Part 1 out of 3
Red Pepper Burns
by Grace S. Richmond
I. IN WHICH HE VOWS A VOW
II. IN WHICH HE CREATES A CIRCUS
III. IN WHICH HE ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY
IV. IN WHICH HE MAKES A CONCESSION
V. IN WHICH HE IS ROUGH ON A FRIEND
VI. IN WHICH HE PRESCRIBES FOR HIMSELF
VII. IN WHICH HE CONTINUES TO SAW WOOD
VIII. IN WHICH HE IS UNREASONABLY PREOCCUPIED
IX. IN WHICH HE SUFFERS A DEFEAT
X. IN WHICH HE PROVES HIMSELF A HOST
XI. IN WHICH HE GETS EVEN WITH HIMSELF
XII. IN WHICH HE HAS HIS OWN WAY
XIII. IN WHICH HE MAKES NO EVENING CALL
XIV. IN WHICH HE DEFIES SUPERSTITION
IN WHICH HE VOWS A VOW
"There comes the Green Imp "
"How can you tell?"
"Don't you hear? Red's coming in on five cylinders for all he
can get out of 'em. Anybody else would stop and fix up. He's
in too much of a hurry - as usual."
The Green Imp tore past the porch where Burns's neighbours
waved arms of greeting which he failed to see, for he did not
turn his head. The car went round the curve of the driveway
at perilous speed, and only the fact that from road to old red
barn was a good twenty rods made it seem possible that the
Green Imp could come to a standstill in time to prevent its
banging into the rear wall of the barn.
Two minutes later Burns ran by the Chesters' porch on his way
to his own. Chester hailed him.
"What's your everlasting hurry, Red? Come up and sit down and
"Not now," called back a voice curtly, out of the June
twilight. The big figure ran on and disappeared into the
small house, the door slamming shut behind it.
"Red's in a temper. Tell by the sound of his voice.
"Is he ever in anything except a temper?" inquired a guest of
the Chesters. Arthur Chester turned on her.
"Show's you don't know him much, Pauline. He's the owner of
the fiercest good disposition ever heard of. He's the
pepperest proposition of an angel this earth has ever seen.
He's a red-headed, sharp-tongued brute of a saint - "
"Why, Arthur Chester!"
"He's a pot of mustard that's clear balm - if you don't mind
getting stung when it's applied."
"Well, of all the - "
"I'm going over to get something for this abominable headache
- and, incidentally, to find out what's the row. He's
probably lost a patient - it always goes to his brain like
that. When he abuses his beloved engine that way it's because
some other machinery has stopped somewhere."
"If he's lost a patient you'd better let him alone, dear,"
advised his wife, Winifred.
"No - he needs to get his mind off it, on me. I can fix up a
few symptoms for him."
"He'll see through you," called Mrs. Chester softly, after
"No doubt of that. But it may divert him, just the same."
Chester made his way across the lawn and in at the side door
which led to the dimly lighted village offices of Redfield
Pepper Burns, physician and surgeon. Not that the
gilt-lettered sign on the glass of the office door read that
way. "R. F. Burns, M.D." was the brief inscription above the
table of "office hours," and the owner of the name invariably
so curtailed it. But among his friends the full name had
inevitably been turned into the nickname, for the big,
red-haired, quick-tempered, warm-hearted fellow was "Red
Pepper Burns" as irresistibly to them as he had been, a decade
earlier, to his classmates in college.
As Chester went in at the door a figure arose slowly from its
position - flung full length, face downward, on a couch in the
shadowy inner office and came into view.
"Toothache? Dentist down the street," said a blurred voice
Chester laughed. "Oh, come, Red," said he. "Give me some of
that headache dope. I'm all out."
"Glad to hear it. You don't get any more from me."
"Why not? I've got a sure-enough headache - I didn't come
over to quiz you. The blamed thing whizzes like a buzz saw."
"Can't help it. Go soak it."
Chester advanced. "I'll get the powders myself, then. I know
A substantial barrier interposed. "No, you don't. You've
taken up six ounces of that stuff do seven days. You quit
"Look here, Red, what's the use of taking it out on me like
that, if you are mad at something? If your head - "
"I wish it did ache - like ten thousand furies. It might take
some of the pressure off somewhere else," growled R. P. Burns.
He shut the door of the inner office hard behind him.
"I thought so," declared Arthur Chester, suddenly forgetting
about his headache in his anxiety to know the explanation of
the five cylinders. It was a small suburban town in which
they lived, and if something had gone wrong it was a matter of
common interest. "Can you tell me about it ?" he asked - a
little diffidently, for none knew better than he that things
could not always be told, and that no lips were locked tighter
than Red Pepper's when the secret was not his to tell.
"Engine's on the blink. Got to go out and fix it," was the
unpromising reply. Burns picked up a sparkplug from the
office desk as he spoke.
"Had your dinner?"
"Don't want it."
"Shall I go out with you?"
The answer was an unintelligible grunt. As Chester was about
to follow his friend out - for there could be no doubt that
Red Pepper Burns was his friend in spite of this somewhat
surly, though by no means unusual, treatment - another door
opened tentatively, and a head was cautiously inserted.
"Your dinner's ready, Doctor Burns," said a doubtful voice.
Burns turned. "Leave a pitcher of milk on the table for me,
Cynthia," he said in a gentler voice than Chester had yet
heard from him tonight, crisp though it was. "Nothing else."
Chester, catching a glimpse of a brightly lighted dining-room
and a table lavishly spread, undertook to remonstrate. He had
seen the housekeeper's disappointed face, also. But Burns cut
"Come along - if you must," said he, and stalked out into the
For an hour, in the light from one of the Green Imp's lamps,
Chester sat on an overturned box and watched Burns work. He
worked savagely, as if applying surgical measures to a mood as
well as to a machine. He worked like a skilled mechanic as
well; every turn of a nut, every polish of a thread meaning
definite means to an end. The night was hot and he had thrown
off coat and collar and rolled his sleeves high, so a brawny
arm gleamed in the bright lamplight, and the open shirt
exposed a powerful neck. Chester, who was of slighter build
and not as tall as he would have liked to be, watched
"Whatever goes wrong with your affairs, Red," he observed
suddenly, breaking a long interval during which the engine had
been made to throb and whirl like the "ten thousand furies" to
whom its engineer had lately made allusion, "you have the
tremendous asset of a magnificent body to fall back on for
With a movement of the hand Burns stopped his engine, now
running quietly, and stood up straight. He threw out one bare
arm, grimy and oily with his labours. "Two hours ago," said
he in a voice now controlled and solemn, "if by cutting off
that right arm at the shoulder I could have saved a human life
I'd have done it."
"And now," retorted Chester quickly, "now, two hours after -
would you cut it off now?"
Red Pepper looked at him. The arm dropped. "No," said he, "I
wouldn't. Not for a dozen lives like that. I'm not heroic,
after all - only hot and cold by jumps, like a thermometer.
But I ache all over, just the same. She runs like a bird now.
Jump in - we'll take a spin and try her out on the road. I
may need her before midnight."
Nothing loth, for he knew the Green Imp and her driver and had
had many a swift run on a moonlight night before in the same
company, Chester took the slim roadster's other seat, watching
the long green hood point the way down the driveway, past the
porch where the women, in white gowns showing coolly in the
light from the arc lamp at the corner of the street, called a
"Back - some time," replied Chester's voice, rising above the
low purr of the engine with a note of satisfaction in it. The
figure beside him, still in open, white shirt, with bare arms
and uncovered, thick thatch of red hair, did not turn its
"Arthur's never so happy as when he's out with Red in the
Green Imp," Winifred said to her guest as the roadster shot
away under the elms which drooped beneath the arc light.
"Doctor Burns is certainly the oddest man I ever saw," replied
the guest, swinging idly in the hammock and watching the car
out of sight down the long vista of the village street. "He
hasn't given me one real good look yet. I suppose if I were a
patient he would favour me with an all-seeing gaze out of
those Irish-Scotch barbarian eyes of his, but as it is" - her
voice was slightly petulant - "I believe I shall have to do as
Arthur has: make up some symptoms and go over to his office."
"If you do you'll get precisely the same treatment I presume
Arthur had." Mrs. Chester laughed as she spoke. "I doubt very
much whether he comes back with any headache medicine."
"But he got a moonlight ride in that beauty of a car," the
guest declared enviously. "That treatment would suit me
wonderfully well, whatever was the matter."
"Would you have gone with him in his shirt-sleeves? He's
plainly in a shirt-sleeve mood to-night."
"I think a drive in the moonlight with a `brute of a saint' in
shirt-sleeves, with arms like those, might be interesting,"
mused the guest, indicating invisible patterns on the porch
with the toe of a white slipper.
