Part 2 out of 3
this city work and looked after your own patients here, too,
to say nothing of living in both places at once. With your
housekeeper gone home to her sick folks, and Miss Mathewson
off on one of your cases - no wonder this place looks the way
"It doesn't matter. Cut it out about the place. I'm going
back in ten minutes."
"You are! Not going to get to bed?"
"Don't know. I might snatch a nap now if you'd quit talking."
Macauley closed his mouth. Presently he got up and stole out
of the room. He was back again in a trice, a flask in one
hand, a soda siphon in the other, and a small glass balanced
on his thumb. When Burns, at the sound of a clock ticking
somewhere, rubbed his eyes with his fists striking in and
reluctantly opened them, Macauley spoke briskly:
"See here - I'm going to give you a bracer. I know your
confounded notions, but they don't cut any figure when you
need something to pull you together the way you do to-night."
He started to measure out the amber liquid into the glass, but
Burns put up a hand.
"Much obliged, but I don't want any."
"You idiot - don't you know when to make an exception to your
rule? I admit you've won out over the other fellows just by
keeping a steady hand, but you're dead as a dog for rest
to-night and you need a stiff one, if I'm any judge."
"You're not - for me." Burns sat up. O Heavens, man, if I
were going to break my rule at all it wouldn't be for a drink
of anything. It would be for a stab in the arm with something
that beats your stuff all out for stimulating the fatigue out
of a fellow and making him feel like working till he drops."
"Why don't you have it then?" asked Macauley curiously. "I
should think if ever a used-up chap were justified in - "
"Don't give me that talk if you're my friend. It's hard
enough to hold out without resorting to that game. I don't
need you to advise it. I've seen enough of that sort of
suicide. Buller and Fields are both down and out, and they
began to brace early in the epidemic. Van Horn's a wreck,
though he keeps going; and I tell you, I've more respect for
that man than I ever had before. He's a poseur and a toadier,
no doubt of that, and I've always despised him for it, but he
has real ability and he's worked like a fiend through this
muss, and not all for his rich patients, either. But he's
weakening fast, and it's drug stimulation that's done it. No,
sir: not for mine. But I'll make myself a cup of coffee, for
I've got to keep awake, and I shall sleep in my tracks if I
He got up and stumbled out into his deserted kitchen.
Macauley followed, helping as best he knew how, and watched
his friend gulp down two cupfulls of a muddy liquid with
feeling of admiration such as a small act of large
significance may sometimes stir in one who apprehends.
Two days later Burns, starting toward home in the Imp at a
late hour in the morning, passed a figure on a corner of a
city street waiting for the outward-bound trolley. He slowed
down beside it.
"May I take you home?" he asked, cap in hand, and interest
showing in eyes which a moment before had been heavy with
Ellen Lessing looked up. "I shall be very glad," she
answered, as she met his outstretched hand and let it draw her
upward to the vacant seat. "The car is always so full at this
hour, and I was longing for the feeling of the wind against my
"It's cool for late August, and you'll get a breeze on the
road home that will refresh you. You haven't touched water or
milk in this plague-stricken district, I hope?"
"No, indeed. Martha warned me a dozen times before I left.
How are things? Any better?"
"No new cases in twenty-four hours, and the old ones well in
hand. I'm getting home earlier to-day than I've done for a
month, and hope to have a few hours off duty. I was planning
what to do with them as I came upon you."
"I should think you could do nothing better with them than to
go home and sleep," she advised, looking up at his face with a
critical, friendly survey of the signs of weariness written
plainly there. "You are worn out, and that means something
when one says it of so strong a man as you."
"I could sleep a week, but I'm not sure that a few hours would
more than aggravate my need. Besides, I shouldn't be at home
an hour before I should be called out again. No, my plans
were forming themselves differently, and now that I've met you
they're taking definite shape. I want - well - suppose I
don't tell you! Would you trust me to take you off on a
rest-seeking expedition without explaining what I mean to do?"
"On a `rest-seeking expedition'?" she repeated. "Doctor
Burns, are you sure you hadn't better go on that alone?
Suppose I chatter all the way?"
He smiled. "You're not a chatterer. And I don't want to go
alone. I haven't had a chance for an hour with you for a
month, I think. This is the only way I can get it. Will you
"You provoke my curiosity. Yes, I think I'll go. I've been
shopping all the morning and I deserve a reward of rest, if
you're sure you know where to find it."
He turned the Imp abruptly aside from the boulevard leading
out of town down which they had been speeding. He made a
detour of certain side streets which brought him up before a
small side establishment bearing a sign which set forth an
alluring invitation to motoring parties in need of food. He
disappeared therein, and was absent for the space of a full
twenty minutes. When he returned he was followed by a waiter
with a hamper to whose bestowal in the back of the car he
As they sped away again, Burns turned to his companion, a
smile of anticipation on his face, to meet a glance of some
"You're not repenting your rash trust of me already, are you?"
"I'm remembering that Martha has four guests at luncheon
to-day, and expects me to be there!"
"Is that all? Don't let that worry you. We'll simply have a
breakdown somewhere on the road conveniently near to a spot I
know, where I can broil the beefsteak I have in that hamper,
and make the coffee. `Unavoidable detention' will be your
"`Irresistible temptation' will be my confession," she
admitted. "I'm not good at subterfuge and I'm so hungry that
the mere mention of beefsteak out-of-doors - "
"If it weighs against the plates and salads of a woman's
luncheon I shall have a great respect for you. Come on, let's
run away! You from social duties, I from professional ones.
I'll agree to stand out Martha in your defense. Unless, of
course, the opportunity to wear a pretty frock and throw all
the other women in the shade - "
She laughed. "That's precisely what Martha wants me to do!"
"Then fail her and let the other women win. It's too late to
repent, anyhow, for here's where we turn off."
The Imp itself seemed to be running away, so swiftly and
silently it covered the new road leading off into the hills.
Presently it was climbing them.
"I want to get where no call-boy monotonously repeating
'Doc-tor Bur-rns, Doc-tor Bur-rns', can get hold of me," the
Imp's driver explained. "I suppose you're not dressed - nor
shod - for a rough walk of a quarter of a mile where the car
"I'll sacrifice skirts and soles," she promised. "Isn't the
air out here glorious? I thought I was tired when I left the
city: now I could climb that hill and enjoy it."
"That's precisely what we'll do, then. There's a view from
the top worth the scramble, but I wasn't sure you'd be game
for it. Perhaps I'll know you better at the end of this
afternoon than I do now. Is there a jolly, athletic girl
hidden away under that demure manner of yours I've seen so
far, I wonder?"
"Lead the way up that hill and you'll find out," she answered
with a challenging flash of her dark eyes.
He lodged the Imp among a clump of pines, got out the hamper
and turned to his companion. She had pulled off her gloves,
removed hat and veil and folded her long, gray coat away in
the car. This left her dressed in the trim gray skirt of
walking length and the gray silk blouse she had worn for
shopping. Burns looked at her with approval.
"Transformed by magic from a fashionable lady in street attire
to a girl ready for the woods," was his comment. "I'm glad
you leave off the hat - I'll match you by doffing the cap.
Now aren't we a pair? Are you in for a rush up that first
slope? Jove, I'm not half so tired as I was an hour ago,
He caught her hand in his, his other arm through the hamper
handle, and ran with her up the slope. At the edge of the
steeper climb to come they stopped, breathing fast. "This
isn't the way to begin, of course," he admitted as they both
regained their breath, laughing at their own enthusiasm, "but
I couldn't resist that dash - a sort of dash for freedom. Now
we'll take it more easily."
They worked their way up and up among the rocks, he always in
advance, reaching down a muscular right arm to help her at the
steeper places, and once giving her a knee to step on when
progress could be made only up the straight face of a big
boulder. It was undoubtedly a stiff climb for a woman, but
she showed no signs of flinching, and though her cheeks glowed
richly and her wavy black locks were a trifle loosened from
their usual order when at last she set foot upon the plateau
at the top, she showed only the temporary fatigue to be
expected after such unusual exertion.
"That makes the blood course through one's arteries in a way
worth while," was his comment as he regarded with satisfaction
the splendid colour in her checks and the sparkle in her eyes.
"Talk about rest! That's the way to get it! Burn up the
products of fatigue, replace them with fresh cells full of
oxygen, and you get rejuvenation. Look at that stretch of
country before us! Isn't that worth the climb?"
"It's glorious! I've often looked at this height as our car
drove by on the road over there, and wanted to climb it. But
Martha and Jim are always for reeling off miles, and so, I
thought, were you. I imagined there was nobody but myself to
care for this."
"And I thought you liked the porch and the pretty clothes you
wear there better than anything I could show you in the open,"
he owned with a laugh. "Not that I haven't enjoyed that porch
and the sight of the clothes - they don't seem to be just like
Martha's and Winifred's somehow, though I can't tell why!
