the end because the same people kept coming there month after month. It was only because he got the soft side of Mrs. Cussen one night that he himself was taken in there. They never kept students, and never under any circumstances did they keep medicals. But once he got into the place he knew he was in clover, and he was determined to stay there.
They didn’t know he was a medical at first. As a matter of fact he got around Mrs. Cussen to let him stay before he told them. He got around her with a pitiful account of all the digs he had tried, and about the place in Grantham Streel where he had to stuff his sock in the broken window and put the rug off the floor on his bed at night. She was a motherly soul and he touched her heart. She agreed to let him stay for a few weeks. But she soon saw that he wasn’t, the usual run of student: that he was sober and earnest. She saw he was ambitious too, and she admired him for it. She was shrewd; she probably saw that he was determined to get to the top. And once she began to take an interest in him he knew he had landed on his feet all right. If it wasn’t for the way she and Bina minded him all those years, he’d hardly have done so well.
That was a thing people didn’t take into account, that it was in the early years you needed minding. Poor Mrs. Cussen, she couldn’t have minded him better if he were her own son. And Bina never let a night pass without bringing him up a cup of hot milk before he went to bed.
Hs’d want to be very ungrateful before he’d forget that of them.
And he hadn’t forgotten it. But he hadn’t gone back to see them often enough though, after he went to Fitzwilliam. They were so glad always to see him though. Yes, it was really pathetic the welcome he got from Bina the first night he went back.
“It’s not you!” she cried, looking at him as if she could not believe her eyes. “Come on downstairs, she cried, and she brought him right down to the basement, right into their little private room.
He remembered it all so well, the way she went down the stairs sideways like a crab in order that he might have more light to pick his steps, or so he thought at the time. It may just have been that she didn’t want to miss a minute of him. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“You’ve put on weight,”she said. “And I like your new suit.”
It gave him such a homely feeling.
And it warmed his heart the way she called down to her mother when they got as far as the baize door.
“It’s Dr. Lew, Mother!” she cried.
That was another thing. Right from the moment he qualified they stopped calling him Lew and began to call him Dr. Lew. As a matter of fact their entire attitude towards him changed subtly after he moved to Fitzwilliam. And mind you, he appreciated it. It helped him to realize his own importance. And it wasn’t as if they were any the less friendly or kind towards him. It was just that they knew the difference between intimacy and familiarity, particularly Bina. Now and again Mrs. Cussen used to be a little bit free with him, but be never minded.
“You’re working too hard, ‘ she said one night. “You’re not the young dog you were when you were here, you know.”
He thought that was a bit overfamiliar, but he knew it was motherliness that made her say it. And she was as proud of him as if he were her own son. She admitted it.
“It isn’t because yos’re a big pot that ws’re proud of you, you know,” she said one night. “Ws’re proud of you because of all the good you do for the poor; isn’t that right, Bina?”
He used to laugh.
“Is she codding me, Bina?” he used to ask, to hide his gratification.
But Bina was twice as proud of him.
“You don’t know all the things we hear about you,” she used to say.
It was Bina who stuck his picture up on the mantelpiece, and when he remarked it she wasn’t a bit put out.
“Indeed, it’s about time you gave us a proper photograph,”she said, “and not have us put up with that old st ickyback we found in your room after you were gone.”
BINA had no sense of propriety. He often noticed that. When her mother got the stroke and wasn’t able to come downstairs any more, she still brought him down to the little room in the basement, and it never seemed to cross her mind that it was any way peculiar to be alone with him like that until all hours, as they were so many nights.
That was just like her, of course; unself-conscious or, if you liked to put it another way, unambitious.
It was curious all the same that she never thought of him in any other light than that of an old friend. Of course that was the light in which he saw himself too, but once or twice when he was sitting in the little room with her it had crossed his mind that it wouldn’t be too bad at all if, instead of getting up and going out into the cold, to his cheerless rooms, he could sit there opposite her until it was time to stand up for good.
The thought didn’t excite him, of course, but then he never thought of it as anything that could still happen, but only as something that might have happened.