"He would probably talk cars and engines every mile in the
most matter-of-fact way," Winifred Chester assured her. "No
woman yet has ever been able, as far as this town knows, to
strike a spark of romance out of Red Pepper Burns."
"Yet he has red hair," murmured the guest to herself, and
continued to look thoughtfully down the street along which the
Green Imp had shot out toward the open! country beyond.
Out in that open country, miles away, the car running with
that exquisite precision of rotating cylinder explosions which
is music to the trained ear of the mechanic at the wheel, the
two men sat silent. The pace of the Green Imp was one to cut
off speech, for the road wets straight and empty, stretching
like a white ribbon under the stars, with now and then a band
of midnight shade crossing it where arching tree-tops met the
course which invites an open throttle and the intent eye which
goes with it.
Suddenly the car struck aside from the straightaway and with
open cut-out roared up a steep hill by means of which a narrow
road led off toward a part of the country not often selected
by motorists for pleasure spins. Chester recognized that his
companion had a purpose beyond that of "trying out" his
engine, unless, indeed, the tough and rocky grade were a test.
But Burns was still silent, and the other man applied himself
to holding on. A mile up the road the car came to an abrupt
standstill before a tiny house.
"Going to make a call, after all?" was on Chester's lips, but
the sight of something, showing white beside the door in the
lamplight which streamed out upon a small, decrepit porch,
drove back the words.
Burns left a silent engine and strode up the straggling path
with the light tread of the heavy man whose muscles are under
his control. He walked in at the open door without knocking,
and Chester caught the sharp sound of a woman's voice at a
tension, saying: "Oh, Doctor!"
It seemed to him an hour, though by his watch it was but nine
minutes, that he sat watching the little flimsy streamer of
white flutter to and fro in the lamplight, his heart beating
heavily, as a father's will at sight of the sign of some other
At the end of those interminable nine minutes Burns was back
again in the car. He turned the Green Imp about as quietly as
if she were a cat stealing out of the yard, and sent her down
the rocky road at her slowest speed. At the bottom of the
hill he broke the long silence.
'Couldn't have slept an hour if I hadn't come back," he said
in a low tone. "Back and apologized for being a brute. It's
eased me up a bit I think it's eased her, too, poor soul."
"Then it wasn't losing the case " Chester began doubtfully.
He was never sure just when it was safe to ask Red Pepper
questions, but he thought it seemed safer than usual now.
"No, it wasn't losing the case, though that was bad enough.
It was losing my infernal hair-trigger of a temper that's been
cutting in like a knife. I had the boy where he ought to get
well if they followed my precautions a thousand times
repeated. This morning his heart was a whole lot stronger; it
only needed time. Tonight his mother let him sit up - in
spite of all I'd threatened her with if she did. He went out
like a snuffed candle. When I saw it I was so angry with her
I" - he thrust up one hand and ran it through his thick locks
with a gesture of savagery - "I let loose on her - poor soul
with her heart already broken. He was the only boy - of
course, - I ought to have been shot on the spot."
He sent the car flying down the road. Chester could think of
nothing to say. He could imagine the sort of apology Red had
given the boy's mother - one to make her forgive and adore
him. No doubt it had "eased her." It must have been a hard
thing for R. P. Burns, M.D., to do. Suddenly recalling this
he said so, and added a word of admiration. Burns turned on
"Boy," he said, "I'm the toughest case on my list. I'm a
chronic patient. Just as I think I have myself in hand I
suffer a relapse. I break out in a new place. Of all men who
need self-control, it's a surgeon needs it most. Sometimes,
I'm in too much of a temper to operate - just because a nurse
has failed to provide the right sutures. Every red hair on my
head stands up like a porcupine's quills - my hand isn't
steady I can't trust my own judgment till I've cooled down.
There's only one hope for me "
He broke off abruptly, and the Green Imp accelerated her pace
as they came to the long, straight road home. Until they
reached the turn under the elms which led to the town, he left
the sentence unfinished, while Chester waited. Chester felt
it would be worth waiting for - that which Red Pepper might
say next. When it came it surprised him - it even gave him a
strange thrill coming from Red Pepper.
"I've put my case into the only competent hands," said Burns
slowly and quite simply. "I've promised my Maker I'll never
insult His name again."
IN WHICH HE CREATES A CIRCUS
"Doctor Burns - "
"Yes, Miss Mathewson."
"The long-distance telephone, please."
Burns excused himself to the last patient of the evening
series, and shut himself in with the long-distance. When he
came out he was looking at his watch. From its face he turned
to that of his office nurse - the one hardly less businesslike
in expression than the other.
"Miss Mathewson, my aunt telephones that my father and mother
are both sick, each anxious to distraction about the other,
she about them both, and under the weather herself. If you
and I can catch the ten-fifteen to-night we can be there by
two, and by leaving there at four we can be back here in time
for the morning's operations. If they need you I'll leave you
there for a day or two - by your leave. We'll take the Green
Imp into the city - the ten-fifteen doesn't stop here. Then
it'll be at the hospital when we want it in the morning.
You've twenty minutes to get ready."
"Very well, Doctor Burns."
The office bell rang. Burns fled toward the inner office.
Miss Mathewson discovered the guest of the Chesters on the
doorstep - all in white, with a face which usually stimulated
interest wherever it was seen.
"May I see Doctor Burns just a minute - for Mr. Chester?" The
caller took her cue cleverly from Miss Mathewson's face, which
at the moment expressed schedules and engagements thick as
blackberries in August. Burns, just closing the inner door,
caught Chester's name. He pulled off his white office coat,
slid into his gray tweed one, and opened the door.
"What can I do for Mr. Chester - in three minutes?" he
inquired, coming forward. Miss Mathewson, aware of the
shortness of time, vanished.
"Give me something for his headache, please," replied the
young person in white promptly. Schedules and engagements
were in R. P. Burns's eyes also; they looked at her without
appearing to see her at all. To this she was not accustomed
and it displeased her.
"Was it too severe for him to come himself?"
"Much too severe. He has gone to bed with it."
"Mrs. Chester closely attending him?"
"Certainly - or I shouldn't be here." The eyes of the
Chesters' guest sparkled. Something about the cool tone of
this question displeased her still more.
"Tell him to get up and go out and walk a mile, breathing deep
all the way."
"Not a grain. He ought to know better than to ask."
"He does, I think. He suggested that possibly if I asked -
But I see for myself how that wouldn't make the slightest
"I'm glad your perceptions are so acute," replied Burns
"Are the three minutes up?" asked the caller.
He looked at his watch. "I think not quite. Is there
anything of importance to fill the one remaining?"
"Nothing whatever - except to mention your fee." The guest
receded gracefully from the door.
"If the patient will follow directions I'll ask no fee. If he
doesn't I'll exact one when I see him again. Forgive my
haste, Miss - Halstead?"
"Hempstead," corrected the caller crisply. "Don't mention it,
Doctor - Brown. Good night."
The Chesters' guest lingered on the porch before going in to
report the failure of her mission. She was still lingering
there when the Green Imp, carrying no open-shirted mechanic,
but a properly clothed professional gentleman and a severely
dressed professional lady, whirled away down the drive.
"He really was going somewhere in a hurry, then," admitted the
guest. "In which case I can't be quite so offended. I wonder
if that nurse enjoys her trips with him - when his mouth
doesn't happen to be shut like a steel trap."
If she could have seen the pair on the train which presently
bore them flying away across the state, she would hardly have
envied either of them. Between abstraction on the one side
and reserve an the other, they exchanged less conversation
than two strangers might have done. When Miss Mathewson's
eyes drooped with weariness her companion made her as
comfortable as he could and bade her rest. His own eyes were
untouched by slumber: he stared straight before him or out
into the night, seeing nothing but a white farmhouse far
ahead, where his anxious thoughts were waiting for his body to
"Are they much sick, Zeke?."
"Wal, I dunno hardly, Red. - You goin' to drive? They're
pretty lively, them blacks. Ain't used to comin' to the
station at two o'clock in the mornin'. Your ma's been
worryin' about your pa for a consid'able spell, and now that
she's took down so severe herself he's gone to pieces some.
Miss Ellen'll be glad to see you."
The blacks covered the mile from the station as they had never
covered it before, and Burns was in the house five minutes
before they had expected him.
"Mother, here's your big boy. - Dad, here I am - here's Red.
Bless your hearts -you wanted me, didn't you?"
They could hardly tell him how they had wanted him, but he saw
it in their faces.