I've wanted to ask you off for a trip like this, but never was
sure you'd enjoy it. I'm glad I've found out. I feel as if
I'd wasted the summer."
He fell to gathering wood for his fire, and when she had
regained her breath she helped him in spite of his
remonstrance. "Let me have all the fun, too," she begged. "I
haven't had a chance like this for four years. I used to camp
in flannels all summer long, in the roughest sort of style,
and loved it dearly. I could stand the tension of a long
social winter twice as well as the other women on account of
He understood, knowing that her husband had occupied a
prominent official position which called upon him to maintain
a corresponding place in the society of the city in which they
had lived. Although he knew her to be still under thirty, he
realized that on account of her early marriage she had had
much experience in the world of affairs. It was this aspect
of her he had always borne in mind as he had seen her before.
Now he was beginning to recognize another side of her
character and tastes, a side which interested him even more
than the other had done.
Like a pair of children they collected their firewood, racing
together to the base of operations with armfuls of dry sticks.
When there was a big pile she surprised him by asking to be
allowed to make the fire herself.
"I'll prove to you I'm a woodsman," she asserted, and when she
had performed her task after the most approved fashion of the
skilled camper, he acknowledged that she had made good her
boast. As the smoke cleared away in the direction which left
the view unobscured and the spot he had selected for the
lunching-place free from smoke, he grinned approvingly.
"I've no doubt you could grill the steak and brew the coffee
with equal skill," he admitted, "but I'm not going to let you.
That's my job. I want to prove my prowess. Sit down on that
log, please, and oversee me."
She watched with hungry interest while he also gave evidence
of his craft. It could hardly be the first time that a hamper
had been packed for him at the place in the city, for nothing
he needed had been left out, even to a big bottle of spring
water with which to make the coffee. When his work was nearly
complete she spread a square of white linen upon a flat rock
and set forth the other contents of the hamper - olives and
bread and butter, crisp celery-hearts, and cream cheese and a
tin of biscuits. She heated the plates and cups before the
fire, and as he withdrew his steak from the coals she set a
smoking hot platter before him and offered him the materials
"You're a crack camper for sure," he declared. "Ah-h - does
that steak look fit for the gods, or not? How's the coffee?
"Perfect. And the steak looks as if it would melt in one's
mouth. Oh, isn't this fun? How glad I am I'm here and not at
that luncheon!" She consulted a tiny watch. "It's two
o'clock -they're sitting down," she exulted. "Martha has
waited half an hour for me and given me up, and she's
perfectly furious. I'm wicked enough to feel that that fact
is going to make this meal taste all the better!"
"Stolen steak and bread and butter eaten in secret have an
extra relish - no doubt of that. Here - this juicy bit is for
you to begin on. Set your teeth into it, partner! How's that
for food, I ask of you?"
Sitting on the ground opposite each other with the flat rock
between, they consumed this Arcadian banquet, eating with the
zest born of exertion and the open air, the sunshine and the
"Nothing has tasted quite so good to me in a year," said she
when the steak had vanished, dipping a white celery-heart in
salt and biting the end off with teeth still whiter.
"Nothing ever tasted so good to me," said he, leaning on his
elbow and spreading a crisp biscuit with a layer of cheese.
"I always think that of each meal I eat in a place like this,
but this one seems to have a special flavour. I wonder if it
can be the company?"
He smiled across at her, the sunshine among the pine needles
of the tree above him throwing flecks of bright copper among
the thick locks of his hair.
"I think the company is usually an important part of all such
outings," she admitted frankly. "I never took one before in
the society of a wornout doctor who began to look like a boy
again before he had finished his coffee. I really shouldn't
know you were the same person who invited me to go on this
"There's nothing like it for renewing one, body and mind.
Actual physical repose isn't often the best cure for
weariness: it's change of thought and occupation, particularly
if the open air is a part of the cure. I've forgotten I have
a care in the world: all I can think of is - may I say it? -
yourself! I can't get over the wonder of seeing you turn from
what Bob calls his `pretty lady' into the girl I see before me
- a girl who looks about nineteen, with a capacity for good
sport in the open air I never dreamed of."
"The open air would renew everybody's youth, I think, if
everybody would go to living out-of-doors. We're through,
aren't we? There isn't a crumb left! Now please go off and
let me clear up and pack away. That's always the woman's
part. Couldn't you lie down on that inviting carpet of
needles over there under the big pine and get a bit of sleep?"
"Sleep - when I can talk to you?"
She nodded. "Yes, indeed. I'm not going to talk just now,
anyhow, so you might as well make the best of it. Throw
yourself down with your hands under your head, and look up at
those beautiful boughs. Please!"
Rather reluctantly h® obeyed, and she could see that, weary as
he undoubtedly still was in spite of the refreshing meal, he
really did not want to lose any of her society. Lying at full
length on his side, his head propped on his hand, talking in
the lazy tone of after-dinner content which had descended upon
him, he continued to watch her as she repacked the hamper. It
was not until she deliberately forsook him that he gave up to
her wishes. But when, having been out of his sight for ten
minutes, she peered cautiously through the bushes behind which
she had screened herself, she saw what she had hoped for. His
whole weary frame was stretched upon the pine-needle carpet,
the lines of his face were relaxed, and his eyes fast shut.
The sun was far down the hills when he awoke. He lay blinking
at the low-sweeping boughs above him for a little without
realizing where he was; then, as the midsummer stillness which
surrounded him took hold of his senses, he turned his head to
recall to himself the conditions under which he had been
sleeping. Only the hamper under a tree close by gave evidence
that he was here by his own volition. He stared about,
remembering that be had had a companion. He got somewhat
stiffly to his feet, discovering as he did so that he had lain
for a long time without stirring from the position in which
slumber had overtaken him.
"Mrs. Lessing!" he called.
>From some distance away came back a blithe answer: "Here,
He started in the direction of the voice and presently came
upon her sitting on a big granite boulder, busy with a lapful
of pine cones out of which she seemed to be constructing
something. She looked up, smiling.
"Why in the world did you let me sleep all the afternoon?" he
"I should have wakened you in ten minutes more. Have I made
you late for your work? I understood that you could afford a
few hours for rest. You've only slept three."
"Three! Good heavens! When I might have been spending them
He looked so chagrined that her smile changed into outright
laughter. "You are very flattering. But I've been taking
much more satisfaction in your repose than I could possibly
have done in your society, no matter how brilliant you might
"That's not flattering, but I admit it has its practical side.
Those three hours' sleep in the open air have put me on my
feet again. Just the same, I want to eat my cake and have it,
too! Promise me three consecutive hours of your company when
I'm awake, or I shan't get over regretting what I've missed.
Will you do this again with me some September day when I can
make the time?"
"I promise with pleasure. I've had a charming afternoon all
by myself and wandered all over the hillside, dreaming
midsummer day-dreams. We must go, mustn't we?" She stood up,
her hands full of her work.
"Tell me some of them, won't you, while we climb down to the
car?" he begged.
"My happiest one," she said as they descended, "is the making
of a country home for little crippled children. I think I've
found the spot - the old Fairmount place - it's not more than
five miles from here. If I can only buy it at a reasonable
figure - "
"Mrs. Lessing!" he broke in. "So that's the sort of thing
that makes your day-dreams! No wonder - well! - "
"Why should you be surprised? Isn't that a delightful dream?
If I can only make it come true - "
"You can. Do you want a visiting surgeon?"
"Of course I do. Will you - "
"Why, Mrs. Lessing," said he, stopping short just below her on
the steep path and looking up into her face with eyes of eager
pleasure, "that's been one of my dreams so long I can't
remember when I began to think about it. But I haven't been
able to finance it yet, nor to find time to get anybody else
to do it. If you'll provide the place I'll do everything I
can to make it a success. There are no less than four
children this minute I'm longing to get into such a home.
We'll go into partnership if you'll take me. I why - you see,
I can't even talk straight about it! And you - I thought you
were a society woman!"
"I am a society woman, I suppose," she answered laughing,
"though our ideas might differ as to what that term stands
for. But why should that prevent my caring for this lovely
"Evidently it doesn't. How many sides have you anyhow? I've
found out two new ones to-day. Girl - and patron saint - "
"Ah, don't make fun of me. I'm no girl and very far from any
kind of saint. Please help me down this four-foot drop as if
I were a very, very old lady, for my head is dizzy with joy
that I've found somebody to care for my schemes."
He leaped down and held up his arms. "Come, grandma!" he
invited, his face full of mischief and enthusiasm and
"I think I'll play girl, after all," she refused gaily and,
accepting one hand only, swung herself lightly down to his
"And it's `bracers' the fellows think they need to put the
heart back into them!" jeered Red Pepper Burns to himself.
"Let them try the open country and a comrade like this - if
there is another anywhere on earth! But they can't have her!"
IN WHICH HE CONTINUES TO SAW WOOD
Here you are at last, Red, you sinner, and I'm the loser.
