Nervously the White Linen Nurse bethought her of the brook. “Oh, wait a minute, sir—and I’ll get you a drink of water!” she pleaded.
Bruskly the Senior Surgeon’s hand jerked out and grabbed at her skirt.
“Don’t leave me!” he begged. “For God’s sake—don’t leave me!”
Weakly he struggled up again and sat staring piteously at the blazing car. His unrelinquished clutch on the White Linen Nurse’s skirt brought her sinking softly down beside him like a collapsed balloon. Together they sat and watched the gaseous yellow flames shoot up into the sky.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” piped the Little Girl.
“Eh?” groaned the Senior Surgeon.
“Father,” persisted the shrill little voice. “Father,—do people ever burn up?”
“Eh?” gasped the Senior Surgeon. Brutally the harsh, shuddering sobs began to rack and tear again through his great chest.
“There! There!” crooned the White Linen Nurse, struggling desperately to her knees. “Let me get—everybody—a drink of water.”
Again the Senior Surgeon’s unrelinquished clutch on her skirt jerked her back to the place beside him.
“I said not to leave me!” he snapped out as roughly as he jerked.
Before the affrighted look in the White Linen Nurse’s face a sheepish, mirthless grin flickered across one corner of his mouth.
“Lord! But I’m shaken!” he apologized. “Me—of all people!” Painfully the red blood mounted to his cheeks. “Me—of all people!” Bluntly he forced the White Linen Nurse’s reluctant gaze to meet his own. “Only yesterday,” he persisted, “I did a laparotomy on a man who had only one chance in a hundred of pulling through—and I—I scolded him for fighting off his ether cone,—scolded him—I tell you!”
“Yes, I know,” soothed the White Linen Nurse. “But—”
“But nothing!” growled the Senior Surgeon. “The fear of death? Bah! All my life I’ve scoffed at it! Die? Yes, of course,—when you have to,—but with no kick coming! Why, I’ve been wrecked in a typhoon in the Gulf of Mexico. And I didn’t care! And I’ve lain for nine days more dead than alive in an Asiatic cholera camp. And I didn’t care! And I’ve been locked into my office three hours with a raving maniac and a dynamite bomb. And I didn’t care! And twice in a Pennsylvania mine disaster I’ve been the first man down the shaft. And I didn’t care! And I’ve been shot, I tell you,—and I’ve been horse-trampled,—and I’ve been wolf-bitten. And I’ve never cared! But to-day—to-day—” Piteously all the pride and vigor wilted from his great shoulders, leaving him all huddled up like a woman, with his head on his knees. “But to-day, I’ve got mine!” he acknowledged brokenly.
Once again the White Linen Nurse tried to rise. “Oh, please, sir, let me get you a—drink of water,” she suggested helplessly.
“I said not to leave me!” jerked the Senior Surgeon.