"I've got to take the four o'clock back - worse luck! - for
some operations I can't postpone. But between now and then
I'm going to look you over and set you straight, and I'll be
back again in two days if you need me. Now for it. Mother
first. Come here, Aunt Ellen, and tell me all about her."
R. P. Burns, M.D., had never been quicker nor more thorough at
examination of a pair of patients than with these. He went
straight at them both, each in the presence of the other, Miss
Mathewson capably assisting. With his most professional air
he asked his questions, applied his trained senses to the
searching tests made of special organs, and gave directions
for future treatment. Then he sat back and looked at them.
"Do I appear worried about her, Dad?"
"Why, you don't seem to, Red."
"Miss Mathewson, should you gather from my appearance that I
am consumed with anxiety?"
"I think you seem very much relieved, Doctor Burns."
"Mother, as you look at Dad over on the couch there, does he
strike you as appearing like a frightfully sick man?"
Mrs. Burns smiled faintly in the direction of the couch, but
her eyes came immediately back to her son's. "He seems a good
deal better since you came, Redfield."
"There's not a thing the matter with either of you except what
can be fixed up in a week. You've got scared to death about
each other, and that's pulled you both down. What you need
more than anything else is to go to a circus - and, by George!
- Since I didn't observe any tents in the darkness as we
drove along, you shall have one come to you. Look here! Did
you know I'd kept up my old athletic stunts these nine years
since I left college?"
He pulled off his coat, waistcoat, collar, shoes, rolled his
shirt-sleeves as high as they would go, and turned a series of
handsprings across the wide room. Then he stood on his head;
he balanced chairs on his chin; he seized his father's hickory
stick and went through a set of military evolutions. Then he
put on his shoes, eyeing his patients with satisfaction. His
mother had lifted her head to watch him, and Miss Mathewson
had tucked an extra pillow under it. His father had drawn
himself up to a half-sitting posture and was regarding his son
"I never thought so well of those doings before," he was
saying. "If they've kept you as supple as a willow, in spite
of your weight, I should say you'd better keep 'em up."
"You bet I will! - See here, Aunt Ellen - you used to play the
`Irish Washerwoman: Mind playing it now? Miss Mathewson and I
are going to do a cakewalk."
He glanced, laughing, at his office nurse. She was staring at
him wide-eyed. He threw back his head, showing a splendid
array of white teeth as he roared at her expression.
"Forget `Doctor Burns,' please," said he, in answer to the
expression. "He's discharged this case as not serious enough
for him, and left it to Red Pepper to administer a few gentle
stimulants on the quack order. Come! You can do a cake walk!
Forget you're a graduate of any training school but the
He caught her hand. Flushing so that her plain face became
almost pretty, she yielded - for the hand was insistent. Miss
Ellen leaned bewildered against the door which led to the
sitting-room where the old piano stood. Her nephew looked at
her again, with the eyes which the Chesters' guest had
somewhat incoherently described as "Irish-Scotch-barbarian."
He said, "Please, Aunt Ellen, there's a good fellow," at which
Mr. Burns, Senior, chuckled under his breath; for anything
less like that of a "good fellow" was never seen than Sister
Ellen's prim little personality. Miss Ellen went protestingly
to the piano. Was it right, her manner said, to be performing
in this idiotic manner at this unholy hour of three o'clock in
the morning - in a sick-room?
It mattered little whether Miss Mathewson could or could not
dance the "Irish Washerwoman," or any other antic dance
improvised to that live air; she had only to yield herself to
Red Pepper Burns's hands and steps, and let him disport
himself around her. A most startlingly hilarious performance
was immediately and effectively produced. At the height of
it, a door across the sitting-room, which commanded a strip of
the bedroom beyond, opened cautiously and Zeke Crandall's eye
glued itself to the aperture, an eye astonished beyond belief.
"If that there Red ain't a-cuttin' up jest exactly as he used
to when he was a boy - and his pa and ma sick a-bed! If 'twas
anybody but Red I'd say he was crazy."
Then he caught the sound of a laugh from lips he had not heard
laugh like that for a year - a chuckling, delighted laugh,
only slightly asthmatic and wholly unrestrained. He began to
"If folks round here could see Red Burns now they'd never
believe the stories about his gettin' to be such a darned
successful man at his business," he reflected. "Of all the
goin's on! Look at him now! An' that nurse! An' Miss Ellen
a-playin' for 'em! Oh, my eye!"
Songs followed - college songs, popular airs, opera bits - all
delivered in' a resounding barytone and accompanied by
thumping chords improvised by the performer. Out through the
open windows they floated, and one astonished villages driving
by to take the early train caught the exultant strains:
"Oh, see dat watermillion a-smilin' fro' de fence,
How I wish dat watermillion it was mine.
Oh, de white folks must be foolish,
Dey need a heap of sense,
Or dye'd nebber leave it dar upon de vine!
Oh, de ham-bone am sweet,
An' de bacon am good,
An' de 'possum fat am berry, berry fine;
But gib me, yes, gib me,
Oh, how I wish you would,
Dat watermillion growin' on de vine!"
Before they knew it the early morning light was creeping in at
the small-paned windows. Burns consulted his watch.
"If you'll give us a cup of coffee, Aunt Ellen, we'll be off
in fifteen minutes. Miss Mathewson - his glance mirthfully
surveyed her - "Aunt Ellen will take you upstairs and give you
a chance to put that magnificent brown hair into a condition
where it will not shock the natives at the station. As for
mine - "
When Aunt Ellen and Miss Mathewson, each in her own way
feeling as if she had passed through an extraordinary
experience likely never to occur again, had hurried away,
Burns applied himself to a process of reconstruction. When
every rebellious red hair had been reduced to its usual order
and his thick locks lay with the little wave in them as his
mother had begun to brush them years ago; when collar and
cravat rose sedately above the gray tweed coat, and a fresh,
fine handkerchief had replaced the dingy one which had been
through every manner of exercise in the "circus," Burns drew
up a chair and faced his patients with the keen, professional
gaze which told him whether or not his night's work had been
"When I've gone you're to have breakfast, and I think you'll
both eat it," he said, smiling at them, his eyes bright with
affection and contentment. "Then you're to compose yourselves
for sleep, and I think you'll both sleep. To-morrow Dad's to
be out on the porch - all June is out there, and the roses are
in full bloom. Day after to-morrow Mother'll be there, too,
in the hammock. As soon as these cases I operate on this
morning are out of danger I'll be down again for a whole day.
I'll keep the time clear."
"I'm afraid," said his father, looking suddenly anxious for a
new cause, "your being up all night won't make your hand any
steadier for those operations, Red."
"On the contrary, as a matter of fact, Dad, it'll be a lot
steadier just because of my being up all night, assuring
myself that there's nothing serious the matter with you and
Mother, except the need of a bit of jollying by your boy -
which you've certainly had right off the reel, eh? Aunt Ellen
thinks yet I've probably killed you. Are you the worse for
it, Mother? Give it to me straight, now!"
He bent over her, his fingers on her delicate wrist. She
smiled up into his eyes. "Redfield!" she murmured. "As if I
could ever be the worse for having you come home!"
He dropped on his knees beside the bed, looking at her with
the eyes of the boy she had borne. "Bless me, Mother," he
said unsteadily, all the fun gone out of his face. "I - need
it - to keep decent."
The last three words were under his breath, but she heard the
others and laid her hand on the red head with a tremulous soft
word or two which lie could barely catch.
In a minute he had risen, his cheek flushed high, and was
gripping his father's hand. "You, too, Dad," he begged. "I'm
only Red this morning - going back into the world."
His father's hand and voice shook as he administered the
little ceremony, used only once before in his son's life -
when at fourteen he first went away to school. Few grown men
would have asked for it again, he felt that. Coming from Red
he was sure the request meant more than they could know.
Then the professional gentleman whom the world knew - the
world which was not acquainted with Red Pepper Burns - and the
professional lady who was his assistant went decorously away
into the early June morning. Zeke was grinning to himself as
he saw them step aboard the train.
"Looks mighty fine in them clipper-built city clothes, Red
does," he reflected. "If that there young woman chose to give
him away, now but I kind of guess she won't - under the
IN WHICH HE ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY
"Red, the new car is here. Come and look her over."
It was Burns's neighbour on the other side, James Macauley,
Junior. R. P. Burns laid down his saw, with which in the late
June twilight he had been doing vigorous work at a small
woodpile behind the house. He stood up straight, throwing
back his shoulders to take the kink out of them.
"All right," said he. "I think I'm fit for general society
again. I wasn't when I tackled this job. Nothing like
fifteen minutes of woodpile for taking the temper out of the
saw -and the man."
