CHAPTER I THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR
What’s behind this wall?
As I write, here in my surgeon’s study, I ask myself that question. What’s behind it? My neighbors? Then what do I know—really know—of them? After all, this wall which rises beyond my desk, the wall against which my glass case of instruments rests, symbolizes the boundary of knowledge—seemingly an opaque barrier. I am called a man of science, a man with a passion for accuracies. I seek to define a part of the limitless and undefined mysteries of the body. But what is behind the wall? Are we sensitive to it? You smile. Give your attention then to a narrative of facts.
How little we know what influence the other side has upon us or we upon the human beings beyond this boundary. We think it is opaque, impassable. I am writing of the other wall. There was a puzzle! The wall of the Marburys!...
Here I risk my reputation as a scientific observer. But that is all; I offer no conclusions. I set down in cold blood the bare facts. They are fresh enough in my memory. All seasons are swift when a man slips into age and it was only four short years ago that this happened—so marvelous, so suggestive of the things that we may do without knowing—mark me! the things we may accomplish—beyond the wall!
You will see what I mean when I make a record of those strange events. They began when poor MacMechem—an able practitioner he was, too—was thrown from his saddle horse in the park and died in the ambulance before they could get him to the Matthews Hospital. I inherited some of his cases, and Marbury was one of those who begged me to come in at the emergency. It was meningitis and it is out of my line. Perhaps the Marbury wealth influenced me; perhaps it was because the banker—of course I am not using the real names—went down on his knees on this very rug which is under my feet as I write. There is such a thing as a financial face. You see it often enough among those who deal with loans, percents, examiners, and the market. It’s the face of terror peering through a heavy mask of smugness, and it was dreadful to see it looking up at me.... I yielded.
The Marburys’ house faces the group of trees which shade the very spot where MacMechem’s horse went insane. It is one of a block where each residence represents a different architect—a sort of display of individuality and affluence squeezed together like fancy crackers packed in a box. My machine used to wait for me by the hour in front of the pretentious show of flowers, tub-evergreens, glass and bronze vestibules, and the other conventional paraphernalia of our rich city successes.
It was their little girl. She was eight, I think, and her beauty was not of the ordinary kind. Sometimes there rises out of the coarse, undeveloped blood of peasants, or the thin and chilly tissue of families going to seed, some extraordinary example like my little friend Virginia. The spirit that looks out of eyes of profound depth, the length of the black lashes lying upon a cheek of marvelous whiteness, the delicate lines of the little body which delight the true artist, the curve of the sensitive lips, the patient calm of personality suggesting a familiarity with other worlds and with eternity, makes a strong impression upon a medical man or surgeon who deals with the thousands of human bodies, all wearing somewhere the repulsive distortions of civilization....