Ches and I've had a bet on since we saw the Green Imp tear off
just as the first guests were coming. I vowed it was a fake
call and you'd never get back till the musicians were
green-flannelling their instruments."
"I knew he wouldn't do us a cut-away trick like that,"
declared Arthur Chester with an affectionate, white-gloved
hand on Burns's black-clad arm. "Not that I'd have blamed you
on a night like this. What people want to give dances for in
August, with the thermometer at the top of the tree, I don't
"Go along in, old man, and see the ladies. Take out Pauline.
Mrs. Lessing isn't dancing. Make a sitting-out engagement
with the lovely widow, then bolt out here. That's my advice,"
"Much obliged, I will. Wouldn't have come if Winifred hadn't
"She's doing her duty by Pauline, and she considers her duty
isn't done till she's secured the men Pauline wants. But I
say - when you get a look at Ellen you'll forget the rivulets
coursing down your neck. It's the first time she's worn
anything not suggestive of past experiences. It's only white
tonight, but - " Macauley's pause was eloquent.
Burns pushed on into the house, through whose open doors and
windows came sounds of revelry. A stringed orchestra was
playing somewhere out of sight, and to its music the late
arrival, holding his head well up that he might keep his
collar intact until the latest possible moment, set his course
toward his hostess.
Outside, in the bower which had been made of the porch,
Chester, disgracefully shuffling off the duties of host and
lounging with Macauley and two or three other of the young
married men, reported through the flower-hung window the
progress of the victim led to the sacrifice.
"He's shouldered his way to Win - he's shaking hands and
trying not to look hot. Hi! Pauline's sighted him already.
She's making for him like the arrow to the target."
"Or the bullet for the hippopotamus," suggested Macauley under
his breath in Chester's ear. He, too, began to reconnoiter.
"He's asking her if she saved the first one for him, and she's
telling him she did till the last minute. Her card is full
now, but he shall have the last half of this next one.
Doesn't he look overjoyed?" Chester chuckled wickedly.
"Where's Ellen? Why isn't she on deck now just as Red comes?"
Macauley began to fume. "She's behaved nobly all the evening
so far - she might have a rational being how for a partner as
her reward. But I presume she's sitting out somewhere with
that chump of a Wardlaw - he follows her like a shadow and
she's too kindhearted to shake him. She's - "
A voice speaking softly from the lawn below the porch
interrupted him. "Is Doctor Burns urns here?" it asked.
Chester went over to the rail. "He's only just come, you
know, Miss Mathewson. You don't have to call him out this
minute, do you?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Chester, but I'm afraid I must. The call is
"Tell 'em to get somebody else."
"Doctor Burns wouldn't like it - they're special friends of
"Oh, well - I suppose he'll see the bright side of getting out
of that Turkish bath in there, but I must say I wish I didn't
have to pull through this whole affair without his support,"
grumbled Chester as he went in to find Burns, now disappeared
into the inner rooms where the music came from.
Red Pepper came out looking the name more than usual, for
three rounds of the floor had brought, as it seemed to him,
every drop of blood to his face, and his hair clung damply to
his brow. He held a brief colloquy with his office nurse.
"No way out; I'll have to go, Ches," said he with ill-
"But you'll hustle? You'll make one more try of it?" begged
Chester. "This thing won't break up early: not with Pauline
pushing it. You'll be back in time to be taken out and fed?"
"Try to," and Burns disappeared off the end of the porch.
"Lucky dog," gloomed Macauley. "The call's five miles out on
the road to the city. I'd like to be in the Green Imp for the
spin Red'll make of it. By George! I - "
He broke off suddenly, gave a hasty look around and bolted off
the end of the porch into the semidarkness of the lawn. He
ran across behind the houses to his own back porch, procured a
dustcoat from within and dashed back, regardless of the bodily
heat he was generating. As the Green Imp backed out of the
barn Macauley swung himself into the unoccupied seat.
Burns, also in dust-coat pulled on over his evening clothes,
grinned cheerfully. "Deserter?" he queried.
"You'll be back within the hour, won't you?"
"Less than that, probably. The Imp's running like a bird
to-night - show you her paces when we get out. Hi, there!
Who's that chasing us? Well, of all the - you, too, Ches?''
Panting, Chester flung himself upon the running-board just as
the car turned out of the yard. "Had a hunt for my coat -
nearly lost you!" he gasped.
Burns stopped the car. "See here, sonny," he expostulated.
"You happen to be host, you know. I might be detained out
there, though I don't expect it."
"I'll take the trolley back if you are," replied Chester,
settling himself. "I can't stand it to see you fellows cut
away out of the pow-wow and not go, too. I'll take my
"So be it!" and, laughing, with a glance back at the gaily
lighted house, Burns sent the car on her course. "You two are
always bragging up the married life," he remarked as the Green
Imp gathered speed, "but it strikes me you're pretty eager to
get away from the glories of your wives' entertaining."
"It's one curious thing," admitted Macauley thoughtfully,
"that no matter how harmonious a couple may be they're bound
to differ on what does and does not constitute entertainment."
"Of course, a girl like Pauline always wants to dance, no
matter how torrid the night," explained Chester. "Win and I
have to consider our guest's wish. But you can bet Pauline
isn't getting her wish - not with R. P. Burns running around
the country all the evening and only making five-minute stops
at her side."
By the speed with which the Green Imp swallowed the ground it
looked as if Burns might make several such trips and still
interpolate a number of "five-minute stops" before the affair
at the Chester house should be over. Before his passengers
were well aware of the distance they had covered he pulled up
in front of a small cottage. They settled themselves
comfortably to await a fifteen-minute stay, but in five he was
out again. Both dust coat and clawhammer were off - his
sleeves were rolled to the elbow.
"I'm in for it, boys," he said. "Can't get away under two
hours at the shortest. Sorry. But they didn't let me know
what they wanted me for, and I'm caught. You'll have to drive
home. Call up Johnny Caruthers and let him bring back the Imp
and Miss Mathewson. I can't be spared long enough to go
myself, so take her this note to tell her what to bring. Get
He handed Macauley a hasty scrawl on a prescription blank, and
smiled at the discomfited faces of his two friends showing
plainly in the lights which streamed from the house.
"You look blamed pleased over your job," growled Macauley.
"I like the job all right," admitted Burns; "particularly when
contrasted with - "
"You wouldn't say it if you'd caught one glimpse of Mrs. L."
called back Chester, as the Imp responded somewhat erratically
to Macauley's unaccustomed touch. But all the answer they got
was, an emphatic "Don't change gears as if you were running a
thrashing machine, Mac."
It was two hours and a half later that Burns came out of the
small cottage again, wiping a damp face, his white shirt-front
a pathetic ruin, his hastily reassumed white waistcoat and tie
decidedly the worse for having been carelessly handled. But
his face, when he turned it toward the stars as he crossed the
tiny patch of a flower-bordered yard, was a contented one.
"It pays up all the arrears when you can leave a chunk of
happiness behind you as big as that one," he said to himself.
Johnny Caruthers had gone home by trolley long ago, and Miss
Mathewson was to remain for the night and return with the
doctor when he came for his morning after-visit. Burns sent
the Green Imp off at a moderate pace, musing as he drove
through the now moderated and refreshing air of two o'clock in
"Party must be about over by now; think it'll adjourn without
seeing any more of Red Pepper and his misused dress clothes,"
he reflected. "I suppose those dancing puppets think they've
had a good time, but it isn't in it with mine. Bless the
little woman: she's happy over her first boy! He's a winner,
too. As for Tom, I could have tipped him over with a nod of
the head when he was thanking me for leaving the
merry-go-round to stand by. It must feel pretty good to be
the father of a promising specimen like that. Must beat the
adopting business several leagues. And that's not saying that
Bobby Burns isn't the best thing that ever happened to R. P."
Philosophizing thus, he presently sent the Green Imp at her
quietest pace in at the home driveway. The Chester house was
still brilliantly illumined; his own dark except for the dim
light in the office and - he discovered it as he rounded the
turn - a sort of half-radiance coming from the windows of his
own room, where Bob slept in the small bed beside his own.
Burns gazed anxiously at this, for it showed that somebody had
turned on the hooded electric. He was accustomed to leave the
door open into his private office; in which a light was always
burning, and with this Bob had hitherto been satisfied.
"He must have waked up and called for Cynthia," he decided.
Housing the Imp, he quietly crossed the lawn to the window,
avoiding any sound of footsteps on the gravelled paths. Both
windows, screened by wire and awnings, were wide open; he
could see with ease into the room, for the house was an old
one and stood low. Climbing wistaria vines wreathed the
windows, and sheltered by these he found himself secure from
For after the first look he became exceedingly anxious not to
be discovered. He had come home in the stirred and gentle
mood often brought upon him by his part in such a scene as the
one he had lately left behind him. In the first wave of joy
swept by a birth into a home, whether humble or exalted, the
man who has been of service in the hour of trial is often
caught and lifted into a sympathetic pleasure which lasts for
some time after he has gone on to less satisfying work. Burns
had often jeered gently at himself for being, as he
considered, more than ordinarily susceptible to a sort of odd
tenderness of feeling under such conditions, and as he stared
in at the scene before him he was uneasily conscious that he
could not have come upon it at a more vulnerable moment.