Macauley, a stout, good-humoured fellow of thirty-five,
laughed. "That temper of yours, Red has it been on the
"It has. Don't talk about it or it'll lift to confounded red
head again - it's only scotched for the present. New car's
"Yes, and the pretty widow's here, too - my wife's sister,
Ellen Lessing. We ve a great plan for tomorrow, Red. I can't
venture to drive this elephant of a car yet, but the women are
wild for a trip in her. She holds seven. Martha wants you to
drive us and the Chesters to-morrow a hundred and fifty miles
seventy-five to F-- and back. Will you do it? You're not so
horribly busy just now, and Mrs. Lessing and Pauline Hempstead
together ought to make it worth while for you."
This feature of the invitation did not appear to appeal to
Burns, but the sight of the touring car, brave and shining in
russet and brass, plainly did.
"Not that I'd care to drive such a whale for myself, but I
shouldn't mind a run for the fun of trying her out. You say
she's been driven enough to warm up her engines? Suppose we
take her out and let me get the feel of her mouth before
"Come on." And they were off.
"For a whale she's a bird," was Burns's paradoxical verdict
two hours later. The "trying out" had merged into a smooth
run of forty-five miles at not anything like the full pace of
which the motor was capable. "Best not to overheat her at
first. Run your first three hundred miles with consideration
for her vital organs - she'll have her wind by that time."
Next morning four women, long-coated, tissue-veiled, watched
the brown beauty roll invitingly up to Macauley's porch steps.
As she crossed the lawn with Winifred, Pauline Hempstead, the
guest of the Chesters, was studying not only the car, but the
undeniably attractive gray-clad figure of the lately-arrived
younger sister of Mrs. Macauley. "Will Red P. look at her
any more than he does at me?" she murmured in Winifred
"I doubt it, my dear. But he'll be foolish if he doesn't,
"I don't care for widows myself."
"I presume not." Winifred laughed comprehendingly.
"How old is she?"
"Twenty-eight, I believe - though she doesn't look it."
"Doesn't look it! She looks a lot more."
Winifred laughed still, quietly. Although Pauline undoubtedly
had the advantage of Ellen in years, her fair-haired,
blue-eyed, somewhat sumptuous beauty was not of so youthful a
type as the darker colouring and slenderer outlines of
The man at the wheel of the brown car lifted his leather cap
as the women came out, but he left all the bestowal of them to
the other men. Miss Hempstead asked to be allowed to sit
beside the driver, but Macauley vowed that on the first long
run of his new machine he himself should occupy that post of
honour and interest.
"Coming back, then," insisted the girl, and Macauley agreed
reluctantly. Burns made no comment, but applied himself to
his task - not only then, but also for every minute of the
seventy-five miles to their destination.
"He might as well be a hired chauffeur," complained Miss
Hempstead when, during a stop of ten minutes on account of a
switching freight train, she had leaned forward and attempted
in vain to carry on a conversation with Burns. "That
abstracted mood of his - is there any breaking into it?"
"Fall out and break your collar-bone. He'll be all
attention," advised Chester.
"Thank you. I'm almost tempted to. Why don't you drive
awhile, Mr. Macauley, and give him a rest?"
"And let him sit here in the middle with you? He couldn't be
pried loose from that wheel now. Besides, I haven't driven
this car yet, and she's too different in her steering from my
old one. I shouldn't like to try with this crowd behind me."
They reached the distant city; drew up at the steps of the
most attractive hotel; went in to lunch. That is to say, all
did this except R. P. Burns. He remained in the garage in the
rear where he had taken the car, busying himself with some
details of mechanism whose working did not quite suit him. In
spite of summons and appeals he continued to work until the
rest had finished; then he bolted in to wash off dust and
engine grease, ate his lunch in ten minutes - Macauley sitting
by and expostulating - and bolted out again.
"We're going to walk about a bit," Chester announced, invading
the garage. "The girls insist that you come. Where are your
eyes, man? If Pauline bores you - I admit that she's a trifle
persistent, but she's jolly good company, I think - try Mrs.
Lessing. She's delightful, and not the pursuing style at all
- she's learned better. She hasn't shown the slightest
interest in you all morning. That ought to attract you."
"I'm going to try a bit of adjustment on this timer now that
Mac's out of the way. Go along, and don't bother me." Burns
was in his shirt-sleeves again and spoke gruffly. His cap was
off, and thick locks lay damply against his moist brow; in his
eyes sparkled enthusiasm but not for women.
"You certainly are a hopeless case," and Chester went back to
"We might as well not have a bachelor along," mourned Pauline.
"Four women - with only two old married men to look after them
- it's a shame."
"But we're both of us much handsomer than Red Pepper Burns,"
asserted James Macauley, Junior. "And I've hardly spoken a
word to my wife since I started - that sort of thing ought to
"It doesn't. And neither of you is half as good-looking as
Doctor Burns. He has the most interesting profile I ever saw
- and I ought to know - I seldom catch sight of his full
"I shouldn't suppose an interesting profile, whatever that is,
would offset a shock of fire-red hair. Now, both Chester's
hair and mine - "
"His hair isn't fire-red. It's a - rather strong - auburn."
Macauley shouted and the rest laughed with him.
"Rather strong! I should say it was. I've been worried about
having him sit near the gasoline tank, it brings his hair so
close to a high combustible. But it has one advantage: if we
don't get home before dark we shan't need to light up. Red's
torch of a head will do the trick; we can come in by the
refulgence from that."
"I shall be sitting in its light going back, anyhow," Miss
"Much good it will do you," prophesied Chester.
It did Pauline so much good as that she was able to obtain
many looks at the profile she admired, for she saw it
clean-cut against the passing landscape for the sixty miles of
daylight out of the seventy-five miles home, while she sat
beside its owner and tried many times to draw him into talk.
His taciturnity on this particular day was a thing beyond any
experience with it she had yet had. She had heard Burns talk,
and talk well, on many different subjects, the while he sat
upon the Chesters' porch of a summer evening, the three of
them about him, and he had seemed to enjoy talking. He
certainly could not be wholly occupied with the machine, for
at no time did he let the engine out for what it could do, but
contented himself with a steady, moderate pace very different
from the sort of furious speed in which he and the Green Imp
were accustomed to indulge when occasion offered. Altogether
he presented to the girl a problem which she could not solve
and was never further from solving than during the
seventy-five miles she sat beside him on the run home.
"You're all to come in and have an ice-cool, salad-y supper
with us," Mrs. Macauley declared as the car turned in at the
home driveway. "Hot coffee, too, if you want it - or even
beefsteak if you prefer. But I thought since it was so hot -"
"I'll take the beefsteak," announced Burns over his shoulder,
"if I find nothing urgent for, me to do. If there's a call -"
"If there is, make it, and you shall have the beefsteak when
you get back," Martha promised him. Mrs. Macauley was of the
sort of young married woman who delights to make her friends
comfortable - and none better than Red Pepper, who was her
husband's most valued friend, as he was that of his neighbour
on the other side, Arthur Chester.
To everybody's regret the call was waiting, and as the party
went in to supper they waved their hands at the Green Imp
flying away down the road. It was not till long after the
"ice-cool, salad-y supper" was ended and the women, freshly
clad, were sitting on the porch again, the men smoking on the
steps below them, that tine Green Imp came back.
Ten minutes later a large figure crossed the lawn at a pace
which suggested both reluctance and fatigue.
"If it hadn't been for that beefsteak - " Burns began.
"You wouldn't have come," finished Macauley. "Oh, we know
that! Go in and get it, Red, and perhaps afterward the charms
of human society will have their inning."
Whether or not the beefsteak made the difference, a change had
taken place when R. P. Burns at length returned to the
comforts of the porch. He threw himself upon a crimson
cushion on the upper step, precisely at the feet, as it
chanced, of Ellen Lessing. As he leaned comfortably back
against the porch pillar he looked directly up into her face,
his eyes meeting hers with an odd, searching expression as if
he now saw her for the first time. Pauline, gazing enviously
across, saw the black eyes meet the hazel ones in the dim
light, and noted that a curiously long look was exchanged -
the sort of look which denotes that two people are observing
each other closely, without attempt at producing an
impression, only at discovering what is there.
But when Burns began to talk he appeared to address the
midsummer night air, staring off into it and speaking rather
low, so that they all leaned forward to listen. For, at last,
he seemed to have something other than motor cars upon his
"He's a mighty taking little chap," he said musingly. "Curly
black hair, eyes like coals - with a fringe around 'em like a
hedge. Cheeks none too round - but milk and eggs and good red
steaks will take care of that. A body like a cherubs - when
it's filled out a bit."
"What in the name of gibberish are you giving as, Red?"