There they would be sitting, married, as single, in just the same way, with him yawning every other few minutes and Bina accusing him of working too hard.
She never minded whether he talked to her or not. He could just sit there in front of her like a pig with his legs stretched out. not. saying a word if he didn’t want. She never made any demands on him at any time, not even the smallest.
How then had the picture altered so quickly — in a few minutes, you might say, on the night that boy died? That was what he simply could not understand. That was why he kept going over and over it again and again.
Of course he was very upset that night: that was what drove him to Baggot Street. And then Bina looked so different, so altogether different from other times; that may have acted upon him. For one thing she was in her nightdress, and for another she was without her glasses.
She had heard his knock and come down herself to the door. It was like her to come down. The maids would have been afraid, thinking it was some drunk who had come to the wrong door. But Bina never hesitated. She threw open the door.
“My God, Lew, what is the matter?" she cried.
“Let me in,”he said roughly. s’ll tell you them.”
He wanted to get in off the street, the vacant dawn-lit street that had accentuated the unreality of his situation. But to his astonishment she hesitated for a minute
“I’m not dressed,”she said.
Then, under his withering look she held back the door for him. Did she think he was fool enough to be affected by the sighl of a woman in her nightdress?
“I don’t think it‘s the first time I saw you in this elegant garment,”he said, cuttingly, because even in his trouble he had taken in the stained and faded condition of the old woolen dressing gown she had bundled about her. But, curiously enough, although he was so sharp about it he didn’t really mind the dirty old dressing gown. It reminded him of when he was staying in the place; made it seem more natural for him to have come back there in his t rouble.
But his nerves were all on edge.
“For God’s sake don’t keep clutching it round you like that; yos’re not naked under it, are you?” he said. He knew she was far from being naked.
Under the woolen thing, as far as he could make out, she had some preposterous garmen. Could it be flannelette? He didn’t think there were still women who wore such garments. It was like what his mother used to wear — God be good to her — when she came in to him in the middle of the night if he wakened in a nightmare, He knew just how it would feel, warm and moist. He knew just the way it would smell, stuffy and sweet. Oh, with what relief he used to bury his head in the stuffy flannelette folds.
For a moment he had an almost overpowering longing to bury his face in Bina’s bosom. But at that point he was still in full command of himself; he knew he couldn’t do that. And in any case all he wanted was just to be with her: someone he knew; someone who was not a stranger.
“Oh, Bina,”he said, and he covered his face with his hands. “s’m in such trouble.” But they were still standing in the hallway, and he felt uncomfortable. He glanced up the wide well of the staircase. If there was anyone else awake in the house his voice would easily carry up to them. “Come on downstairs, he said, and he motioned towards the basement steps. But Bina held back. For a minute he thought that she was looking at him queerly. Perhaps, after all, she thought he had taken a drink, because she wasn’t wearing her glasses. As a matter of fact he had never before seen her without them, although he used to wonder what she would be like without them, and he remembered thinking, once, that if she got married her husband would see her without them; it would be one of their first intimacies, and he felt in some way sorry for her, as if over and above the pitiful exposure of her sex she would be submitted to an additional indignity. But here she was now blinking at him. He was wrong, though, in thinking that she had any doubts about his sobriety, because she had only delayed to run into the dining room and snatch up a glass and a decanter.
He had to stop her from pouring it out.
“ No— please,”he cried, impatiently. “No; they might smell it off my breath.”
It wasn’t until then that she realized there was something seriously wrong. The extraordinary thing was t hat she jumped at once to the conclusion it was the boy.
“Is it that boy you were telling me about last night; the one that was brought in just as you were leaving?”
He nodded. He couldn’t help being touched by her interest, because he hardly remembered telling her anything at all about the case, but he must have made some reference to having an appendectomy for the morning.
“Is he — dead?” she asked quietly.
He nodded. She said nothing for a moment or two.
“My poor Lew,”she said then, and he almost burst into tears.
That was what you might call a friend: he was touched beyond words. She was so loyal to him; she didn’t wait to hear what had happened: she was on his side. It was so different from the hostile attitude at the hospital.