Bobby Burns was sitting straight up in bed, his cheeks
flushed, his eyelids reddened as if with prolonged crying, but
his small face radiant with happiness as he regarded his
companion, his plump little fist thrust tight into the hand
which held his. In a chair close beside him sat a figure in
silvery white; bare, beautifully-moulded arms, from which the
gloves had been pulled and flung aside upon the bed, gleaming
in the glow from the hooded light.
Black head was close to black head, her black lashes and his
disclosed dark eyes curiously alike in the distracting glance
of them; even the colouring of the faces was similar, for both
showed the warm and peachy hues laid there by the summer sun.
"They might easily be mother and son," was the thought forced
upon the spectator. His own cheek suddenly burned, in the
shadow of the wistaria vines.
He listened abstractedly to the conclusion of the story: it
must have been a charming tale, for the boy's cry of regret
when it ended was eloquent. But the eavesdropper heard with
full appreciation the richness of the low voice and could not
wonder at Bob's delight in it. He watched with absorbed eyes
the embrace exchanged between the two and, forgetting to be
cautious, allowed his shifted foot to crunch the gravel under
Quicker than thought the light went out. Burns made for the
office door, consumed with eagerness to catch her before she
could get away. But when he set foot upon the threshold of
his room only the little figure, pulling itself again erect in
the bed, met his eyes in the dim light issuing from the
office, and otherwise the room was empty.
"Nobody heard me cryin' but her," explained Bob to his
questioning guardian. "Cynthia was all goned away and I heard
the fiddles and they made me cry. She comed in and told me
stories. I love her. But she wented awful quick out that
way." He pointed toward a French window opening like a door
upon the lawn. "I wish she didn't go so quick. She looked
awful pretty, all white and shiny. She loves me, I think,
"Of course, old man. That's your particular good luck - eh?
Now lie down and go to sleep and tell me all about it in the
"Aren't you going back to the party?" queried Bob anxiously.
"Hardly." Burns glanced humorously down at his attire. "But
I'm not going to bed just yet, so shut your eyes. I'll not be
The child obeyed. Exchanging the claw-hammer for his office
coat, Burns went out by way of the French window to the rear
of the house.
An hour afterward Arthur Chester, putting out lights,
discovered from a back window a familiar figure at a familiar
occupation. But at this hour of the night the sight struck
him as so extraordinary that, curiosity afire, he hurriedly
let himself out of the side door he had just locked, and
crossed the lawn.
"In the name of all lunatics, Red, why sawing wood? It can't
be ill temper at missing the show?"
In the August moonlight the figure straightened itself and
laid down the saw. "Go to bed, and don't bother your addle
pate about your neighbours. Can't a man cut up a few sticks
without your coming to investigate?"
"Saw a few more. You haven't got the full dose necessary
yet," advised Chester, his hands in his pockets. "Want me to
sit up with you till you work it all off?"
"It's beginning to look as if it wouldn't work off," muttered
R. P. Burns.
"Must be a worse attack than usual. How long have you been at
"Sawed that whole heap at the side there?"
"Lost a patient?"
"Blow out a tire?"
"Bad news of any sort?"
"No. Go to bed."
"I feel I oughtn't to leave you," persisted Chester. "Don't
you think it might ease your mind to tell me about it?"
Burns came at him with the saw, and Chester fled. Burns went
back to his woodpile, marshalled the sawed sticks into orderly
ranks, then stood still once more and once more looked up at
"If an hour of that on a night like this won't take the
nonsense out of me," he solemnly explained to a bright
particular planet now low in the heavens, "I must be past
help. But I'll be - drawn and quartered if I'll give in.
Haven't I had knockouts enough to be able to keep my head this
time? Red Pepper Burns, `Remember the Maine' Now, go to bed
IN WHICH HE IS UNREASONABLY PREOCCUPIED
"Red Pepper Burns, put down that stuff and come over. It's
nine o'clock, and Pauline goes tomorrow, as you very well
know. And not only Paul, but Mrs. Lessing. Paul's persuaded
her to start when she does, though she wasn't expecting to go
for three days longer."
R. P. Burns looked up abstractedly. "Can't come now. I'm
busy," he replied, and immediately became reabsorbed in the
big book he was studying.
Chester gazed at him amazedly. He sat at the desk in the
inner office, surrounded by books, medical magazines, foreign
reviews in both French and German, as Chester discovered on
approaching more closely, by loose anatomical plates, by
sheets of paper covered with rough sketches of something it
looked more like a snake in convulsions than anything else.
Evidently Burns was deep in some sort of professional
It was not that the sight was an unaccustomed one. There
could be no question that R. P. Burns, M.D., was a close
student; this was not the first nor the fortieth time that his
friend had thus discovered him. The view to be had from the
point where Chester stood, of the small laboratory opening
from this office, was also a familiar one. He could see steam
arising from the sterilizer: he knew surgical instruments were
boiling merrily away there. A table was littered with objects
suggesting careful examination: a fine microscope in position;
a centrifuge, Bunsen burners, test-tubes; elsewhere other
apparatus of a description to make the uninitiated actively
sympathetic with the presumable coming victim.
The point of the situation to Chester was that astonishing
fact that Burns could hear unmoved of the immediate departure
of Ellen Lessing. He made up his mind that this scientific
enthusiast could not have assimilated the dreadful news; he
would try again.
"Red! Do you hear? She's going to-morrow - tomorrow!"
"Let her go. Don't bother me."
"I don't mean Pauline. Ellen's going, too."
Burns put up one sinewy hand and thrust it through his hair,
which already stood on end. His collar was off and he wore a
laboratory apron: his appearance was not prepossessing. He
pulled a piece of paper toward him and began to make rapid
lines. It was the snake again, in worse convulsions than
before. Evidently he had not heard. Chester approached the
"Red!" he shouted. "The patient isn't on the table yet: he
won't die if you listen to me one minute. I want you to take
this thing in. Mrs. Lessing - "
Knocking the sketch to one side and precipitating three books
and a mass of papers to the floor, Red stood up. He towered
above his shrinking fiend, wrath in his eye. His lips moved.
If it had been three months earlier Chester would have
expected to hear language of a lurid description. As it was,
the first syllable or two did slip out, but no more followed.
Only speech - good, vigorous Saxon, not to be misunderstood.
"Will you try to get it into your brain that I don't care a
hang who goes or where, so long as I figure out a way to do
this trick? The other fellows all say it can't be done. Not
one of 'em'll do it, not even Van Horn. I say it can, and I'm
going to do it to-morrow morning at nine o'clock, if I can
work out a tool to do it with and make it. And I can do that
if idiots like you will get out and keep out."
He sat down and was instantly lost again in his effort at
invention. Chester looked at him in silence for a minute
more, then he walked quietly out. Offended? Not he. He had
not listened to invective from that Celtic tongue for eight
years not to know that high tension over a coming critical
operation almost invariably meant brilliant success. But even
he had never seen Red Pepper keyed up quite so taut as this.
It must be a tremendous risk he meant to take. Success to him
- the queer, fine old boy!
"He may be over later when he gets that confounded snake of an
instrument figured out." Chester offered this to the group
upon his porch as consolation.
"And if he doesn't get it figured out before we break up, he
won't be over," prophesied Macauley. "Ten to one he forgets
to come and say good-bye before he starts for the hospital in
"I'm going to be standing beside the driveway when he goes,"
vowed Pauline. "And if he doesn't notice me I'll climb on the
"Ellen, don't go to-morrow," whispered Martha Macauley to her
sister. "Don't let it end this way. When he comes to, you'll
be gone, and that's such a pity just now."
"But I think I would rather be gone, dear." Ellen Lessing
"Oh, why? When Red's excited over a big success he's simply
off his head - there's no knowing what he won't do."
"I prefer him when he has his head. Don't urge, Martha. I've
promised to go in the morning with Pauline, and nothing could
make me change."
"It's a shame for him to be so absorbed. Who wants a man who
can forget the existence of a woman like that?"
"Who wants one who can't? A sorry surgeon he'd be - his hand
would shake. Don't talk about it any more, dear. I'm going
to enjoy this evening with you all. And I hope - oh, how I
hope - that operation will be a success!"
If it were not to be a success it would not be the fault of
the man who worked till one o'clock - two o'clock - three
o'clock it the morning to perfect the strangely convoluted
tool which was to help "do the trick" if it could be done.
