She held out her arms and he came into them.
“Johnny! Johnny, darling.” It was all she could murmur before she began to cry softly.
After a while, when he had held her tightly, he moved back, then dried her tears with the same handkerchief he had used for his own.
Later still he said, “Elizabeth, honey, if you’re still willing, there’s something I’d like to do.”
“Whatever it is,” she answered, “it’s ‘yes.’ ”
“I guess you always wanted it,” he said. “Now I want it too. I’ll write for the papers tomorrow. I’m going to try for medical school.”
Mike Seddons got up from the chair and paced around the small hospital room. “But it’s ridiculous,” he said heatedly. “It’s absurd; it isn’t necessary, and I won’t do it.”
“For my sake, darling. Please!” From the bed Vivian eased herself around so that her face was toward him.
“But it isn’t for your sake, Vivian. It’s just some damn silly, stupid idea you might have got out of a fourth-rate sentimental novel.”
“Mike darling, I love you so much when you get mad. It goes with your beautiful red hair.” She smiled at him fondly as, for the first time, her mind moved away from immediate things. “Promise me something.”
“What?” He was still angry, the answer curt.
“Promise me that when we’re married sometimes you’ll get mad—really mad—so we can have fights, then afterward enjoy the fun of making up.”
He said indignantly, “That’s just about as daft a suggestion as the other one. And anyway, what’s the point of talking about getting married when you want me to stay away from you?”
“Only for a week, Mike dear. Just one week; that’s all.”
“Listen to me, darling.” She urged, “Please come and sit down. And listen to me—please!”
He hesitated, then returned reluctantly to the chair at the side of the bed. Vivian let her head fall back on the pillows, her face turned sideways toward him. She smiled and reached out her hand. He took it gently, his anger dissolving. Only a vague, disquieting sense of doubt remained.
It was the fourth day since Vivian had returned from surgery, and in the meanwhile her progress had been good. The stump of her thigh was healing well; there was still some localized pain and inevitable soreness, but the big and overwhelming agony of the first two days of recovery had eased, and yesterday Dr. Grainger, with Vivian’s knowledge and agreement, had withdrawn the order for injections of demerol which had helped dim the pain over the worst period, now behind. Only one thing Vivian found distressing—a surprising thing that she had not anticipated. The foot of her amputated leg—a foot that was no longer there—itched frequently with a malicious, recurring torment; it was anguish not to be able to scratch it. At first when the feeling came she had groped with her remaining foot for the sole of the other. Then for a while, lightheadedly, she had begun to believe that there had been no amputation after all. It was only when Dr. Grainger had assured her that the sensation was entirely normal and something experienced by most people who had any limb removed that she realized her belief was illusory. Nevertheless, it was an uncanny feeling which Vivian hoped would disappear soon.
Psychologically, too, her progress appeared to be good. From the moment when, the day before surgery, Vivian had accepted the inevitable with the simple courage that had so impressed itself on Mike Seddons the mood had continued and upheld her. There were still moments of blackness and despair; they came to her when she was alone, and twice, waking at night, with the hospital around her quiet and eerie, she had lain crying silently for what had been lost. But mostly she banished the moods, using her innate strength to rise above them.
Lucy Grainger was aware of this and was grateful; it made easier her own task of supervising the healing process. Nonetheless, Lucy knew that for Vivian the real test of her emotions and spirit lay somewhere still ahead. That test would come after the initial shock had passed, when the real significance of events had had time to develop more gradually in Vivian’s mind and when the implications for the future were closer and more real. Perhaps the moment might not come for six months or even a year; but sooner or later it would, and Lucy knew that at that time Vivian would pass through the deep darkness of despair to some permanent attitude of mind beyond, whatever that might be. But that was for the future; for the present the short-term prognosis seemed reasonably bright.
Lucy knew, of course—and was aware that Vivian knew it too—that the possibility remained that the osteogenic sarcoma which Dr. Pearson had diagnosed might have metastasized ahead of the amputation, spreading its creeping malignancy elsewhere in Vivian’s body. In that case there would be little more that Three Counties Hospital, or medicine generally, could do for Vivian beyond temporary, palliative relief. But later would be time enough to learn if that were true. For the patient’s sake it seemed best and wisest at this moment to assume that for Vivian the future stretched indefinitely ahead and to help her adapt to it actively.
Today, also, Vivian’s beginning of recovery was reflected in her appearance. For the first time since her return from surgery she had put on make-up, bringing color to her face. Earlier her mother had come in to help arrange her hair, and now, wearing the same nightgown which on a previous occasion had come close to stirring Mike to indiscretion, much of her youthful loveliness was back on view.
