“Eh bien, what can I do? They are all ze same. Good-bye, Monsieur le docteur. You scare me stiff. But I like you. Nest time I ’ave ze tummy-ache I ring you up.
“I shouldn’t—if I were you.”
“Why? You give me poison, p’raps?”
“I might,” he said.
So Rufus Cosgrave disappeared, like an insignificant chip of wood sucked into a whirlpool, and this time Stonehouse made no attempt to plunge in after him. With other advanced and energetic men of his profession he stood committed to a new enterprise—the creation of a private hospital, which was to be a model to the hospitals of the world—and he had no time to waste on a fool who wanted to ruin himself. But though he never thought of Cosgrave, he could not altogether forget him. At night he found himself turning instinctively towards the window where the delicate, rather plaintive profile had shown faintly against the glow of the streets, and the empty frame caused him a sense of unrest, almost of insecurity, as though a ghost had risen to convince him that the dead are never quite dead, and then had vanished.
He took to returning to his consulting-rooms, where he regained his balance and his normal outlook. The sober reality of the place thrust ghosts out-of-doors. Here was no lingering shadow of poverty to recall them. The bright, cold instruments in their glass cases, the neatly ordered japanned tables, the cunning array of lights were there to remind him that he was a man who had made a record career for himself and who was going farther. In the day-time he took them as a matter of course, but now he regarded them rather solemnly. He went from one to another, handling them, testing them, switching the lights of special electrical devices on and off, like a boy with a new and serious plaything. There was no one to laugh at him, and he did not laugh at himself. He stood in the midst of his possessions, a little insolently, with his head up, as though he were calling them up one by one to bear him witness. He was self-made. He had torn his life out of the teeth of circumstance. There was not an instrument, not a chair or table in the lofty, dignified room that he had not paid for with sweat and sacrifice and deprivation. No one had given him help that he had not earned. Even in himself he had been handicapped. The boy he had been had wanted things terribly—silly, useless, gaudy things that would have ruined him as they had ruined his father. He remembered how in the twilight of Acacia Grove he had listened to the music of far-off processions, and had longed to run to meet them and march with the jolly, singing people, and how once it had all come true, and he had lied and stolen.
Once only. Then he had stamped temptation under foot. He had become master of himself. And now he was not tempted any more by foolish desires. He meant to do work that would put him in the front rank of big men.