"Name's Bob," went on Red Pepper. "By all the odd chances!
That's what decided me. `Bobby Burns' - it was the last
"Is he crazy?" asked Chester of the company. They seemed
undecided. They were listening closely.
"Clothes - one pair of patched breeches -remember `Little
Breeches,' Ches? - one faded flannel shirt - mended till
there wasn't much left to mend. A straw hat with a fringe
around it - uneven fringe. Inside - a heartache as big as a
little fellow could carry and stagger under it. Think of
having the heartache - at five and for your grandmother!"
"Why for his grandmother?" asked Winifred Chester.
"Because there wasn't anybody else to have it for. Rest all
gone, grandmother the one who attended the breeches and
patched the shirt, and went without food herself lest the
boy's cheeks get thinner yet. That was what fixed her at last
- she hadn't enough vitality to pull her through."
"So that was the matter with you to-day," hazarded Chester.
"Worried about your patient all day and found you'd lost her
when you got back?"
Burns turned upon him with a characteristic flash. "You go
join the ranks of the snap-shots. They sometimes miss fire.
No, I didn't. I'd lost her before I went or I wouldn't have
gone, not for you or any other box-party. It was the kiddie
that was on my mind - as I'd seen him last."
"Where is he now?" asked Martha Macauley urgently. She was
the mother of two small sons, and Burns's sketch had
He looked up at her. "Want to see him?"
"Of course I do. Did you take him to somebody in town? Are
you going to send him to the asylum in the city?"
"Do you want to see him?". Burns inquired of Winifred
Chester. He rose.
"Red! What do you mean? Have you got a child here?"
"Come along, all of you, if you like. He won't wake up. He's
sleeping like a top - can't help it, with all that bread and
milk inside of him. Part cream it was, too. I saw Cynthia
chucking it in. He'd got her, good and plenty, in the first
five minutes. Bless her susceptible heart! Come on."
"Talk of susceptible hearts," jeered Macauley as he followed.
"There's the softest one in the county."
"Nobody would ever guess it," murmured Pauline Hempstead.
They tiptoed into the house, across the offices into the big,
square room which was Burns's own. He switched on a hooded
reading-light beside the bed and turned it so that its rays
fell on the small occupant.
He lay in spread-eagle, small-child fashion, arms and legs
thrown wide, the black, curly head disdaining the pillow, one
fist clutching a man's riding-crop. In sleep the little face
was an exquisite one; the onlookers might guess what it would
Burns pointed at the crop, smiling. "That was the nearest
approach to a plaything I could muster to-night. To-morrow
the shops will help me out."
"I'll send over plenty in the morning, Red," whispered Martha
Macauley. Her eyes were suspiciously shiny.
"Did you bring him home just now?" questioned Winifred.
Burns nodded. "I hadn't meant to get him to-night, if I did
at all. My call took me within half a mile. I went over and
saw him again. That settled it."
The small sleeper stirred, sighed. Burns turned off the light
in a twinkling. "He's not used to electricity point blank,"
Going down the steps a hand touched his arm. He looked into
Ellen Lessing's upturned face and discovered anew that it was
a face to hold the attention of a man. But there was no
coquetry in it. Instead, he saw a stirred look in eyes which
struck him suddenly as singularly like those of the child he
had just shown her, "black, with a fringe around 'em."
"Doctor Burns," she said, "will you give me the very great
pleasure of dressing the boy? I know how to do it."
"Of course, if you want to," he responded gladly. "I hoped
you ladies would look after that."
"Let me do it alone," she urged. "They have their children:
it would only be a task to them. To me - I can't tell you
what a delight it would be."
"I'll take you and Bob to the city in the morning if you'll
"It will be a happy morning for Bob and me, then," she
answered, and he saw it in her face that it would be. But he
felt that it was because of the boy; not for any other reason.
It occurred to him that it might possibly be a happy morning
for the driver of the Green Imp, also.
"So Ellen's going to dress the brat." Macauley was strolling
over the lawn with Chester and Burns, as, having out-sat the
women on the Macauley porch, the men were turning bedward,
reluctant to leave the cool star-shine of the July night.
"It's easy to see why she wants to do that. Her
three-year-old boy would have been just about this Bob's age
by now. Tough luck, wasn't it? - when he was all she had
left since Jack got out of the game?"
Burns stared at him. "Oh, that's why? I didn't know about
her boy, or I'd forgotten it if I was ever told. She will
enjoy fitting Bob out, if I can keep her from putting him into
white clothes to make him resemble an angel instead of a small
boy with an eye for dirt."
"You'll find Ellen's no fool," Macauley assured him warmly.
"But if she takes an interest in the boy it'll be the best
thing that could happen to him. She has a lot of money. She
may get a notion to adopt him."
But upon this Red Pepper Burns spoke with decision. "Confound
you, the kiddie belongs to me. Didn't I tell you his name is
now Robert Burns? She may dress him if she likes. She can't
have him, not by a long shot. He's mine!"
"Oh, well, it might be arranged," murmured Macauley, but not
quite low enough. In a flash he was laid flat on his back on
the lawn, a menacing figure standing over him.
"None of that!" growled the man with the temper. "Not now or
any other time." Then he laughed and let his victim up.
"Alcohol will take out grass stains, Jim," he advised. "Tell
IN WHICH HE MAKES A CONCESSION
Red Pepper Burns opened his eyes. What on earth was that? A
small voice piping at him from within close range? But how
could that be?
Something bumped against him. He turned his head on his
pillow. A small figure at his side had raised itself upon its
elbow; big black eyes in a pale little face were staring at
him in affright. Burns roused himself, suddenly very wide
"It's all right, little man," said he, pulling the child
gently into the warmth of his encircling arm. "You came home
with me last night. Don't you remember? You're going to make
me a visit. And this morning after breakfast we're going to
drive to town and buy a train of cars - red, shiny cars and an
engine with a bell on it. What do you think of that?"
It did not take long to change Bob's fright into the happiest
anticipations. Red Pepper Burns was at his best with
children; he had what their mothers called "a way with them."
A knock at the door and Cynthia's voice calling," Here's some
things for the little boy, Doctor," put an end to a full
half-hour of delightful comradeship, during which the sheets
of the bed had became a tent and the two were soldiers resting
after a day's march. Burns rose and took in the parcel.
Martha Macauley had sent it. Her boy Harold was the nearest
in size to Bob of any of the children of his neighbours, and
the parcel held everything needed from undershirt to scarlet
Windsor scarf to tie under the rolling collar of the blue
"A bath first, Bob," and his new guardian initiated him into
the exciting experience of a splash in a big white tub, in
water decidedly warmer than it would be a week hence when he
should have become used to the invigorating cool plunge. Then
Burns, glowing from contact with water as cold as it could be
got from the tap, clad in bathrobe and slippers, attempted to
solve the mysteries of Bob's toilet. Roars of laughter
interspersed with high pipings of glee presently brought
Cynthia to the door.
"Can't I help you, Doctor Burns?" she called anxiously.
"Not a bit of it, Cynthia: much obliged. I'm having the time
of my life. Stand still, son; let's try it this way round!"
came back to the housekeeper's ears.
"I ain't never wore so many fings before," Bob declared
doubtfully, as a small white waist with, dangling elastic
stocking-supporters was finally discovered to go best buttoned
in the back.
"I know. But you'll see how fine it is to have your stockings
held up for you. Hi! Here are some sandals, Bob! Barefoot
sandals, only we'll wear them over stockings to-day, since
we're going shopping. Now for these blue garments I wonder
how they go. Shapeless-looking things, they look to me. I
suppose they'll resolve into baggy knickers and the sort of
long shirt with a belt to it the youngsters of your age all
wear. Here we go. Does this top part button behind, Bob,
like the waist? No, I think not . . . . It sure looks odd,
whichever way we don it, but that may be because it's pretty
big. Harold's several sizes bigger than you, though he can't
be much older. Give me six months and I'll have you filling
out any other five-year-olds clothes."
"My hands - they're all gone," remarked the child, holding out
his arms. The blue sleeves did, indeed, cover them to the
finger-tips. Laughing, Burns rolled the cloth back, making an
awkward bunch at the wrist, but allowing the small hands
"When Mrs. Lessing trains her eye on you she'll want to make
time getting to the shops," Burns observed, struggling with
the scarlet scarf and finally tying it like a four-in-hand.
"But you're clean, Bob, and hungry, I hope. Now I want a
great big hug to pay me for dressing you."
He held out his arms, and his new charge sprang into them,
pressing arms like sticks around the strong neck of the man
who seemed to him already the best friend he had in the world
- as he was.
