Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page




Chapter I




As Stefan Czeszcziczki, rapid-calculator, ran lightly up the stone steps of Chelsington City’s Parkway Hospital this early afternoon, he felt a curious presentiment of evil and fore­boding. A presentiment which caused him to reach auto­matically, yet fiercely, around in front of himself with his right hand, and to tuck, more carefully yet, into the side coat pocket of his dark serge coat, the end of that partly empty left sleeve—empty because of the missing left hand and wrist. And which presentiment was to become realized almost the moment that Stefan Czeszcziczki, rapid-calculator, stepped into the pillar-studded foyer where people were waiting the hour of 2 o’clock when they could see their loved ones.

For scarcely had he pushed open one of the 2 main doors, the glass of which reflected back to him another Stefan Czeszcziczki, 30 years of age, wearing a crumpled grey hat, a grey flannel shirt and black cotton tie, and stepped inside that foyer, than a man with cold blue eyes and hooked nose, who, with hands folded behind him, had been casually watching the afternoon’s hospital visitors, stepped forward and touched Stefan on the arm.

“Just a minute, Mr. Cze— Cze—”

“ ‘Zicky,’ most people call it,” said Stefan. “You are—Superintendent Hogleman?”

“Yes,” returned the blue-eyed, hook-nosed man coldly. “Zicky, you’ll have to have that girl upstairs operated—or get her out of here. This is a surgical hospital, you know; she’s been here 3 weeks since the diagnosis of brain tumor—or, specifically, tumor of the pituitary gland—was definitely con­firmed, and the reports show that she’s rapidly getting worse. She’s got to—but what’s your business—er—Zicky?”

“Rapid-calculator—when I can get a chance to give an exhibition.”

“And what is it—when you can’t?” The hospital super­intendent was gazing searchingly at that left sleeve of Stefan’s. And Stefan—almost defiantly—helped the other out.

“Yes, I’m one-handed—but not one-armed. Hand and wrist lost ten years ago due to blood-poisoning from getting sliced by the stiletto of a Sicilian holdup man I grappled with in St. Louis. That is, you understand, gangrene set in from the blood-poisoning, and hand and wrist had to be amputated. Oh, the holdup man was later hanged—because of killing another man who didn’t grapple with him!—so I suppose I’m revenged, since—anyway, Uncle Sam considers me today of zero use as a soldier—and machine shops doing rearmament work consider me a danger to others in ’em, and mark me out from any employment whatsoever in them, since—but,” Stefan broke off wearily, now that he had told these facts for at least the dozenth time this year, “you asked me my business—when I can’t get rapid calculating. Well, it’s naturally anything where I can lean on my stump forearm as well as the next man, and operate a pen with my right. In short: accountancy—bookkeeping—anything to do with figures.”

The other had heard him through, almost impatiently. And when the obviously last words of Stefan’s detailed and truthful explanation, consisting of “anything to do with figures,” were uttered, the hook-nosed man spoke forth hastily, irritably:

“Well then I don’t need to tell you what happens in the case of a tumor which increases daily in a geometrical proportion. If, for instance, the cells in this particular tumor your wife has, were doubling day by day, then—”

“I understand,” said Stefan miserably. “I understand—only too well—”

“You’re getting together the money, I suppose?”

“Yes,” said Czeszcziczki. “But—but $250 is a lot of money for a fellow who, right now, is only pinch-hitting in offices where an adding machine or so goes out of operation. I get $5 a day when I get sent out from the adding machine company—nothing, if I don’t.”

“We-ell, you can send the girl over to County Hospital, you know?”

“But my God, Mr. Hogleman, over there they—they just practice, don’t they—”

Mr. Thomas Hogleman merely shrugged his shoulders as a man who could not assume upon them all the problems of the world. “I can’t go into such things,” he said testily. “But you’ll have to get Mrs.—er—Zicky operated, or get her out of here. This isn’t a lying-in hospital, you know.”

“No, I—I know it. Well, I’ll bring all my efforts to bear at once. I—”

“Which one of our 4 men did you think you’d have? For I’ve talked to each. And each is willing to operate for $250. So which one have you thought to have? Dr. Duval, Dr. Cantrell, Dr. Mendy or Dr. Wane?”

