Read CHAPTER XII of The House of Toys , free online book, by Henry Russell Miller, on


The doctor did not share David’s opinion. He shook his head gravely, looked important and said, “It’s lucky I got here so soon.” Then he brightened a little. “But it’s a lovely clean cut and we’ll do what we can.”

So, he stopped the flow of blood, washed out the wound with an antiseptic solution and took several stitches; which hurt much worse than Smith’s knife had. Then he ordered David to the hospital. But by that time some one had got Jonathan by telephone and he said, “No, bring him here.” And David protesting in vain, an ambulance took him to Jonathan’s house and gentle hands laid him on the bed of the special guest-room. A nurse was installed and in time David fell asleep.

Through the night Jonathan watched, stealing every few minutes to David’s bedside. It was not at all necessary; the nurse slept, no fears disturbing her slumbers. But Jonathan wanted to watch. He kept thinking that David might have died. He shuddered and went pale at the thought. For Jonathan had loved David; he loved him even now.

The bitterness of that day was gone; so much could a little letting of blood accomplish. But the thought of one tragedy, so narrowly escaped, did not help Jonathan to forget another impending if it was to be tragedy. His heart ached for his friends; it was only of them he thought now. They faced each other across a chasm too wide to be leaped or bridged; only by a descent into chill dark depths could their outstretched hands meet. He did not blame them for having strayed to that brink; not in the impulses of the heart do we sin, only in the yielding.

But such chasms need not be tragic. There grow the sweetest flowers for those having the will to see and gather. All his life Jonathan had been schooled in that lesson, and he had learned to pluck happiness as he turned his back on desire. He had even been happy in an unrequited love, he had not sought to cast it out of his heart, he had loved his love at least until it had seemed helpless to save her from a hurt. He could be happy in it still, if instead of tragedy they could find strength and courage and the greater triumph growing on the brink of their chasm.

It seemed very simple and easy, what he wanted them to learn. He did not understand that only the Greathearts find it simple and easy. He never suspected that he was a Greatheart. An odd fish, this Jonathan!

But it was a knowledge that he could not give them. They must win it, if at all, for themselves.

In the morning the doctor came again, inspected the wound, discovered no evidence of infection and was mightily pleased with himself.

“Don’t look so sad,” he adjured David. “You got off lucky. If that knife ”

“I suppose so,” David said querulously. “If you’ve finished, would you mind going? I’d like to sleep some more.”

The doctor nodded comprehendingly. “Pretty weak yet,” he confided to the nurse in a whisper. “Lost quite a bit of blood before I could get to him. Must humor him.”

David closed his eyes. Not, however, to sleep. Rather to listen to his tempter, who had returned to stand guard, to keep the victory it had won. But the imp’s words were less plausible this morning, a certain sly malice had crept into his voice. David remembered shrinkingly the resolve he had taken.

“It’s because I am weak.” He tried to stiffen himself. “I have a right to be happy. Why should two be made to suffer for one who wouldn’t care?” He repeated that over and over to himself and almost achieved belief.

The nurse came to his bedside. “I’m going out for my walk now. Ring this bell if you want anything, and one of the maids will come.”

He nodded and she left. A minute later he heard other steps coming into the room.

“David David!” said a voice over him. A compassionate voice that was near to breaking.

He opened his eyes and, not easily, met Jonathan’s. “I’m making a good deal of trouble. You should have let them take me to the hospital.”

“Hush, David! I wanted you to come here. Is the wound very painful?”

“I’ve had toothaches that were worse.”

“It’s like you to make light of it.”

“It isn’t like me to make light of it. You’ve seen me and ought to know that. It’s more like me to whine.”

“But it’s serious.” Jonathan shook his head gravely. “The doctor says, if the knife had gone an eighth of an inch deeper ”

“They always say that, don’t they? It didn’t go an eighth of an inch deeper.”

“But it might have,” Jonathan insisted. “David, why did you do it? Did you think a little money was worth such a risk?”

David frowned petulantly. “I’m no hero. I didn’t mean to take any risks. I just blundered in and was too stupid to get out. So I got hurt. It’s a habit of mine.”