At eleven o'clock, a round of calls made, the Green Imp carne
for Bob and Mrs. Lessing. They met him, hand in hand, the
little figure in its voluminous misfit clothes looking quaint,
enough beside the perfect outlines of his companion's attire.
But both faces were very happy.
"How many dollars do you suppose Ellen has, stowed away in
that handsome purse of hers, ready to spend on the child?"
Martha Macauley queried of Winifred Chester as they watched
the Green Imp out of sight from the Macauley porch.
Mrs. Chester shook her head. "I've no idea. She'll want to
get him everything a child could have. But Red won't let
"He won't know. He'll drop them at a store and go off to the
hospital. The things will come home by special delivery, and
the next thing he sees will be Bob in silk socks and white
"I don't believe it. He'll go shopping with them. He's wild
over the boy, and he doesn't care a straw what people might
think who saw the three together. He'll tyrannize over Ellen
- and she'll let him, for the pleasure of being ruled by a man
It was a shrewd prophecy and goes to show that women really
understand each other pretty well - women of the same sort.
For Red Pepper Burns did go shopping with the pair from start
to finish. It was an experience he did not see any, occasion
"You won't mind my coming, too?" was all the permission he
asked, and Mrs. Lessing answered simply: "Surely not, if you
care to. We shall want your judgment."
She had not conducted them to a department store, but to the
small shop of a decidedly exclusive children's outfitter.
Burns knew nothing about the presumably greater cost of buying
a wardrobe in a place like this, but he soon scented danger.
He scrutinized certain glass showcases containing wax lay
figures of pink-cheeked youngsters attired as for the stage,
and boomed his first caution into his companion's ear.
"That's not the sort of puppet we want to make out of Bob,
eh?" he suggested.
She turned, smiling. "Not unless you intend to keep him in a
glass case, Doctor Burns."
"No long-trousered imitation of a sailor-boy, either, please,"
said he, pointing, disfavour in his eye, at the presentment of
a curly-headed infant of five in a Jack-tar outfit of white
flannel topped by an expensive straw hat.
"I see you're not going to trust me," murmured Mrs. Lessing,
as a slim-waisted, trailing-black-gowned saleswoman
"I'll trust you, but I intend to keep my eye on you," admitted
Burns frankly. He observed with interest the wonderful figure
of the saleswoman. Quite possibly that lady thought he was
admiring her, for nothing in his face could have told her that
he was mapping out in his surgeon's mind her physical anatomy,
and speculating as to where in the name of Hygeia she could
have disposed of her digestive organs in a circumference the
diminutive size of that!
Underwear first. Mrs. Lessing went straight at the
foundations of Bob's make up, and began to look over boxes of
little gossamer shirts and tiny union suits of a fabric so
delicately fine that Burns handled a fold of it suspiciously.
"Silk?" he questioned.
She shook her head, the corners of her mouth curving. "Only a
thread now and then. Mostly lisle - for very hot weather.
These others have some wool in them, for cooler days. Those
nearest you are quite warm, though very light in weight. For
really cold weather - "
"You're not planning to watch the thermometer and keep him
changing underwear accordingly?"
"Not at all, Doctor Burns. But four weights for the year
aren't too many, are they?"
"Are you buying for a year ahead?"
"Please let me. I shall not be here when he needs to change."
Their eyes met. Something in hers made him desist from
Stockings came next. Mrs. Lessing bought substantial tan ones
in quantity, long and well reenforced. Then she took up socks
of russet and of white. "Shall you object to his wearing
these a good, deal?" she asked Burns. He took up one small
sample, running his fingers into it. "I should think he might
put his toes through one of those in an hour or two," he
suggested. "His legs are pretty thin. Do you think pipe-stem
legs in short socks, to say nothing of bruises and scratches,
"You want him to go barefooted a good deal of the time, don't
"Sure. But legs in socks are neither fish, flesh, nor good
red herring, to my thinking."
In spite of the smile on his lips, he looked obstinate and she
deliberated, drawing a white sock unmistakably fine and
expensive over her gray-gloved hand. Plainly she wanted to
see Bob in socks and strap slippers, of the sort her boy would
have worn. As she studied the sock Burns studied her profile.
"Get him a pair, for your own satisfaction," he conceded.
He did not hear the order she gave, but the saleswoman was
pleasantly smiling as she checked it.
The next thing that happened, Bob was being measured. Then he
was trying on Russian blouse suits that fitted, practical
little garments of blue galatea, of tan-coloured linen crash,
even of brown holland. Burns looked on approvingly. The
clothes turned Bob into a gentleman's son, no doubt of that,
but it was the sort of gentleman's son who can have the very
best of romping, good times.
Something diverted Bums's attention for a little, and when he
turned back to Bob a bright scarlet reefer had been pulled on
over his blouse, and a wide sailor hat with a scarlet ribbon
crowned his black curls. The result was engagingly
picturesque. But the critic frowned.
"I'm afraid that won't do, Mrs. Lessing," he objected
"You don't like the colour? Not with his hair and eyes?"
"It won't hurt his hair, but it will his eyes. The sun on
that red will torture him."
"Will it? I shouldn't have thought of it. So many children
"And shortly come to spectacles. Try it yourself for half an
She drew off the reefer. Bob objected. "I like the red
jacky, Dotter Burns," he said. It was his first comment.
Hitherto he had been in a dazed state, submitting wonderingly
to this strange experience.
Another small coat of tan-coloured cloth with a gorgeous
red-and-brown emblem on the sleeve consoled him:
"I think we are through," said Mrs. Lessing Burns looked at
"No white clothes?" he asked.
"Did you want him to have some?"
"No. But I thought you would."
"I have ordered three suits to be made for him," she admitted,
flushing a little. "They will be very plain and will launder
beautifully. He will wear them only on special occasions. Do
"Well, not on those conditions," he agreed reluctantly.
They went to a shoe shop, and Bob became the richer for
leather sandals, canvas shoes, and various other footwear,
some of it undeniably fine. Burns took one little black
slipper into his hand.
"I wonder what Bob's grandmother would say to that," he
observed in a whisper.
Ellen Lessing regarded its mate. Her lashes hid her eyes, but
her lip quivered and he saw it. The salesman was busy with
Bob. Burns laid his hand for an instant on hers. She looked
up, and a smile struggled with the tears.
A toy shop came last. Here Bob was in an ecstasy. His
companions walked up and down the aisles, following his eager
steps. Mrs. Lessing would have filled his arms, but she found
the way obstructed.
"He may have the train of cars," Burns consented. "But they
must be cars he'll have to pull about for himself. No, not
the trotting horse, nor the trolley on the track, nor any
other of the mechanical stuff. I'll get him that dandy little
tool-chest and that box of building blocks, but that's
"The mechanical toys are of the best, sir," suggested the
salesman. "They won't break except with pretty rough
"That's bad," Burns asserted. "The quicker they broke, the
less objection I'd have to 'em. It's a wonder the modern
child has a trace of resource or inventiveness left in him.
Teach him to construct, not to destroy, then you've done
something for him."
"Isn't he rather young for tools?" Mrs. Lessing was turning
over a small saw in her hands, feeling its sharp teeth with a
"There are gauze and bandages in the office." He laughed at
her expression as she laid down the saw.
"You won't object to that box of tin soldiers?" she asked.
"Decidedly. You don't want to spoil him at the start. For a
boy who never had a toy in his life he's acquired enough now
to turn his head. Come away, Mrs. Lessing - flee temptation.
Come, Bobby boy." And Burns led the way.
Bob, astride of a marvellous rocking-horse taller than
himself, was like to weep. Mrs. Lessing went to him. He
whispered something in her ear. She came back to Burns.
"Doctor Burns," said she, "every boy has a rocking-horse.
He's just the age to enjoy it. Surely it won't hazard his
inventiveness: it will develop it. He'll ride all over the
country, as you do in the Green Imp."
"What's the price?"
"It's not costly and it's a very good one."
Burns inquired the price again; this time he asked the
salesman. Then he spoke low:
"Fifteen dollars seems `not costly' to you, I suppose. Think
of Bob yesterday, with not a toy to his name."
"That's why I want to give him one to-day."
"He'll be just as happy riding a stick - as soon as he forgets
"He won't forget it. Look at his eyes."
"You're looking at his eyes all the time. That's what undoes
He had to look away from her eyes then himself, or he felt
quite suddenly that he, too, would have been undone. He had
resisted the entreaty in women's eyes many times, but not
always, despite the reputation he held for indifference.
"Doctor Burns, won't you give me this one pleasure? You've
really been quite firm all the morning."