Part of the work was done in the laboratory, part in the
machine shop which occupied a corner of the old red barn,
where the Green Imp lent her lamps as aids to the task in
hand. At four, the instrument finished, sterilized, and put
away as if it were worth its weight in gold - which it might
easily have been if it were to prove fitted to the peculiar
need - Burns went to bed. At six he was up again, had a cold
plunge and a hearty breakfast, and at seven was sending the
Imp out of the gateway, his office nurse beside him. If Mrs.
Lessing hoped the operation would be a success, Miss Mathewson
hoped and feared and longed with all her soul. Beneath the
uniform and behind the quiet, plain face of the young woman
who had been R. P. Burns's professional assistant for eight
years, lived a person than whom none cared more how things
went with him. But nobody knew that least of all Burns
himself. He only knew that he could not get on without her;
that never a suture that she had prepared made trouble for him
after an operation: and that none other of the hundred nice
details upon which the astounding results of modern surgery
depend was likely to go wrong if it were she who was
At five o'clock that afternoon the Green Inn came back.
Arthur Chester had just returned from the office and had
thrown himself into a hammock on the porch, for the September
weather was like that of June. Catching the throbbing purr of
the Imp as the car swung in at the driveway Chester jumped up.
Burns flung out a triumphant arm; Miss Mathewson was smiling.
"By George, the old boy's won out!" Chester said to himself,
and hurried down to meet the Imp. "All over but the shouting,
Red?" he questioned eagerly.
"All over." Burns's face was aflame.
"Pull up and tell me about it."
The car came to a standstill. "Nothing to tell. The curve I
got on that bit of steel did the work, around the corner and
inside out. The fellows said it wouldn't; stood around and
croaked for an hour beforehand. Lord! I'd have died myself
before I'd have failed after that."
"Should have thought they'd have unsettled your nerve,"
declared Chester, looking as if he would like personally to
pitch into the entire medical profession.
"Didn't. Just made me mad. I can do anything when I'm mad -
if I can keep my mouth shut." Burns laughed rather
shamefacedly. "That's the one advantage of a temper. I say,
Ches, don't you want to go with me? There are probably half a
dozen calls waiting at the office. I'll run and see."
He jumped out, seized his surgical handbags and hurried away.
Miss Mathewson descended more deliberately, Chester plying her
with eager questions as he assisted her. "How was it? Pretty
big feather in his cap, Miss Mathewson?"
"Indeed it was, Mr. Chester. Every one of the other city
surgeons said it couldn't be done without killing the patient.
They all admitted that if she survived the operation she would
have every chance for recovery. They were all there to see.
I never knew them all there at once before."
"It would be ungenerous to imagine they wanted him to fail,"
chuckled Chester, "but we're, all human. How did they take it
when he succeeded?"
""They remembered they were gentlemen and scientists,"
declared Miss Mathewson - "all but one or two who aren't worth
mentioning. When they saw he had done it, they began to clap.
I don't believe there was ever such a burst of applause in
"What did the old fellow do? Tried to look modest, I
suppose," laughed Chester, glowing with pride and pleasure.
"He was white all through the operation - he always is, with
the strain. But he turned red all over when they cheered, and
just said: `Thank you, gentlemen.' It really was a wonderful
thing, Mr. Chester, even in these days. Only one man has done
it, a German, and he has done it only twice. Doctor Burns
will be distinguished after this."
"Good for him! No wonder he looks the way he does - as if
he'd like to turn a few handsprings," Chester reflected as he
watched the nurse's trim figure walk away.
Burns came back. "Jump in," he said. "Work enough to keep me
busy till bedtime. If there hadn't been, I'd have proposed a
beefsteak in the woods by way of a celebration and a let down.
I'm beginning to get a bit of reaction, of course; should have
liked an hour or two of jollity. You and Win, and Mrs.
Lessing and I might have - "
"Mrs. Lessing! You old chump, don't you remember she's gone?
Why, Mac started for the train with them all in his car, not
ten minutes before you came. They haven't been gone fifteen.
I begged off from going along because I was dusty and tired.
Just got home myself,"
R. P. Burns, making the circuit of the driveway behind the
houses and now turning the Imp's nose toward the street again,
stared at his friend in amazement.
"Why, she wasn't going till day after to-morrow!" he
"I came over last night," drawled Chester in a longsuffering
tone, "and explained to you and shouted at you and tried in
every way to ram the idea into your head that Pauline had
wheedled Mrs. Lessing to start when she did, because their
routes lay together as far as Washington. You put me out,
calling me names and generally insulting me. It's all right,
of course. She's to spend the winter in South Carolina, but
she'll be back next summer. You can say good-bye to her then.
It'll do just as well."
Burns's watch was in his hand. "What time does that train
go?" he demanded.
"Five-thirty. You can't make it." Chester's watch was also
out. "What do you care? Send her a picture postcard
explaining that you forgot all about her until it was too - "
The last word was jerked back into his throat by the jump of
the Green Imp. She shot out of the driveway like a stone out
of a catapult, and was off down the mile road to the station,
All conveyances going to that train had passed quarter-hour
before, and the course was nearly clear.
"There's the train's smoke at the tunnel. You can't do it,"
asserted Chester, pointing to the black hole a few rods to one
side of the station whence a gray cloud was issuing. "She
only makes a two minute stop. You won't more than get on
board before - "
"If I get on board you drive into the city and meet me there,
will you?" begged Burns.
"I can't drive the Imp, Red; you know I can't."
"Then 'phone Johnny Caruthers from the station and send him in
for me. That'll give me fifteen minutes on the train."
"What's the use? Pauline'll be at your elbow every minute.
She'll - "
But Burns was paying no attention. He wag taking the Imp past
a lumbering farm-wagon with only two inches to spare between
himself and the ditch. Then the car was at the station, Burns
was out and through the building, through the gate and upon
the slowly-moving train after a moment's hasty argument with a
conductor to whom he could show no ticket. On the platform
James Macauley, junior, and Martha Macauley, Winifred Chester,
and four small children of assorted ages stared after the big
figure bolting into the Pullman. Bobby Burns gave a shriek of
delight followed by a wail of disappointment.
"By George, he's turned up, after all!" exulted Macauley, and
the two women looked at each other with meaning, relieved
In the car, the passengers observed interestedly the spectacle
of a large man with a mop of fiery red hair, from which he had
pulled a leather cap, striding, dust-covered, into the car and
up to the two prettiest young women there. One of these very
smartly clad in blue, received him with looks half gay, half
pouting, and with a storm of talk. The other, in gray, with a
face upon which no eye could rest once without covertly or
openly returning in deference to its charm, gave him a quiet
hand and turned away again to wave her farewell to the group
of friends on the platform
"Take my chair and I'll perch on the arm of Ellen's,"
commanded Pauline," while you explain, apologize and try to
make your peace with us. You'll find it hard work. I may
smile for the sake of appearances, but inside I'm really
awfully angry. So is Ellen, though she doesn't show it."
Thus Pauline, indefinitely prolonged and repeated, with
variations, interpolations, interruptions. It didn't matter;
Redfield Pepper Burns heard none of it. Even with Pauline
"perching" on the arm of Ellen Lessing's chair, her face
within eight inches of the other face, she was not within the
field of his vision.
"I am sure the operation was successful," said Mrs. Lessing.
"One can see it in his eyes," declared Pauline. "I never knew
hazel eyes could be so brilliant°'
"It went through," admitted Burns. "It had to, you know. And
I had a thing to make last evening "
"Arthur told us about it," chattered Pauline. "It was like a
sna - "
"You didn't miss my not coming over," said Burns. He was
leaning forward, his hands on his knees, his rumpled head near
enough so that very low tones could reach the person to whom
he spoke. He did not once look at Pauline. One would have
thought that that fact alone would have quieted her, but it
"Indeed we did - awfully!" cried Pauline.
"Neither did I myself, then, Mrs. Lessing. I miss it now. I
shall miss it more whenever I think about it. I don't know of
but one thing that can possibly make it up to me. "
"Name it! You don't deserve it, but our hearts are rather
tender, and we might grant - " Pauline looked arch. But what
was the use? Nobody saw. Even the passengers were watching
the one in gray. Spectators always watch the woman at whom
the man is looking. And in this case it seemed well worth
while, for even the most admirable reserve of manner could not
control the tell-tale colour which was slowly mounting under
the direct and continued gaze of the man with the red hair.
The man himself, it occurred to more than one passenger, was
rather well worth study.
"It's always been a theory of mine that no woman can know a
man until she's exchanged letters with him for a considerable
period of time - say, a winter," Burns went on. Pauline, made
some sort of an exclamation, but he failed to notice it -
"Neither can a man know a woman. It's a stimulating
experience. Suppose we try it?"
"How often do you propose to write to us?" inquired Pauline.
Now, at last, Red Pepper Burns looked at her. If she had
known him better, she would have known that all his vows to
keep his tongue from certain words were at that moment very
nearly as written in water. But the look he gave her stung
her for an instant into silence.