“Surely yos’re not blaming yourself. Lew ?” she cried. “ You know you often told me that there is no such thing as an unsuccessful operation — that the damage is done long before the case comes onto the table!”
He couldn’t help being a bit edgy. Couldn’t she give him a chance to tell her what had happened?
“You’ve got it wrong,” he said abruptly. “I didn’t get time to operate.”
But she wasn’t one to waver.
“ Do you mean they didn’t get you in t ime? Why, that was criminal negligence!”
He winced. “It wasn’t their fault,” he said impatiently. “ They tried to get me on the phone repeatedly. Can’t you let me tell you, Bina, and not keep interrupting me?”
But she wasn’t listening to him.
Her face suddenly got white.
“You were sick, Lew?" she cried, and she made a start forward almost as if she were going to put out her arms to him, but she stopped short of it.
“No, no, there was nothing the matter with me,” he said, “at least not in the ordinary sense of the word.”He paused and took a breath. “I was asleep, Bina — outside the house — in the car!" Even telling her was hard: how would he ever tell the Board? It sounded so incredible, so foolish. “ If I was in the house I’d have heard the phone, but I fell asleep at the wheel. I must have closed my eyes for a minute when I got to the curb, and the next thing I knew it was morning—morning! — and the telephone was ringing; but it was only to tell me he was almost gone!”
At the thought of the way he felt when he woke up, cramped and frozen, and staggered into the house to take up the receiver and hear the consequences of his lapse, he gave a violent shudder.
She seemed to be shocked at last into giving a thought to the dead. But her thoughts quickly returned to him.
“But it wasn’t your fault, Lew, Think of the hundreds of lives you’ve saved. Think of that!”
She still didn’t seem to understand the full seriousness of the situation.
“You don’t seem to realize: there’ll be an inquiry,” he said sharply.
“Do you mean yos’ll be blamed?” she said, and she looked so bewildered as to appear actually stupid. There was something in what she said all the same. “How could they possibly blame you? If it was anyone’s fault it was the fault of the hospital yes, I mean it —you’re grossly overworked down there — you know it — I told you so a hundred times. s’m not only saying it now, you’ve heard me yourself— I’m always saying it. So was poor Mother. I used to say to her, ‘I hope they’re grateful, that’s all
She was so vehement he stared at her in surprise. It was true what she said; he was overworked. Many a time he had to acknowledge it when they were all three sitting around the fire in the little basement room, so cozy, so warm.
Oh, they were so happy, those evenings. Would such evenings ever come again?
“You don’t understand at all, Bina!” he cried. “This could be the end of me. A man in my position has so many enemies; people are so jealous, you know nothing about it: thes’re only watching for you to make a false step and they come down on you.”
It was true, and as he said it, involuntarily as a wave of nausea, the longing came over him again to press his head into the soft moist flannelette bosom at which he was staring. But Bina’s practicality was like cold water.
“What kind of talk is that?” she said. “s’m surprised at you. Have you no confidence? I must say that I think you ought to have a little more confidence in the hospital too, if it goes to that!”
He couldn’t help admiring her. She built him up.
“Inquiry indeed!" she cried. “s’ll tell you what there ought to be: an inquiry into when you last had a holiday! s’m surprised at you, Lew. You’ll be ashamed of yourself when you think things over. Yos’ll find there will be no inquiry at all; or if there is, it will all blow over in no time.”
She was so matter-of-fact. Just then she stepped out into the hall and looked up the well of the stairs.
“I thought I heard someone stirring. It’s getting on for seven. The maids will be getting up. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen here. And anyway, you’re not shaved,” she said. “Are you going back to the hospital? Because if you are I think you ought to go back to Eitzwilliam first and have a wash. You look a bit the worse for wear. Take a look at yourself,” and she nodded at the little diamond of mirror stuck on over the hall stand.
He looked bad. There was no doubt about it. It sobered him to think that he had to go out into the street in that condition. But he had to go.
“I’d better get back, I suppose,” he said.
“That’s the spirit,” said Bina, and she opened the hall door.