She was smiling, but he had himself in hand again and he was
blunt with her. "Bob's bachelor's child now," he said. "He
must be trained according to bachelors' ideas. Come, you know
it's out of reason to give the youngster any more to-day. Be
They followed him out of the store, Bob's hand held fast in
hers. Somehow, they both looked very young as they stood
outside the shop window, gazing back at the marvellous display
within. He felt as if he were being rather cruel to them
both. This was absurd, of course, when one considered the box
of blocks, the train of cars and the toolkit. The child had
enough playthings already to send him out of his head. Burns
drove away rapidly to get out of range of other windows which
seemed filled with rocking-horses to-day.
He looked down at Bob.
"Happy, little chap?" he asked.
Bob nodded. His arms clasped the red train but he was not
looking at it.
"Like the cars?"
Bob nodded. His wide sailor hat obscured his face. Burns
could see only the tip of the small nose.
"You'll have a splendid time with those blocks, won't you?"
Again the nod, but no reply.
"The hammer's pretty nice, too, isn't it?"
Once more the dumb answer. But the silence seemed odd, for
Bob had long since lost his fear 'of these companions.
"Look up here, Bob."
Reluctantly the child obeyed. Burns caught one fleeting
glimpse of wet black lashes. One big tear was slowly stealing
down the pale little cheek.
"What's the matter, old man?"
Burns looked at Ellen Lessing behind Bob's back. She did not
meet his glance. She was looking at the boy. It struck him
that her profile made the most enchanting outline he had ever
seen. He tried to steel his heart against them both. He knew
his theory was right; he now had the chance to put it into
The Green Imp turned a corner to the right. They were not yet
out of the city, and at the next block the car turned another
corner, also to the right. At the end of another block the
Imp, swerved once more - to the right. This brought them back
to the wide street which led to the shopping district they had
lately left. With silent passengers the Imp threaded its way
to the toy shop. In front of it Burns stopped the car. He
got out and went in and came out, the big rocking-horse in the
arms of the salesman who followed him.
He looked up at their faces. Bob's was one wide-eyed
countenance of incredulous joy. The other's - if he had seen
there satisfaction at having brought a man to terms he felt he
should have despised her; but that was not what he saw.
There was, by planning carefully, just room to wedge the
rocking-horse in at Mrs. Lessing's feet without encroaching on
the steering-gear. As they drove off, Bob was bending over
and gently, stroking the animal's splendid black mane, with
little chuckles and gurgles of joy. Once more Burns looked at
Ellen Lessing behind Bob's back.
"You're happy now, aren't you?" he asked in tone of assurance.
"Then, confound it, I must own I'm paid for letting my wise
bachelor notions go hang, just for this time!"
"Thank you," she answered very gently. "And I'm paid for
trying to be reasonable."
He laughed, suddenly content. Between them, the little lad
who had never owned a toy in his life, stowing the red train
carefully away between has feet, gave himself wholly to the
Well, Ellen," was Martha Macauley's greeting to her sister,
"did you have as interesting a time dressing the child as you
"I had a charming tune," replied Mrs. Lessing. She shook the
dust out of her long gray veils smiling at her memory of the
"Did R. P. prove docile?"
Docile' doesn't seem to me just the word."
"I used it in an attempt at fine irony," explained! Mrs.
"Well, was he tractable, then?"
"He was very polite and kind and jolly - until the real
business of shopping began. Then he became suspicious - and a
trifle autocratic." She recalled his look as he told her
that he would trust her, but that he meant to keep an eye upon
Didn't you get your own way about anything?" demanded her
sister, with eager curiosity.
Ellen looked at her. Martha noted that the soft black eves
were glowing, and that she had not seen Ellen appear more
alive and interested since the days before trouble came to
her. "Do you imagine we fought a battle over our shopping?"
she asked, her lips curving with merriment.
"But you don't tell me. I'm anxious to know whether we shall
see the boy dressed according to Red's ideas or yours."
"We agreed beautifully on nearly all points of his dressing.
Where we differed, we - compromised."
"Red never compromises with anybody, so I suppose it was done
by your giving in?"
"He never compromises? You do him injustice." He can
compromise royally - by the same method of `giving in.'"
"I simply can't believe it," murmured Martha,, shaking her
IN WHICH HE IS ROUGH ON A FRIEND
"Are you through with that rabble? Can you 'tend to a
Redfield Pepper Burns wheeled around in his revolving chair
and glanced sharply at Arthur Chester. What he saw made him
follow the moment's inspection with a direct question.
"Sit down. What have you been doing?"
Chester sat down. His face was white. He held up one shaking
hand. "Red, what's the matter with me?"
Burns continued to study the man before him. He made no move
to examine into his condition, just looked steadily into the
other's face with a gaze before which his patient presently
"Well, of all the ways to treat a fellow!" He tried to laugh.
"Is that the way you do with the rest of the bunch that come
to you every day? Or are you trying to hypnotize me?"
"Look me in the eye, Ches. What have you been doing?"
"Working like a fiend in that infernal office. If there's any
hotter place - "
"There'll be a hotter one for you right on this earth, if you
keep on the way you're going."
He rose suddenly, and approaching Chester closely, looked
intently into the uplifted eyes. He sat down again. "Own
up!" he commanded bluntly.
"Red," begged Chester, "quit this sort of thing. Go at me in
the usual way. I - I think I'm a bit nervous tonight. I
can't stand your gun-fire."
"All right. When did you begin?"
"Five weeks ago when you were away. I didn't mean to get into
it, Red, on my word I didn't, after all you've warned me. But
it was so beastly hot - and there was a lot of extra work at
the office. My head got to going it night and day. I - say"
- he leaned suddenly forward, has head on his hands - "I can
tell you better if you give me some kind of a bracer - I feel
- so - deadly."
Burns got up and prepared something in a glass something not
particularly palatable, but when it had taken action, which it
promptly did, Chester's white face had acquired a tinge of
colour and he could go on.
"I stopped in Gardner's office one day when my head was worse
than usual. Had to meet a man in ten minutes - important deal
on for the house - had to be at my best. Told Gardner so. He
"He did - blame him - fixed you for a dope-fiend. I've told
you a hundred times you had precisely the kind of temperament
that must avoid that sort of thing like the gallows." Burns
hit the desk with his fist as he spoke, with a thump of
"It seems to set me up for a while - I can do anything. Then
afterward - "
"You're getting the afterward all right. How much do you
Chester mentioned the amount of the drug, stating reluctantly
that for the last two days he had been obliged slightly to
increase it in order to get the full effect.
"Of course you have - that's the insidiousness of the devil's
stuff. How soon does it get into action?"
"Oh, right away - almost instantly."
"What! Is your imagination strong enough to - See here,
Ches" - Burns leaned forward "you're taking the stuff by
mouth, of course?"
Chester's eyes went down. "Why - I tried it that way - but it
was so slow "
Burns ejaculated something under his breath; the quick colour,
always ready to flare under his clear skin, leaped out.
"Gardner gave you a hypo, I suppose?"
"So you went and bought a syringe and taught yourself the
trick. Suppose you give me a look at it."
Like a shamed schoolboy Chester unwillingly drew forth the
small case from his pocket. Burns received it. He opened it
and took out the tiny instrument. "It looks like a very good
one," he observed with a sort of deadly quietness. and with
one motion of his big fingers snapped the glass barrel in two.
At this Chester took fire. "That's going a little too far!"
he burst out in wrath.
"Is it? Thought it was you who had gone too far. It's up to
me to bring you back - while I can. Getting this little fiend
out of the way is the first step. Keep cool, Ches - and I'll
try to do the same, though it makes my blood boil to think how
little you've cared for my lectures to you on this very
"I have cared. But I had no idea "
"Well, you have one now. It's taken you five weeks to acquire
enough of a habit to give you some trouble to drop it. You're
that sort and that's the way it works, anyhow. I wonder you
came to me to-night. Found yourself out of the stuff and
didn't like to try to get it here where folks know you?"
"If you want to put everything in the most disagreeable way
you can - yes," admitted Chester testily.
"That's precisely what I want to do. Put it in such a
disagreeable way that your backbone'll stiffen up a bit and
give us something to start with. If I make you mad all the
better - so long as you don't go back to fools like Gardner,
who never hesitate to give a fellow like you a sample of what
that drug'll do for 'em:"
"What are you going to do? I shan't sleep to-night, and I've
got to be in the office to-morrow morning."
"When's your vacation due?"
"Not till week after next."
"Arrange to take it now."
"I can't. Stillinger's off on his, Monday morning."
"Could you have yours now if he waited?"
"Yes, but I wouldn't ask him."