"I shall want to hear about Bob," Ellen replied, "all you can
tell me. I have promised to write to him. You will have to
read the letters aloud to him - which will give you a very
fair idea of what I am doing. But if you care for an extra
sheet for yourself - now and then - "
"An extra sheet! When I am in the mood I am likely to write a
dozen sheets to you. When I'm not, a page will be all you'll
care to read. Will you agree to the most erratic
correspondence you ever had, with the most erratic fellow?"
"It sounds very promising," she answered, smiling.
The train drew into the city station. The stop was a short
one, for the Limited was late. In the rush of outgoing and
incoming passengers Burns managed, for the space of sixty
seconds, to get out of range of Pauline's ears.
"I shall count the hours till I get that first letter," said
She looked up. "You surely don't expect a letter till you
have sent one?"
He laughed. "I'm going home to begin to write it now," he
Pauline accompanied him to the vestibule where he shook hands
with her forgivingly. From the platform he secured a last
glimpse of the other face, which gave him a friendly smile as
he saluted with his dusty leather cap held out toward her at
the length of his arm. When he could no longer see her he
drew a gusty sigh and turned away.
As he stood at the street entrance of the big station, waiting
for Johnny Caruthers and the Green Imp, this is what he was
saying to himself:
"Red, you've made more than one woman unhappy, to say nothing
of yourself, by making love to her because she was a beauty
and your head swam. This time you've tried rather hard to do
her the justice to wait till you know. Only time and absence
can settle that. Remember you found a nest of gray hairs in
your red pate this morning? That should show that you're
gaining wisdom at last, the salt in the red pepper, `the
seasoning of time,' eh, R. P.? But by the rate of my pulse at
this present moment I'm inclined to believe - it's going to be
a bit hard to write an absolutely sane letter. Perhaps it
would be safer if I knew Pauline Pry would see it! I'll try to
write as if I knew she would . . . . But by the spark I
thought I saw in those black eyes I don't really imagine
IN WHICH HE SUFFERS A DEFEAT
The hands of the office clock were pointing to half after two,
on a certain September night, when Burns came into his office,
alone. The fire in the office fireplace, kept bright until
nearly midnight, when his housekeeper had given up waiting for
him and gone to bed, had burned to a few smouldering lumps of
cannel-slag. A big leather easy-chair, its arms worn with
much use, had been pulled into an inviting position before the
fireplace, and the night-light by the desk was burning, as
usual. All that could be expected had been done by the
kind-hearted Cynthia, who comprehended, by signs she knew well
and had been watching for several days, that affairs were
going wrong with her employer.
But he needed more than could be given him by things inanimate
- needed it woefully. He came in as a man comes who is not
only physically' weary to the point of exhaustion, but heart
sick and sore besides. He dropped his heavy surgical bags
upon the floor by the desk as if he wanted never to take them
up again, pulled off coat and cap and let them fall where they
would, then stumbled blindly over to the big chair and sank
into it with a great sigh, as if he had reached the end of all
If it had been physical fatigue alone which had brought him to
this pass he might have dropped asleep where he sat, and
waked, after an hour or two, to drag himself away to bed, like
one who had been drugged. For a short space, indeed, he lay
motionless in the chair in the attitude of one so spent for
sleep that he must needs find it in the first place his body
touches. But there are times when the mind will not let the
body rest. And this was one of them.
The scene he had left lately was burning before his tired
eyes; the sounds he had lately heard were beating in his
brain. For a week he had been putting every power he
possessed into the attaining of an end for which it had more
than once seemed to him that he would be willing to sacrifice
his own life. He had dared everything, fought every one, had
his own way in spite of every obstacle, believing to the last
that he could win, as he had so often won before, by sheer
contempt of danger. But this time he had failed.
That was all there was of it - he had failed, failed so
absolutely, so humiliatingly, so publicly - this was the way
he put it to himself - that he was in disgrace. He had
operated when others advised against operation and had seemed
to succeed, brilliantly and incredibly. Then the case had
begun to go wrong. He had operated a second time - against
all precedent, taking tremendous risks - and had lost.
But this was not the worst. He had lost cases before and had
suffered keenly over them, but not as he was suffering now.
In a world of death some cases must be lost, even by the most
successful of all of his profession. But this was an unusual
case. This was - O God how could he bear losing this one?
He had known her from a little girl of eight till now, when at
sixteen, bright, beautiful, winsome sixteen, he had . . .
what had he done? She might have had a chance for life -
without operation. He had taken that chance away. And she
had trusted him - how she had trusted him! Ah, there was the
bitter drop in the cup the turn of the knife in the raw wound.
When the others had opposed, she had looked up at him with
that smile of hers - how could she smile when she was in such
pain? - and whispered: "Please do whatever you want to, Doctor
Burns." And he had answered confidently: "Good for you,
Lucile - if only they'd all trust me like that I'd show them
what I could do!"
Vain boast - wild boast! He had d been a fool - twice a fool
- thrice a fool! He was a fool clear through - that was the
matter with him - a proud fool who had thought that with a.
thrust of his keen-edged tools he could turn Death himself
And when he had tried his hand a second time, in the last
futile effort to avert the impending disaster, she had trusted
him just the same. When he had said to her, speaking close to
her dull ear: "Dear little girl, I'm going to ask you to go to
sleep again for me," she had turned her head upon the pillow,
that tortured young head - he would not have thought she could
move it at ail - and had smiled at him again . . . for the
last time . . . He would remember that smile while he lived.
He got up from his chair as the intolerable memory smote him
again, as it had been smiting him these three hours since the
end had come. He began to pace the floor, back and forth back
and forth. There were those who said that R. P. Burns threw
off his cases easily, did not worry about them, did not take
it to heart when they went wrong. It is a thing often said of
the men who must turn from one patient to another, and show to
the second no hint of how the first may be faring. Those who
say it do not know - can never know.
The hours wore on. Burns could not sleep, could not even
relax and rest. To the first agony of disappointment
succeeded a depression so profound that it seemed to him he
could never rise above it and take up his work again. A
hundred times he went painfully over the details of the case,
from first to last. Why had he done as he had? Why had he
not listened to Grayson, to Van Horn, to Fields? Only Butler
had backed him up in his decisions - and he knew well enough
that Butler had done it only because of his faith in Burns
himself and his remembrance of some of his extraordinary
successes, not because his own judgment approved.
Five o'clock - six o'clock - he had thrown himself into the
chair again, and had, at last, dropped into an uneasy sort of
half slumber, when the office door quietly opened and Miss
Mathewson came in. It was two hours before she was due.
Burns roused and regarded her wonderingly, with eyes heavy and
blood-shot. She stood still and looked down at him, sympathy
in her face. She herself was pale with fatigue and loss of
sleep, for she had been with him throughout the week of
struggle over the case he had lost, and she knew the situation
as no one else, even his professional colleagues, knew it.
But she smiled wanly down at him, like a pitying angel.
"You didn't go to bed, Doctor," she said, very gently. "I was
afraid you wouldn't. Won't you go now? You know there's a
day's work before you."
He shook his head. "No - I'd rather get out in the air. I'm
going now. I'd like to take the Imp and - drive to - " "
"No, no!" - She spoke quickly, coming closer, as if she
understood and would not let him use the reckless, common
phrase which sometimes means despair. "I thought you might be
feeling like that - that's why I came early. Not that I can
say anything to cheer you, Doctor Burns - I know you care too
much for that. But there's one thing you must realize - you
must say it over and over to yourself - you did your best. No
human being can do more."
"A fool's best," he muttered. "Cold comfort that."
"Not a fool's best -a skilful surgeon s best."
He shook his head again, got slowly up from his chair, and
stood staring down into the ashes of the long-dead fire. The
usually straight shoulders were bent; the naturally
well-poised head, always carried confidently erect, was sunk
upon the broad chest.
Amy Mathewson watched him for a minute, her own face full of
pain; then laid her hand, rather timidly, upon his arm. He
looked round at her and tried to smile, but the effort only
made his expression the more pitiful.
"Bless your heart," said he, brokenly, "I believe you'd stand
by me to the last ditch of a failure."
Her eyes suddenly filled. "I'd let you operate - on my mother
- to-day," said she, in a low voice.
He gazed into her working face for a long moment, seized her
hand and wrung it hard, then strode away into the inner office
and flung the door shut behind him.
A half-hour later he came out. He had himself sternly in hand
again. His shoulders were squared, his head up; in his face
was written a peculiar grim defiance which those who did not
comprehend might easily mistake for the stoicism imputed to
men of his calling under defeat. Miss Mathewson knew better,
understood that it was taking all his courage to face his work
again, and realized as nobody else could that the day before
him would be one of the hardest he had yet had to live. But
she was hopeful that little by little he would come back to
the same recognition of that which she felt was really true,
that, in spite of the results, he had been justified in the
risk he had taken, and that he could not be blamed that
conditions which only a superhuman penetration could have
foreseen would arise to thwart him.
