The woman didn't smile. She said severely, "You're lucky. You Wouldn't be getting as much on Starvation. And you may have soup every day at midday and two cups of tea at four o'clock.''
Bond gave her a bitter smile. He took the horrible mug over to one of the little café tables near the windows overlooking the dark lawn and sat down and sipped the thin soup while he watched some of his fellow inmates meandering aimlessly, weakly, through the room. Now he felt a grain of sympathy for the wretches. Now he was a member of their club. Now he had been initiated. He drank the soup down to the last neat cube of carrot and walked abstractedly off to his room, thinking of Count Lippe, thinking of sleep, but above all thinking of his empty stomach.
After two days of this, Bond felt terrible. He had a permanent slight nagging headache, the whites of his eyes had turned rather yellow, and his tongue was deeply furred. His masseur told him not to worry. This was as it should be. These were the poisons leaving his body. Bond, now a permanent prey to lassitude, didn't argue. Nothing seemed to matter any more but the single orange and hot water for breakfast, the mugs of hot soup, and the cups of tea which Bond filled with spoonfuls of brown sugar, the only variety that had Mr. Wain's sanction.
On the third day, after the massage and the shock of the sitz baths, Bond had on his program “Osteopathic Manipulation and Traction.'' He was directed to a new section of the basement, withdrawn and silent. When he opened the designated door he expected to find some hairy H-man waiting for him with flexed muscles. (H-man, he had discovered, stood for Health-man. It was the smart thing to call oneself if you were a naturopath.) He stopped in his tracks. The girl, Patricia something, whom he had not set eyes on since his first day, stood waiting for him beside the couch. He closed the door behind him and said, ”Good lord. Is this what you do?''
She was used to this reaction of the men patients and rather touchy about it. She didn't smile. She said in a business-like voice, "Nearly ten per cent of osteopaths are women. Take off your clothes, please. Everything except your shorts.'' When Bond had amusedly obeyed she told him to stand in front of her. She walked round him, examining him with eyes in which there was nothing but professional interest. Without commenting on his scars she told him to lie face downward on the couch and, with strong, precise, and thoroughly practiced holds, went through the handling and joint-cracking of her profession.
Bond soon realized that she was an extremely powerful girl. His muscled body, admittedly unresistant, seemed to be easy going for her. Bond felt a kind of resentment at the neutrality of this relationship between an attractive girl and a half-naked man. At the end of the treatment she told him to stand up and clasp his hands behind her neck. Her eyes, a few inches away from his, held nothing but professional concentration. She hauled strongly away from him, presumably with the object of freeing his vertebrae. This was too much for Bond. At the end of it, when she told him to release his hands, he did nothing of the sort. He tightened them, pulled her head sharply toward him, and kissed her full on the lips. She ducked quickly down through his arms and straightened herself, her cheeks red and her eyes shining with anger. Bond smiled at her, knowing that he had never missed a slap in the face, and a hard one at that, by so little. He said, "It's all very well, but I just had to do it. You shouldn't have a mouth like that if you're going to be an osteopath.''
The anger in her eyes subsided a fraction. She said, "The last time that happened, the man had to leave by the next train.''
Bond laughed. He made a threatening move toward her. "If I thought there was any hope of being kicked out of this damn place I'd kiss you again.''
She said, “Don't be silly. Now pick up your things. You've got half an hour's traction.'' She smiled grimly. ”That ought to keep you quiet.''
Bond said morosely, "Oh, all right. But only on condition you let me take you out on your next day off.''
“We'll see about that. It depends how you behave at the next treatment.'' She held open the door. Bond picked up his clothes and went out, almost colliding with a man coming down the passage. It was Count Lippe, in slacks and a gay windcheater. He ignored Bond. With a smile and a slight bow he said to the girl, ”Here comes the lamb to the slaughter. I hope you're not feeling too strong today.'' His eyes twinkled charmingly.
The girl said briskly, "Just get ready, please. I shan't be a moment putting Mr. Bond on the traction table.'' She moved off down the passage with Bond following.
She opened the door of a small anteroom, told Bond to put his things down on a chair, and pulled aside plastic curtains that formed a partition. Just inside the curtains was an odd-looking kind of surgical couch in leather and gleaming aluminum. Bond didn't like the look of it at all. While the girl fiddled with a series of straps attached to three upholstered sections that appeared to be on runners, Bond examined the contraption suspiciously. Below the couch was a stout electric motor on which a plate announced that this was the Hercules Motorized Traction Table. A power drive in the shape of articulated rods stretched upward from the motor to each of the three cushioned sections of the couch and terminated in tension screws to which the three sets of straps were attached. In front of the raised portion where the patient's head would lie, and approximately level with his face, was a large dial marked in lbs.-pressure up to 200. After 150 lbs. the numerals were in red. Below the headrest were grips for the patient's hands. Bond noted gloomily that the leather on the grips was stained with, presumably, sweat.