"I would." Burns took down the receiver of his desk
"Red, stop - I don't want - "
Burns paid no attention to him. In five minutes he had the
city connection and his man. He stated the case: Chester was
in urgent need of taking his vacation without delay, but was
not willing to ask the favour of his office associate. He,
Burns, his friend's physician, did not scruple to ask it if it
would not interfere too seriously with Mr. Stillinger's plans.
No diplomat could re quest a favour more courteously than R.
P. Burns, M.D. The reply was the one to be expected of
Stillinger, bachelor and amiable fellow, who was fond of
Chester and hoped it was nothing serious. Tell him to go
ahead with his vacation, Stillinger said, and not to worry
over office affairs.
"Now!" Burns wheeled round from the telephone. "Will you put
yourself in my hands?"
"Do you honestly think I'm such an abandoned case - already,"
began Chester unhappily, "that you have to - "
"Listen to me, Ches. I don't think you're an abandoned case -
that's nonsense - after five weeks. But I do think you're
well started on a road that it's ruin to travel. You began it
way back last winter by taking that headache stuff in double
the dose I gave you, without consulting me, every time you
felt a trifle below par. That's why I took it away from you.
You felt the loss of it, and you were an easy mark for
Gardner's dope. You've grown so dependent on that already
that you're going to have a fight to get along without it.
You can't fight and do office work, so I'm going to make the
most of my chance during this fortnight's vacation - if you'll
give me leave. If you won't - I think I'll knock you down and
get you where I want you that way."
He smiled - a smile with so much spirit and affection in it
that Chester's eyes filled, to his own astonishment, for up to
this point he had been both hurt and angry. After a moment he
said, with his eyes on the floor, but in a different tone from
any he had yet used: "Go ahead, Red. I'll try to prove I have
some stuff in me yet."
"Of course you have." Burns's hand was on his friend's
shoulder. "That's what I'm counting on. Prove it by
following directions to the letter. And begin by coming with
me for a trip into the country. I have to see a case before I
go to bed, and the air will do your head good."
It was the first of many similar trips. Arthur Chester may
fairly have been said to spend the succeeding fortnight in the
company of the Green Imp and its driver. From morning till
night, and often in the night itself when he found it
impossible to sleep, he was living in the open air by means of
this device. Of walking, also, he did an increasing amount as
his strength grew under the regimen Burns insisted upon. But
for the first week, in spite of all the help his physician
could give him, he found himself indeed involved in a fierce
struggle - a struggle with shaken and unmanageable nerves;
with a desperate craving for the soothing, uplifting effect of
the drug to which he was forced to admit he had become
perilously accustomed; with a black depression of spirit which
was worse than anything else he had to combat.
It was at the worst of one of these periods of darkness that,
alone with his patient upon a hilltop where the two had
climbed, leaving the Green Imp at a point where the road had
become impossible, Burns said suddenly:
"Ches, I believe, with all my care to give you the treatment I
thought you needed, I've failed to point out the most potent
remedy of all."
Chester shook his head. "You've done everything, Red. All
the trouble's with me. I'm so pitiably weak - so much weaker
than I ever dreamed I could be. I can't seem to care whether
I get out of this or not. All I want is to lie down and go to
sleep - and never wake up."
The last words came under his breath, but Burns heard them.
He showed no sign of being startled, though this mood was a
gloomier one than he had yet seen his patient succumb to.
Instead, he went on talking in a tone of confidence:
"I ought to have known enough to apply this remedy, because
it's one I've tried myself. If you could know, since the
night you heard me make a certain vow, what a time I've had
with myself to keep it, you'd understand that I know what it
means to try to break up a habit. Mine's the habit of years.
With my temper and some of my associations, intemperate
profanity's been the easiest thing in the world to fall into.
When things went wrong, out would come the oaths like water
out of a spring - though that's a false comparison: like the
filth out of a sewer, I'd better say."
"We all swear more or less," acknowledged Chester, his head in
"Not as I did - and you know it. I've been responsible for
many a boy's taking it up, though I didn't realize it.
Because I was athletic and in for sports with them, they
thought I was the whole thing. They laughed when I got mad
and ripped out a lot of language: they copied it. But I never
heard myself as others hear me till that night I let go at the
mother who'd ignorantly murdered her boy by disobeying orders.
On the way home that night I woke up - came to myself - I
don't know how. The stars were unusually bright, and I looked
up at them and thought of that child's soul going back to its
Maker . . . . and then thought of my curses following it and
coming to His ear."
A silence fell. When Burns broke it, it was in a voice deep
"The next words I sent up to that ear were in a different
shape. I think it was the first real prayer I'd ever said
since the little parrot prayers my mother taught me. That was
the first: it hasn't been the last. I don't suppose I say
much that would sound like the preacher's language, but Ches,
what I do believe is that - I get what I ask for. That's -
help to fight my temptations. And profanity isn't the only
one nor the toughest one to down."
Chester looked up. For a moment he forgot himself and his
wretchedness. "It's hard to believe it's you, Red - talking
"I know it must be hard, but it ought to be the more
convincing on that account. I belong to a profession of
materialists, and all at once it's grown to seem to me the
strangest thing in life that a man who studies the anatomy of
this body of ours should be a materialist. To watch its
workings and then doubt the God who made it is sheet wilful
blindness. But, Ches - I've got my eyes open at last. The
God who made me is up there, and He knows and cares how I go
on with the job. As for answering my appeals for help when I
get hard pressed - the, biggest sign I have of that is a human
one. Since Bobby Burns came to sleep in that little bed next
mine, it's been a whole lot easier to get on."
A deep sigh was Chester's reply to this. He had a small boy
and girl of his own. For their sakes and Winifred's he knew
he must fight this fight out and win. But as for getting
tangible help from the Creator of a body handicapped by nerves
like his! He began to say this, but Burns broke in upon him
with the answer he would least have expected at a moment like
this a great, ringing laugh, the sound of which brought the
slow blood to Chester's white face.
"If you consider wrecked nerves like mine a laughing matter -"
he broke out.
But Burns, his laugh over, was sober again and his voice was
earnest. "Arthur Chester, don't make Him responsible for your
`wrecked nerves.' They weren't wrecked when you were
furnished with them. You've done the wrecking yourself by
breaking pretty nearly every law that governs the workings of
the human machine. You're paying the penalty. But you're
going to get the upper hand. From now on, in spite of your
office life, you're going to get good red blood in your veins
- and your brains. The worst is over now - the second week
will be easier. But what I'm trying to tell you is that
you'll get that upper hand a lot quicker if" - his cheek grew
hot with this strange, unaccustomed effort at putting things
he had never spoken of before into words - "if you'll just
reach up and take hold of that `Upper Hand' that, according to
my new belief and experience, is ready to reach down to you.
It's stronger than yours: you'll feel the upward pull."
He broke off and got to his feet. The two had been sitting on
a fallen log, looking off over the hills toward a distant
river winding its blue length through fields of living green.
"I wasn't exactly cut out for a preacher, Ches," he added
after a minute. "I hope my talk doesn't sound to you like
`cant.' I'm a pretty poor specimen of a chap to be setting up
my own example for anybody to follow."
"I don't think you've been setting up your own example,"
Chester replied. He pulled himself up limply from the log,
yet out of his face had gone the black look which had been
there when he carne up the hill. "And what you've said
doesn't sound like `cant' to me, Red. It sounds more like
Red Pepper Burns held out his hand. His big; warm fingers
closed hard over the thin; cold ones which met them. Then the
two men, without more words, went away down the hill. From
this hour Arthur Chester afterward dated the beginning of the
end of the fight.
IN WHICH HE PRESCRIBES FOR HIMSELF
"Red," observed James Macauley, junior, "this place of yours
looks like a drunkard's home."
He glanced around him as he spoke. The criticism certainly
found justification in every corner. No more neglected office
could have been discovered belonging to any practitioner
within an area of many miles.
"I suppose it does," rejoined Burns from the depths of a big,
dusty leather chair where he sat stretched in an attitude
expressing extreme fatigue. " But I don't care a hang."
Macauley looked at him. His eyes were closed. His arms lay
upon the chair arms, relaxed and limp. For the first time his
friend observed what might have been noted by a critical eye
on any day during the last fortnight. The lines on the
ordinarily strong, health-tinted face were deeper than he had
ever seen them; the cheeks were thinner; there were even
shadows under the thick eyelashes which outlined the lids of
the closed eyes.
"Look here, old man," Macauley cried, sudden conviction
seizing him, "you're working altogether too hard. This
miserable city epidemic has done you out. I've thought all
the time you were trying to cover too much ground."
"Ground's had to be covered," replied the other briefly,
without opening his eyes.
"Have the other fellows worked as hard as you?"
"I don't believe it. They're all city men. You've done all