"Cynthia has your breakfast ready for you Doctor," Miss
Mathewson said quietly, as he came out. She did not look up
from the desk, where she was working on accounts. But as he
passed her, on his way to the dining-room, he laid his hand
for an instant on her shoulder, and when she looked up she met
his grateful eyes. She had given him the greatest proof of
confidence in her power, and it had been the one ray of light
in his black hour.
"Won't you take just a taste o' the chops, Doctor?" urged his
housekeeper, anxiously. She knew nothing of the situation,
but she had not served him for eight years not to have learned
something of his moods, and it was clear to her that he had
had little sleep for many nights.
But he put aside the plate. "I know they're fine, Cynthia,"
said he in his gentlest way. "But the coffee's all I want,
this morning. Another cup, please."
Cynthia hesitated, a motherly sort of solicitude in her homely
face. "Doctor, do you know you've had four, a'ready? And
it's awful strong."
"Have I! Well - perhaps that's enough. Thank you, Cynthia."
His housekeeper looked after him, as he left the room. "He's
terrible blue, to be so polite as that," she reflected. "When
he's happy he's in such a hurry he don't have time to thank a
body. Of the two. I guess I'd rather have him hustlin'
In the middle of the day Burns met Van Horn.
"Sorry the case went wrong, Doctor," said his colleague.
There was a peculiar sparkle in his eye as he offered this
customary, perfunctory condolence.
"Thank you," replied Burns, shortly.
"I didn't wish to seem skeptical, and you certainly have had
remarkable success in somewhat similar cases. But it seemed
to me that in advising as I did I was holding the only safe
ground. Personally I'm not in favour of taking chances and in
this case it seemed to me they were pretty slim."
"I did my best to assure the family that you were within your
"I don't blame you for feeling broken up about it," declared
the other man, soothingly. "But we all have to learn by
experience, and conservatism is one of the hardest lessons."
An ugly light was growing in Red Pepper's eye. He got away
without further words. Only last week Van Horn had been
helped out of a serious and baffling complication by Burns
himself, and no credit given to the rescuer. From him this
sort of high and mighty sympathy was particularly hard to
Around the corner he encountered Grayson. This, as it was so
little to be desired, was naturally to be expected.
"Too bad, Doctor," Grayson began, stopping to shake hands.
Van Horn had not even shaken hands. "I hoped till the last
that we were all wrong and you were right. But that heart
seemed dangerously shaky to me, though I know you didn't think
"There was a queer factor in the case, one I felt from the
first, though I couldn't put my finger on it. It was the
thing that made me advise against operation."
"But of course there's no use crying over spilt milk; you did
your best," continued Grayson cheerfully. "Pretty little girl
- plucky, too. Sorry to see her go."
Burns nodded - and bolted. These Job's comforters - were they
trying to make the thing seem even more unbearable than it
already was? Certainly they were succeeding admirably. He
went on about his work with set teeth, expecting at the next
turn to run into Fields. He would undoubtedly find him at the
hospital, ready to greet him with some croaking sympathy.
True to his expectations Fields met him at the door. He
himself was looking particularly prosperous and cheerful, as
people have a way of appearing to us when our trouble is root
"Good morning, Doctor." Fields shook hands, evidently trying
to modify his own demeanour of unusual good cheer over a list
of patients all safely on the road to ultimate recovery. "I
want to express my regret over the way things came out last
night. Mighty pretty operation - if it had succeeded. Sorry
it didn't. Better luck next time."
"Much obliged." Burns had a bull-dog expression now. Not the
most discerning observer would have imagined he felt a twinge
of regret over his failure.
"Would you mind telling me what made you so confident that the
spleen had nothing to do with the complication?" Fields
inquired in a deprecatory manner which made Burns long to
twist his neck.
"Did you suggest that it did - beforehand?"
"I believe I did - if I remember."
"I believe you didn't - nor any other man till I got in and
found it. You all observed it then - and so did I. Excuse me
- I'm in too much of a hurry to stop to discuss the case now.
I'm due upstairs." And once more Burns made good his escape.
"Sore," was Field's verdict, looking after the man who had
been his successful rival for so long that this exception
could hardly fail to afford a decided, if rather shame-faced
satisfaction to a brother surgeon not above that quite human`
But in the course of the day Burns met Buller. He had dreaded
to meet him, but not for the same reason that he had dreaded
the others. Meeting Buller was quite another story.
"Old boy, I'm so sorry I could cry, if it would do you any
good," said Buller, his steady, honest gaze meeting his
friend's miserable eyes. For the defiance had melted out of
Burns's aspect and left it frankly wretched before the hearty
friendship in this man's whole attitude; friendship which
could be counted upon, like that of his office nurse's, to the
end of all things.
Burns swallowed hard, making no reply, because he could not.
But his hand returned the steady pressure of Butler's in a way
that showed he was grateful.
"I knew you'd take it hard - much harder than common. And, of
course, I understand why. Any man would. But I wish I could
make you feel the way I do about it. There's not one particle
of reason for you to blame yourself. I've thought the case
over and over from start to finish, and I'm more and more
convinced that she wouldn't have lived without the operation.
You gave her her only chance. Take that in? I mean it. I
went around there this morning and told the family so - I took
that liberty. It was a comfort to them, though they believed
anyway. They haven't lost a particle of faith in you."
Burns bit his lip till he had it under control, and could get
out a word or two of gratitude.
"And now I want a favour of you," the other went on hurriedly.
"A case I want you to see with me - possible operation within
a day or two."
Burns hesitated an instant, changing colour. Then: "Are you
sure you'd better have me?" he asked, a trifle huskily.
The other looked him in the eye. "Why not? I know of nobody
so competent. Come, man put that Satan of unreasonable
self-reproach behind you. When man becomes omniscient and
omnipotent there'll be no errors in his judgment or his
performance - and not before. Meanwhile we're all in the soup
of fallibility together. I - I'm not much at expressing
myself elegantly: but I trust I'm sufficiently forcible,"
smiled Buller. "Er - will you meet me at four at my office?
We'll go to the Arnolds' together, and I'll give you the
history of the case on the way. It's a corker, I assure you,
and it's keeping me awake nights."
Proceeding on his way alone in the Imp he had not wanted even
Johnny Caruthers's company to-day Burns found the heaviness of
his spirit lifting slightly very slightly. Tenderness toward
the little lost patient who had loved and trusted him so well
began gradually to usurp the place of the black hatred of what
he felt to be his own incompetency. Passing a florist's shop
he suddenly felt like giving that which, as it had occurred to
him before, had seemed to him would be only a mockery from his
hands. He went in and selected flowers - dozens and dozens of
white rosebuds, fresh and sweet - and sent them, with no card
at all, to her home.
Then he drove on to his next patient, to find himself
surrounded by an eager group of happy people, all rejoicing in
what appeared to them to be a marvelous deliverance from a
great impending danger, entirely due to his own foresight and
skill. He knew well enough that it way Nature herself who had
come to the rescue, and frankly told them so. But they
continued to thrust the honour upon him, and be could but come
away with a softened heart.
"I'll go on again," he said to himself. "I've got to go on.
Last night I thought I couldn't, but, of course, that's
nonsense. The best I can God knows I try . . . And I'll
never make that mistake again . . . But oh! - little Lucile -
IN WHICH HE PROVES HIMSELF A HOST
"Winifred," said R. P. Burns, invading Mrs. Arthur Chester's
sunny living-room one crisp October morning, leather cap in
hand, "I'm going to give a dinner to-night. Stag dinner for
Grant, of Edinburgh - man who taught me half the most
efficient surgery I know. He's over here, and I've just found
it out. Only been in the city two days: goes to-morrow."
"How interesting, Red! Where do you give it? At one of the
clubs or hotels in town?"
"That's the usual thing, of course. That's why I'm not going
to do it. Grant's a rugged sort of commonsense chap - hates
show and fuss. He gets an overpowering lot of being
`entertained' in precisely the conventional style. He's a
pretty big gun now, and he can't escape. When I told him I
was going to have him out for a plain dinner at home he looked
as relieved as if I'd offered him a reprieve for some
"Undoubtedly he'll enjoy the relaxation. Hut you'll have a
caterer out from town, I suppose?"
"Not on your life. Cynthia can cook well enough for me, and I
know Ronald Grant's tastes like a book. But what I want to
ask is that you and Martha Macauley will come over and see
that the table looks shipshape. Cynthia's a captain of the
kitchen, but her ideas of table decoration are a trifle too
original even for me. Miss Mathewson's away on her vacation.
I'll send in some flowers. My silver and china are nothing
remarkable, bur as long as the food's right that doesn't
"I shall be delighted to do it for you, Red, as you know. So
will Martha. We - "
"Thanks immensely. I want Ches of course, and Jim Macauley's
coming. The rest are M, D.'s. I must be off."
He would have been off, without doubt, in an instant more, for
he was half out of the door as he spoke, but Winifred Chester
flew after him and laid an insistent hand on his coat sleeve.