“Ah!” Jonathan understood the allusion. “David, can you forgive me? Yesterday I was thinking you what you are not. I was bitter, not quite myself. I was blaming you for what you couldn’t help and thinking you were going ”

“Don’t! Don’t talk about that! I ” David turned his face to the wall. “I wish to God Smith’s knife had gone deeper!”

Jonathan started. “Smith! You say it was Smith? Then this happened because of me. I let myself get at odds with all the world and in that temper sent him from the shop. You have much to forgive me for, David.”

“That’s pretty far-fetched, isn’t it? If it’s any consolation, I couldn’t swear it was Smith. I only had a glimpse of him.”

“It is a consolation. Because now, if any one questions you about what happened, you needn’t identify Smith. I hate to think of any man having to go to jail. Sin is its own punishment and heavy enough. God knows! We must find Smith, David, and try to help him. You could help him most. When he knows that you, whom he hurt, are ready ”

“Do whatever you want with him. I have no wish to send him to jail.”

David stirred restlessly; his wound began to throb. Why couldn’t the manikin go away and take his silly exaggerated and disturbing sentimentalities with him? Didn’t he know that his very presence there was a reminder of something David wanted to forget that the kingdom of desire was not to be entered without payment?

But Jonathan did not leave, though he saw what the patient wished. He went without further detours to the thing that lay between them.

“David, what are you going to do?”

David made no answer but stared unwinkingly at the wall.

“What are you going to do, David?”

David had not guessed how hard it would be to give tongue to his desire.

“I don’t know that you have any right to ask. But if it will do you any good to know, I’m going to get free and ”

He turned and looked defiantly into Jonathan’s eyes. He saw the suffering there. But Jonathan’s voice was still gentle.

“You would do that?”

“I would do that.”

“You mean,” Jonathan persisted, “you will get a divorce? And then go to her?”

How ugly, how sordid, that seemed, spoken aloud in the clear light of morning!

But David said, “I mean that.”

“Have you thought of your wife?”

“She wouldn’t be hurt, wouldn’t really care.”

“And you have a boy. A beautiful boy, I am told.”

“That that is part of the price.”

“Ah! the price! You have thought of the price then. And you are ready to pay it. Other people have paid it, I know. I have wondered if they didn’t pay too much. David ” Jonathan looked away. “Have you thought of her?”

“Can’t you understand I am thinking of her? I can’t let her be hurt. And I want her you can’t know ”

He flung an arm over his face. And he was glad of the sharp pain that shot through his side.

“I know,” said Jonathan. “I know.”

They were silent for a while. The silence became almost unbearable to one of them. He let his arm fall slowly to his side.

“Well, say it! If you have anything against it, say it.”

“No.” Jonathan turned to him once more, sadly. “I have nothing to say against it. I know it would do no good, if I had. I say only, do it, if you think she will not be hurt if you think you can. . . . I must go now.”

He left. Soon the nurse returned. She looked closely at her patient and took a thermometer from the table.

“No!” he said sharply. “I’m all right. Just go away and leave me alone.”

Being a wise nurse, she obeyed. . . .

When Jonathan reached his office a trembling white-faced girl was awaiting him.

“How is he?”

He told her. “It needn’t be serious. But he had a narrow escape.”

“Why didn’t you let me know last night?”

“It would have done no good.” He looked at her searchingly. But neither shrinking nor shame was in her eyes. “Will you go to him now?”

“Go to him? I Why do you ask that?”

“He needs you,” he said. “There is no one else who can help him now. Will you go?”

“Yes.” She understood the help that was needed.

“Then come.”

Together they went out to the street. He hailed a taxicab and they entered and drove away. Neither spoke during that ride. When they reached the house he led her to the parlor.

“If you will wait here,” he said, “I will get the nurse away.”

In a few minutes he returned.

“You may go up now.”

He watched her ascend, heard her quick light tread along the hall above and the closing of a door.

“Esther!” he whispered. “My poor Esther! Who will help you?”