“I—I thought to go into that when—when—”

“When you got the fee together? Yes. All right. See me—or come to some decision on it yourself. Ah yes, Mrs. Darby—” This to a fashionably gowned woman with diamond eardrops who was entering. “We can give you that suite now. Step into my office, if you don’t mind.”

Stefan Czeszcziczki did not take the elevator to get upstairs, but went up the sunny stairway that lay near it. In a trice he was on the second floor, and hurrying down the wide cork-carpeted corridor he was soon at a door numbered 202. He was just about to step in, when a whiteclad nurse stepped out. She was a woman of about 43, still pretty, with dark reddish hair.—“Why hello there, Mr.—”

“ ‘Zicky,’ I warned you,” he said, with a smile. “Don’t ever try to pronounce it!” He lowered his voice. “How is Damaris this morning, Miss Iliff?”

The nurse turned and looked painedly at the room she had just left. Then back at him. “Do you mind stepping up the hall with me, Mr. Zicky?”

“Wh-why no—not at all. No.”

She led the way up the hall, at least a hundred feet, to where an end window looked down over a vacant lot. On each side of them, wide-open room doors showed vacant, patientless rooms. The two were, therefore, quite alone.

“Mr. Zicky,” the nurse began, her face sorely troubled, “I—I want to be real frank with you. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking—you see, I’m going to be married next week—to a very fine man—I don’t believe I’ll ever be back in nursing again—for his income is plenty adequate to take care of me well—and he has a big life-insurance policy that will insure my support in case he’s ever taken away from me. And that’s why—why I’m going to talk to you now—as I am. For what I’m going to do now is lese majesté amongst the nursing profession. But I know you’ll respect a real confidence?”

“Why Miss Iliff, anything you tell me is absolutely confidential. Is Damaris—”

“Damaris is just about the same,” the nurse returned, “except, of course, that she’s a bit worse each week as that brain tumor increases in size—and pressure. So there’s noth­ing to tell you there. Except, perhaps, that she seems—now that we’ve passed well on into the Fall Season—summerlike though it still is!—she seems to have passed into that particular stage of such tumor growth as we call—but here!—I—I won’t permit myself to get technical. Mere medical terminology has nothing to do with what I’m really trying to get at.” She paused momentarily, and then drove directly to whatever she seemed trying to say, “Mr. Zicky, you’re in the process, aren’t you, of raising $250, for an operation for your wife?”

“Yes, I—I am. As best as a man can, that is—who is 100-percent excluded from all this lucrative armament work and all—because of being one-handed due to an old case of—but I’ve told you how I lost my hand and wrist years ago. So that’s that! And it—but answering your specific question. Miss Iliff, I am—yes!—trying to raise $250 for an operation on Damaris. Which—of course,” he broke off, “you know I own a $150 due-bill on this hospital, adequate to take care of her during all the post-operative care, plus nursing—”

“But you’re eating that due-bill up, aren’t you, holding her here—unoperated?”

Stefan bit his lip. “Yes. But—”

“Might I ask how you got this due-bill—which is good only, of course, for hospitalization here?”

“Why, from a magazine that took the due-bill in exchange for an advertisement of the hospital they ran. I did some—some publicity work for the magazine itself—put on some stunts, you know, along my line?—around and about the country?—at so much per exhibition, and travelling expenses? But the travelling expenses were all I eventually got out of it. For the magazine went broke. But did pay up my preferred claim for salary—with the due-bill they had. And my God, but it came in handy when I learned Damaris would have to go to a hospital.”

“Mr. Hogleman doesn’t, I suppose, like to honor it?”


“No, he doesn’t—but has to, under the law, However, the point is, I take it, that just now you’re trying to raise the $250 cash fee involved in the proposed surgery on your wife? Which has nothing to do with the hospital?”

“Yes. But I—I—”

“Well I won’t attempt to pry into the matter of how you’re making out on that—nor which of our 4 staff surgeons you have selected to do the job—or whom you’ve talked with; but I am going to tell you something, Mr. Zicky, that may shock you.”

“Wh-what—what is it?”

“Just this. If any of those 4 men—if, in fact, any surgeon whatsoever here in Chelsington City—does that operation on your wife, she is a dead woman!”

Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page