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Authors: A. J. Cronin

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BOOK: A Pocketful of Rye
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‘
Grossartig, mit dem Bauer spielt er den Ruy Lopez. Die Dame ist bedroht.
'

I was watching Bemmel now. He moved restlessly, shifting his position to lean forward, peering hard at the board. Finally he lay back and with a forced grin and an attempt at bonhomie exclaimed:

‘You defend yourself well. I think we agree it is null.'

A low rumble of dissent came from the followers which seemed to indicate an honest note of warning.

‘
Nein, nein, mein Lieber.
'

It was unnecessary.

‘You want me to concede a draw? I'm afraid I must refuse. But if you wish I will permit you to resign.'

‘
Ach, nein, nein!
' Bemmel grunted.

After a long, long pause which would never have been permitted by a time clock, the schoolmaster, his brow furrowed by confused concentration and the beginnings of anguish, moved a defensive pawn. It was taken by the same bishop.

‘
Ach, so … Wieder der Bauer.
' Bachmann had left his counter and was craning his neck in the background.

Two other moves followed, slow, extremely slow, from Bemmel, who was sweating now all down the back of his neck, very fast and confident from Daniel. And that was it.

‘Check mate.'

A stupefied silence; it had happened so quickly. Then a burst of genuine applause. I thought Bemmel had swallowed the cigar, but he tore it out of its nest and flung it at the stove where it stuck and started to hiss at him. Thus disarmed, he was no longer a free and virile Swiss but a poor stuttering fool. Impossible to see his face, but the beard seemed definitely bloodshot.

‘
Ach so, ach so
,' he kept repeating. ‘
Ein glückliches Stück.
'

‘Yes,' said Daniel, picking up the meaning. ‘ I was very lucky. You played splendidly.' And he held out his hand.

I didn't like the kid for that – he was back in his Lord Fauntleroy role, you'd think I had just entered him for Eton, but I must admit it went over big with the gang. It seemed appropriate to celebrate. I called for the drinks.

For the next ten minutes we had a regular party. I did not let it go on any longer. When the excitement began to subside I got up and, to promote good feeling, paid the score. This seemed to help Bemmel, who managed a dim smile. I hoped it might lower his blood pressure. Still brooding, he was feeling around for the stub, wondering where it had got to, and beginning to think up excuses. But we had wrecked him, he would never be the same again. Le petit Ecossais would become a legend at the Pfeffermühle.

When we left they saw us to the car, and every good Schweitzer one of them, even Bemmel, shook hands with the kid before they waved us off. I drove slowly, taking the long way home.

‘You put on a good show,' I said.

‘Not really, Laurence.' He laughed. He was brimming over. ‘You see, he tried to fool's mate me straight away. It put him at such a disadvantage. I went straight into a reverse Ruy Lopez and against that, the Sicilian defence that he put on was no use. You noticed those last moves, didn't you, P to B5, P to B6, B to Kt2?'

I nodded, to please him.

‘Poor man, I'm afraid he was very upset.'

‘It'll do him good. He's always been a bit of a blow hard. They don't really go for him back there.'

‘He's quite good, really, and could beat me the next time. I don't always win you know, Laurence, in spite of what you said, but I did want to, for your sake.' He looked up at me. ‘ Not to let you down, you know.'

Now he was at his worst again. He had just won The Wall Game with the first goal in twenty years. But I put up with it.

‘How do you make out against the old Canon?' I asked, working towards my objective.

‘He's beaten me several times, especially at the beginning.'

‘He taught you?'

‘Yes, and lots of other things.'

‘You like him?'

‘Well, naturally.'

‘You know, Daniel,' I manufactured a sigh, ‘I'm rather jealous of that old bag of bones. You're so very close to him. I keep thinking of that private understanding you share with him. In a way it worries me.'

‘Oh, it needn't,' he said quickly. ‘If anyone, I should worry.'

‘Then why don't you let me in on it?' It griped me to say this, but I had to get what I wanted. ‘I might be able to help.'

There was a silence. The warmth had gone out of his face. He looked deflated. At last he said, slowly:

‘I have become very attached to you, Laurence. In fact if I didn't know how much you hate sissy stuff, I could put it much stronger. But I've absolutely given my word not to speak of a certain thing.'