“Lie face downward here, please.'' The girl held the straps ready. Bond said obstinately, ”Not until you tell me what this thing does. I don't like the look of it.''
The girl said patiently, "This is simply a machine for stretching your spine. You've got mild spinal lesions. It will help to free those. And at the base of your spine you've got some right sacroiliac strain. It'll help that too. You won't find it bad at all. Just a stretching sensation. It's very soothing, really. Quite a lot of patients fall asleep.''
“This one won't,'' said Bond firmly. ”What strength are you going to give me? Why are those top figures in red? Are you sure I'm not going to be pulled apart?''
The girl said with a touch of impatience, "Don't be silly. Of course if there was too much tension it might be dangerous. But I shall be starting you only at 90 pounds and in a quarter of an hour I shall come and see how you're getting on and probably put you up to 120. Now come along. I've got another patient waiting.''
Reluctantly Bond climbed up on the couch and lay on his face with his nose and mouth buried in a deep cleft in the headrest. He said, his voice muffled by the leather, "If you kill me, I'll sue.''
He felt the straps being tightened round his chest and then round his hips. The girl's skirt brushed the side of his face as she bent to reach the control lever beside the big dial. The motor began to whine. The straps tightened and then relaxed, tightened and relaxed. Bond felt as if his body was being stretched by giant hands. It was a curious sensation, but not unpleasant. With difficulty Bond raised his head. The needle on the dial stood at 90. Now the machine was making a soft iron hee-hawing, like a mechanical donkey, as the gears alternatively engaged and disengaged to produce the rhythmic traction. "Are you all right?''
"Yes.'' He heard the girl pass through the plastic curtains and then the click of the outer door. Bond abandoned himself to the soft feel of the leather at his face, to the relentless intermittent haul on his spine and to the hypnotic whine and drone of the machine. It really wasn't too bad. How silly to have had nerves about it!
A quarter of an hour later he heard again the click of the outside door and the swish of the curtains.
The girl's hand came into his line of vision as she turned the lever. Bond raised his head. The needle crept up to 120. Now the pull was really hard and the voice of the machine was much louder.
The girl put her head down to his. She laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. She said, her voice loud above the noise of the gears, "Only another quarter of an hour to go.''
"All right.'' Bond's voice was careful. He was probing the new strength of the giant haul on his body. The curtains swished. Now the click of the outside door was drowned by the noise of the machine. Slowly Bond relaxed again into the arms of the rhythm.
It was perhaps five minutes later when a tiny movement of the air against his face made Bond open his eyes. In front of his eyes was a hand, a man's hand, reaching softly for the lever of the accelerator. Bond watched it, at first fascinated, and then with dawning horror as the lever was slowly depressed and the straps began to haul madly at his body. He shouted---something, he didn't know what. His whole body was racked with a great pain. Desperately he lifted his head and shouted again. On the dial, the needle was trembling at 200! His head dropped back, exhausted. Through a mist of sweat he watched the hand softly release the lever. The hand paused and turned slowly so that the back of the wrist was just below his eyes. In the center of the wrist was the little red sign of the zigzag and the two bisecting lines. A voice said quietly, close up against his ear, "You will not meddle again, my friend.'' Then there was nothing but the great whine and groan of the machine and the bite of the straps that were tearing his body in half. Bond began to scream, weakly, while the sweat poured from him and dripped off the leather cushions onto the floor. Then suddenly there was blackness.
Tea and Animosity
It is just as well that the body retains no memory of pain. Yes, it hurt, that abscess, that broken bone, but just how it hurt, and how much, is soon forgotten by the brain and the nerves. It is not so with pleasant sensations, a scent, a taste, the particular texture of a kiss. These things can be almost totally recalled. Bond, gingerly exploring his sensations as life came flooding back into his body, was astonished that the web of agony that had held his body so utterly had now completely dissolved. It was true that his whole spine ached as if it had been beaten, each vertebra separately, with wooden truncheons, but his pain was recognizable, something within his knowledge and therefore capable of control. The searing tornado that had entered his body and utterly dominated it, replacing his identity with its own, had gone. How had it been? What had it been like? Bond couldn't remember except that it had reduced him to something lower in the scale of existence than a handful of grass in the mouth of a tiger. The murmur of voices grew more distinct.
"But what told you first that something was wrong, Miss Fearing?''
"It was the noise, the noise of the machine. I had just finished a treatment. A few minutes later I heard it. I'd never heard it so loud. I thought perhaps the door had been left open. I wasn't really worried but I came along to make sure. And there it was. The indicator up to 200! I tore down the lever and got the straps off and ran to the surgery and found the coramine and injected it into the vein---one c.c, The pulse was terribly weak. Then I telephoned you.''
“You seem to have done everything possible, Miss Fearing. And I'm sure you bear no responsibility for this terrible thing.'' Mr. Wain's voice was doubtful. ”It really is most unfortunate. I suppose the patient must have jerked the lever, somehow. Perhaps he was experimenting. He might easily have killed himself. We must tell the company about this and have some safety arrangement installed.''