It was later than he thought.
INSTANTLY, when the door was opened, his reluctance to go out vanished. In fact he felt eager all at once to get away. There was a stuffy night odor in the little hotel, and out in the street the air was fresh, untouched. He felt stifled every minute he remained within. But he could not rush out abruptly. After all, he had wakened her up out of her sleep: it was too late now for her to go back to bed. She would be on her feet all day. She was fagged-looking even now, he saw with compunction — of course she was not as young as she used to be. Suddenly he wanted desperately to be kind; to show his gratitude. She had done so much for him in the bad half-hour that had passed. Perhaps she was right in thinking everything would be all right: he was inclined to see things in a different light already, but there was no doubt, that he saw things differently when he came knocking at her door. Only for her — well, he didn’t like to think of what would have happened only for Bina. She helped him to live through the worst hours of his whole life.
“You’re a good friend, Bina,”he cried, from his heart.
She was pleased. He could see she was pleased, but it wasn’t enough.
“I wish there was something I could do for you, Bina.”
He must let her see how he felt. He meant what he said too. “Isn’t there anything I could do for you?” he pleaded.
But what needs had she that he could satisfy?
“Take care of yourself, Lew,” she said quietly. “That’s the best thing you could do for me.”
It was inexpressibly touching. He was bowed with humility before such unselfishness.
“I will,” he said simply.
You had to be simple with a person like Bina. He stepped out into the air. Then he turned and put out his hand. She took it.
“When this is all over, Lew, I hope you’ll take a good holiday.”
It was something positive that she was asking him. He owed it to her to treat it seriously.
“I’ll do that, Bina,” he said. “I promise. When this thing blows over s’ll take a good holiday.”
It was quite an idea; he needed a rest.
“I’ll do that,” he repeated emphatically; “not just a few days, either, but a decent holiday. I might take a few months and take a trip over to the Continent.” He looked over the rooftops in the direction of the coast. “This would be just the time of year for it,” he said. He took a deep breath. He felt better every second that passed. It was hard to think that he had been so rattled. He hoped they had not seen in the hospital that he was rattled. If so, the sooner he got back there the better, to let them see him in his new frame of mind. “Well, Bina — thanks again.” He went down two steps.
“You won’t forget the holiday?”
“I won’t forget,” he said. He was standing on the pavement now. Desperately now he wanted to get away. “ But you’ll see me again before then.” Surely she didn’t think that he would be as casual as all that ?
And yet it was just what hs’d be likely to do to her, unless— Unless? Just as he was about to step confidently away from the door, this word arrested him. Supposing he was too confident; supposing things went badly with him? Hs’d be back to her soon enough then. He told her she was a good friend.
She was more than that; she was the only friend he had.
If things went against him, if he had to pack his bags, he’d have to have someone to go with him wherever he went. He’d never be able to start all over again without someone to help him. He’d never build up a practice again in a new place — alone.
But Bina was closing the door.
He felt if that door closed he would be all alone in the whole world. He ran up the steps.
“Will you be here all day, Bina?” he cried.
Bina looked frightened. “I suppose so,” she said.
She looked back over her shoulder. The maids would be up and coming downstairs any minute.
“Why?” she asked, but absently.
“I might be back,” he said. He didn’t feel safe in leaving it at that. He’d have to go the whole hog. “Wait a minute, Bina. Don’t go. I want to ask you something. Will you come with me — on the holiday, I mean?”
It gave him some satisfaction to see how stupefied she looked. He hadn’t been walked into it, anyway: it was his own doing. It was the last thing in the world that Bina expected of him. It was all his own doing.
“Will you marry me, Bina? No matter what happens — no matter how things go with me?”
It was the only thing he could do. You couldn’t ask any woman to wait and see how things went; even a person like Bina.
The only pity was that there was never any question of things going badly. If he had kept his head he would have known that everything would be all right. It was only a little cloud that blew up in a clear sky, and after a few days it had blown over. And everything would be the same as ever — only for Bina. Not that he was altogether sorry. And he needed a holiday badly.