The nudge that sent Davigan over! He could mean nothing else. He was there: he had seen it. I wanted almost unbearably to know the truth.

‘Come on, Danny boy. We're such pals now. No one would ever know.'

‘I can't.' He shook his head sadly yet firmly. A sober pause followed, then his expression cleared as though he saw a way out. ‘However, if you guessed it by yourself there would be no harm. It would let me out, for I still wouldn't have told you.' He added: ‘I might even be allowed to give you a little hint. You're so clever it might help you.'

‘Let's have it then.' I couldn't bear this. We were almost at the Maybelle, turning into the drive.

‘That same afternoon, when the Canon came out with me to the Convent door, he sat up in his wheeled chair, tapped me on the shoulder, and said: “ Silence is golden.”'

I stared at him, stupefied. Was he having me on? Impossible. Yet what a let down. I could have clipped him on his aggravating little pan.

‘Out,' I said, drawing up with a jerk at the front porch, ‘ and for God's sake don't give the women any hints we were in the pub.'

When I had dropped him off I garaged the car with a violence that reflected my mood. After all my careful planning, my staging of the chess match, all this build up, I was left with nothing but a three-word prissy proverb from the kindergarten copy book: ‘Silence is golden!' The sleet was coming down again.

Chapter Fifteen

That evening, after I had locked up, I sat up late in my room tippling Kirsch, going over that blasted riddle:
Silence is golden.
What a cliché! Was it merely an injunction from Dingwall, meaning keep your trap shut? Yet the phrase was the last to be expected from a man of such incisive mind. It belonged with such lollypops as: a stitch in time saves nine, or: don't count your chickens before they're hatched. Of course, he was using it towards a child. No, no, that wouldn't work, not with that juvenile brains trust. Certainly the
command
existed: silence, don't talk! Yet there must be another, and a hidden implication, possibly in the word: golden. An idea occurred to me: could this be a reference, jocular, no doubt, to the half-crown tip given by Dingwall at that precise moment, to ensure co-operation? Nonsense. I dismissed it as totally out of key with either character. Yet golden suggested money, wealth, some precious thing. But nothing could be more apparent than that Davigan had no money. I knew for a certainty that the widow hadn't a stiver. I had seen Matron slipping a few francs into her purse before she came back with that new pair of snow boots.

I gave up at last, locked the bottle in its cupboard, undressed, and as an afterthought, washed out the glass so that no incriminating evidence should go back to Hulda. Shortly after midnight I fell asleep.

It seemed less than an hour before I awoke with a start. Someone was banging on my window. I stumbled up and opened it to be met by a blast of sleet through which I dimly saw Davigan, in her dressing-gown, bareheaded, hair blown by the wind, with a wild look about her.

‘Come, quickly. Daniel's taken ill.'

‘What's the matter?' I had to shout. ‘Stomach upset?'

‘No. A bleeding. Hurry. Please hurry. He looks dreadfully ill.'

Make no bones about it, she seemed half out of her mind. I waved her away, banged the casement shut. I could never find that light switch in the dark, but I did at last, buttoned on my pants, pulled a sweater over my pyjama jacket, shoved my feet into slippers, picked up the emergency case that always stood in the hall, and unbolted the front door.

It was a hell of a night, gale force wind and heavy sleet. I cursed myself for forgetting my raincoat. I was well soaked before I reached the chalet.

All the lights were on. She had left the door open. I went in. He was lying on his bunk, flat on his back, collapsed, shrunk into himself, totally blanched. No palpable pulse. He didn't know I was there.

‘How did this come on?' I was opening my bag in a hurry. ‘He had diarrhoea, went to the bathroom.' She was shivering all over. ‘I left it for you to see.'

I put my head round the bathroom door. One look was enough–the curse of myelocytic leukaemia is the liability to massive haemorrhages. He must be practically exsanguine. As I broke an ampule of camphor in oil and charged the hypodermic, I said:

‘Get some clothes on, or a coat, for God's sake, and run round and knock up Matron. The side door's unlocked.'