Now, as Mike took her hand, she said, “Don’t you understand, darling, I want to be sure—sure for my own sake as much as for yours.”
“But sure of what?” On Mike Seddons’ cheeks there were two points of high color.
She said levelly, “Sure that you really love me.”
“Of course I love you.” He asked vehemently, “Haven’t I been telling you that for the past half-hour? Haven’t I said that I want us to marry—as we arranged to before”—he hesitated—“before this happened? Even your mother and father are in favor of it. They’ve accepted me; why can’t you?”
“Oh, but I do accept you, Mike. Gratefully and gladly. Whatever happens between us, I don’t believe there could ever be anything quite the same again; at any rate”—for an instant her voice faltered—“not for me.”
“Then why . . . ?”
She pleaded, “Please, Mike. Hear me out. You said you would.”
Impatiently he said, “Go on.”
“Whatever you may say, Mike, I’m not the same girl you met that first time we saw each other. I can’t be, ever again.” She went on softly, intensely, “That’s why I have to be sure—sure that you love me for what I am and not for what I was. Don’t you see, darling, if we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together, I couldn’t bear to think—not later on, not ever—that you married me . . . out of pity. No, don’t stop me; just listen. I know you think it isn’t true, and perhaps it isn’t; and I hope it isn’t—with all my heart. But, Mike, you’re kind and generous, and you might even be doing this—for that reason—without admitting it to yourself.”
He snapped back, “Are you suggesting I don’t know my own motives?”
Vivian answered softly, “Do any of us really know?”
“I know mine.” He took her hands gently, their faces close. “I know that I love you—whole or in part, yesterday, today, or tomorrow. And I know that I want to marry you—without doubts, without pity, without waiting one day longer than we have to.”
“Then do this one thing for me—because you love me. Go away from me now, and even though you’re in the hospital, don’t come back to see me for one week—seven whole days.” Vivian looked at him levelly. She went on quietly, “In that time think of everything—of me, what our life would be like together; how it would be for you—living with a cripple; the things we couldn’t share and those we could; our children—how it would affect them, and through them, you; everything, Mike—everything there is. Then when you’ve done that, come back and tell me, and if you’re still sure, I promise that I’ll never question you again. It’s just seven days, darling—seven days out of both our lives. It isn’t very much.”
“Goddam,” he said, “you’re obstinate.”
“I know.” She smiled. “You’ll do it then?”
“I’ll do it for four days—no more.”
Vivian shook her head. “Six—no less.”
“Make it five,” he said, “and you’ve got a deal.”
She hesitated and Mike said, “It’s positively my best offer.”
Vivian laughed; it was the first time she had. “All right. Five days from this moment.”
“Like hell from this moment!” Mike said. “Maybe ten minutes from now. First I’ve got a little storing up to do. For a young fellow with my hot blood five days is a long time.”
He moved the bedside chair closer, then reached out. It was a long kiss, alternately passionate and tender.
At the end Vivian made a grimace and broke away. She sighed and eased herself to a new position in the bed.
Mike inquired anxiously, “Is something wrong?”
Vivian shook her head. “Not really.” Then she asked him, “Mike, where have they got my leg—the gone one, I mean?”
He seemed startled, then told her, “In Pathology—in a refrigerator, I expect.”
Vivian drew in a long breath, then expelled it slowly. “Mike darling,” she said, “please go downstairs and scratch the foot.”
The hospital’s board room was crowded. News of the emergency meeting had gone swiftly around the hospital, and physicians not attending Three Counties that day had been notified in their downtown offices and at home. Rumors of Joe Pearson’s downfall and his impending departure had also traveled with equal speed and had been the subject of a buzz of discussion which had quieted as Pearson entered, the administrator and David Coleman with him.
Kent O’Donnell was already at the head of the long walnut table. Glancing around, he could see most of the familiar faces. Gil Bartlett, his beard wagging rapidly, was chatting with Roger Hilton, the young surgeon who had joined Three Counties’ staff a month or two ago. John McEwan, the e.n.t. specialist, was in what appeared to be a heated discussion with Ding Dong Bell and fat Lewis Toynbee, the internist. Bill Rufus, a tie of brilliant green and yellow marking him out from the crowd, was about to seat himself in the second row of chairs. Immediately in front, looking over a page of handwritten notes, was Dr. Harvey Chandler, chief of medicine. There were several members of the house staff, and among them O’Donnell noticed McNeil, the pathology resident. Alongside the administrator, attending the meeting by special request, was Mrs. Straughan, the chief dietitian. Nearby was Ernie Reubens, who appeared to be quizzically appraising the dietitian’s quivering, voluptuous breasts. Absent from the meeting was the familiar figure of Charlie Dornberger, who had already made known his intention to retire immediately.