He didn't apparently respond to the injection but now there was just the hint of a carotid pulse. I took the extra blanket from the end of the bed, spread it, and rolled him in it. Double wrapped, he was practically weightless as I carried him across the courtyard into the little side room off the ward. Davigan had pulled on a coat and the new snow boots and gone ahead of me.

So now what? Ever since that first glance at him I had been cursing myself. I knew I should have laid in at least a temporary blood bank for him. Apart from my own knowledge Lamotte had stressed this precaution. Being what I am, I had put it off, passed it up, or plain forgotten. An immediate transfusion was what he must have and the only way was for me both to perform it and act as donor.

Though stinkingly sentimental, this was a plain necessity. It sounds simple. Perhaps you have lain at ease, feeling praiseworthy and benevolent, while the nurse drew off and bottled your 350 c.c. s before you knew it, then ushered you in sweetly to coffee and biscuits in the cafeteria. This was going to be a double act, and quite different. I had only the barest equipment, nothing prepared, and the patient, with practically no penetrable veins, was in extremis.

‘He still is bleeding?'

Hulda had appeared, in silence for once, and unbelievably in full uniform. Never had I been so glad to see her.

‘He's about lost it all,' I said. ‘We must let him have it back at once.'

‘But how?'

‘I'm universal type O and he's group AB. Let's make the shift quick as we can. There's a vacuum transfusion flask in the surgery emergency cupboard. Bring it now.'

‘I already look.' She did not move. ‘ Someone is taking things from that cupboard. It is perhaps broken, at least no longer there.'

I was too shaken even to swear.

This was the final crusher. These vacuum flasks, treated with an anticoagulant, sodium citrate, or better, heparin, and capped with thin rubber to take the needle puncture, are essential intermediate receptacles in standard practice. I had meant to fill it from my own brachial vein, suspend it high on the stand and transfuse. Now, if at all, it had to be direct and I knew the full meaning of that word. Useless to attempt direct transfusion from my vein to his – the venous pressure was insufficient. He needed arterial pressure and arterial blood.

All this passed through my mind in a flash, and Hulda must have read it in my face. Why ever had I tried to make a cod of her? The old battle-axe was a regular stand-by, calm, efficient, experienced. In four minutes, while I took his blood pressure – it was less than fifteen – she had collected, sterilized and assembled tubing, canula and needles – such primitive equipment by Kantonspital standards, but it would work. She put her hand on a chair, even got a towel to dry the worst of the rain off me, then said:

‘You wish to sit?'

I shook my head. We'd get a better flow if I stood.

‘Just tighten the tourniquet on his upper arm.'

Now we were off. I bent forward to insert the needle. The tourniquet should have brought up the brachial vein by interrupting the venous flow, but there was no flow and no vein. I felt, and felt again. Nothing. I began to sweat. Over the years in practice there are some skills you acquire and some that will always be beyond you. Ignoring my deficiencies, I had at least this ability: for a sad six months, running a V.D. clinic in Plymouth, taking Wasserman specimens and giving intravenous Salvarsan, I must have pierced hundreds of veins, until I could do it, first time, clean as a whistle, in my sleep. And now, when I needed it, I was stuck.

‘I'll have to incise and go into the jugular.'

She already had the lancet. He was too far gone to feel the incision I made in his neck. His eyes, glazed like the eyes of a dead fish, stared glassily towards the ceiling. And finally there it was, thin as a bird's windpipe. I inserted the canula, then with my one free hand I simply broke the cord of my pyjama pants and let them drop with my trousers. Holding the other needle tight between my thumb and second finger I felt with my free forefinger for the big throb, just below the inguinal canal. I had it. Finally, with the unspoken thought: this is it!: I plunged the needle deep and laterally into my right femoral artery. I knew at once I had hit the big artery of the leg, the shock ran all through me.

I kept it going, controlling the tube between my finger and thumb. I didn't want to choke him up at the start. After a long moment the Matron said:

‘It does well, Herr Doktor.' She had a finger on his left carotid. ‘The pulse begins.'

The change, if you had not seen it before, or perhaps you would not wish to, was spectacular. He began to lose that shrunken look, to fill out and gain colour like an inflated breath test balloon. The pulse in his neck was quite visible now and his lungs were making up for lost time. Then his eyes flickered and he looked straight at me.

BOOK: A Pocketful of Rye
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