"Red! You must stop long enough to tell me something about
it. How can I help you unless I know your plans? What hour
have yon set? How many are coming, and who? How many courses
are you going to have? Have you engaged a waitress?"
Red Pepper looked bewildered. "Is there all that to it?" he
inquired helplessly. "How in thunder - I beg your pardon -
how do I know how many courses there'll be? Ask Cynthia that.
The hour's seven-thirty; can't get around earlier, even if I
wanted to be less formal. There's Van Horn and Buller and
Fields and Grayson and Grant and Ches and Jim and - and
myself. I may have asked somebody else, seems as if did but I
can't remember. You'd better put on an extra plate in case I
He was starting off again, but Winifred, laughing helplessly,
again detained him. "Red, you're too absurd! What about the
waitress? Shall I find one for you?"
"I supposed Cynthia could serve us; she always does me."
"She can't to-night, and prepare things to send in, too."
"Oh, well, see to it if you'll be so kind; only let me go, for
I've only fifteen minutes now to meet a consultant ten miles
away. Good-bye, Win,"
He took time to turn and smile at her, and for the sake of the
smile - she knew of none other just like it - she forgave him
for involving her in the labours she already clearly foresaw
were to be hers. How precisely like Red Pepper Burns it was
to plan for a "stag" dinner in this inconsequent way! If it
had been a coming operation, now, no detail of preparation
would have been too insignificant to command his attention.
But in the present instance unquestionably all he had done was
to appear at the door of the kitchen and casually inform
Cynthia that eight or nine men were coming to dinner to-night,
and he'd trust her to see that they should have something good
to eat. Poor Cynthia!
Winifred ran over to consult Martha Macauley and together they
braved Burns's housekeeper in her kitchen. The result was
relief, as far as the dinner itself was concerned. Cynthia
was a superior cook, and long experience with exclusively
masculine tastes had taught her the sort of thing which,
however out of the beaten line for entertaining, was likely to
prove successful in pleasing "eight or nine men," wherever
they might hail from.
"Cynthia's planned a dinner that will be about as different
from Lazier's concoctions as could be imagined," Winifred said
to Martha, "but it will taste what Ches calls `licking good.'
Now for the table. I'm afraid Red's china and linen are none
too fine. We'll have to help him out there."
They helped him out. Only the finest of Martha's linen and
silver, the thinnest of Winifred's plates and cups and the
most precious of her glass would content them. When the table
was set in the low-ceiled, casement-windowed old dining-room
where Red Pepper was accustomed to bolt his meals alone when
he took time for them at all, it was a to table to suggest
arrogantly the hand of woman, Winifred eyed it with milled
satisfaction and concern.
"It looks lovely, Martha, but not a bit bachelor-like. Do you
suppose he'll mind?"
"Not as long as the food is right; and judging by the heavenly
smells from the kitchen there's no fear for that. But it's
five o'clock, and the flowers he promised you haven't come.
Do you suppose he's forgotten?"
"Of course he has. If he remembers the dinner itself it'll be
all we can expect of him. It doesn't matter. There are heaps
of pink and crimson asters yet in the garden, and some fall
anemones. We'll arrange them, and then if his flowers do come
we'll change. But they won't."
They didn't. But the pink and crimson asters furnished a
centrepiece decidedly more in keeping, somehow, with a men's
dinner than roses would have been, and the decorators were
content with them. Dora, Mrs. Macauley's own serving maid,
who was to take the part of the waitress Red Pepper had not
thought necessary, said they looked "awful tasty now."
"It's after seven and Red hasn't come yet." Winifred Chester
rushed at Arthur, dressing placidly. "Jim went in for the men
with his car, and said he'd surely have them here by
seven-twenty. You'll have to go over and do the honours for
him till he comes. He'll have to dress after he gets here."
"He won't stop to dress - not if he's late," predicted
Chester, obediently hastening. "He'll rush in at the last
minute, smelling horribly of antiseptics, and set everybody
laughing with some story. They won't care what he wears.
It's always a case of `where MacGregor sits, there's the head
of the table,' you know, with Red. I certainly hope nothing
will make him late. I'm not up to playing host to a lot of
physicians and surgeons. I should feel as if I were about to
be operated on."
"Nonsense, dear, there's no jollier company when they're off
duty. But Red isn't here yet, and I'm sure I hear Jim's
Gabriel down the road. Do hurry!"
Chester ran across the back lawn and in through Burns's
kitchen, startling Cynthia so that she nearly dropped the
salt-box into a sauce she was making for the beefsteak. He
reached the little front porch just in time to welcome the
batch of professional gentlemen who came talking and laughing
up the path together.
"Doctor Burns has been detained, but I'm sure he'll be here
soon," Chester explained, shaking hands, and discovering for
himself which was the famous Scottish surgeon by the "rugged
commonsense" look of the man, quite as R. P. Burns had
Seven-thirty - no Red Pepper. Seven-forty-five - eight
o'clock - still no sign of him; harder to be explained, no
sign from him. Why didn't he telephone or send a telegram or
a messenger? Waiting longer would not do; Cynthia, in the
kitchen, was becoming unnervingly agitated.
The dinner was served. Chester, at one end of the table,
Macauley at the other, both feeling a terrible responsibility
upon them, did their best. There had turned out to be two
extra guests instead of the one whom Burns had thought he
might have asked but couldn't be sure; and Winifred had had a
bad ten minutes looking out a full set of everything with
which to set his place. For Red Pepper's place must certainly
be left unfilled; it would be beyond the possibilities that
the dinner should end without him.
"I believe he has forgotten," whispered Martha to Winifred in
the office, from whose dim shadows they were surreptitiously
peering into the dining room to make sure that everything was
"Oh, he couldn't, not with the Edinburgh man here. He's often
told us about Doctor Grant and how much he owes him. He does
look splendid and capable, doesn't he - for all he's so burly
and homely? And the other men all feel honoured to be here
with him; even Doctor Van Horn, who's always so impressed with
"They seem to be having a good time. And they're eating as if
they never saw food before. It's a success - as much as it
can be without the host himself. Oh, why doesn't Red come?"
"He wouldn't desert a patient in a crisis for a dozen
"No, but he'd send word."
"Look at Arthur. He's hobnobbing with Doctor Grant as if he'd
always known him."
"Jim is having a bad time with Doctor Van Horn. I can see it
in his eye. Mercy! one of them looked this way. I'm afraid
he saw me. Come!"
The next time they reconnoitred, the dinner was working toward
its end. It was time, for it was nearly ten o'clock, and
Cynthia's courses though not many, had been mighty. Presently
the table had been cleared, and the men were drinking coffee
and lighting the excellent cigars which had been Macauley's
thought when he found that Red Pepper was not on hand to
provide them himself.
Under the influence of these genial stimulants - Burns never
offered any others, and one man who knew it had declined to
come - the sociability grew more positive. Chester relaxed
his legs under the table, feeling that at last Red's guests
could take care of themselves. Grayson proved an accomplished
story-teller; Buller had lately had some remarkable
adventures; even Ronald Grant, who had seemed a trifle
taciturn, related an extraordinary experience of another man.
The Scottish surgeon had the reputation of never talking about
The smoke grew thick. Macauley's cigars were of a strong
brand; the air was blue with their reek. Still the guests sat
about the table, and still the talk went on.
It was interrupted quite suddenly by the advent of Red Pepper
Burns himself. Macauley saw him first, standing in the
doorway between dining room and office, but for an instant he
did not know him. Macauley's startled look caught Chester's
attention; he sprang to his feet. At the same moment the
Scottish surgeon, following Chester's eyes, observed the
figure in the door. He was first to reach it.
"What's happened ye, lad?" he asked, and acted without waiting
for an answer. He threw a powerful arm about Burns's
shoulders and led him, reeling, back into the office where the
air was purer.
They crowded round, doctors though they were and had many
times sharply ordered other people not to crowd. They could
see at a glance that Burns was very faint, that his right arm
hung helpless at his side, that his forehead wore a blackening
bruise, and that his clothes were torn and covered with dirt.
For the rest they had to wait.
Grant took charge of his friend - the pupil whom he had never
forgotten. The arm was badly broken, too badly to be set
without an anaesthetic. In the inner office Van Horn, his
dress coat off, gave the chloroform while the Scotchman set
the arm; and the American surgeons, no longer crowding, but
standing off respectfully as if at a clinic, looked on
critically. It was rapid and deft work, they admitted,
especially since the surgeon was using another man's splints,
and the patient proved to be one of the subjects who fight the
anesthetic from beginning to end.
Chester, white-faced but plucky, stuck it out, but Macauley
fled to the outer air. Seeing a familiar long, dark form half
on, half off the driveway, he hurried toward it. A minute
later he had all the unoccupied guests around him on the lawn,
and one of the Green Imp's lamps was turned upon its crippled
"By George, he's had a bad accident," one and another of them
said as they examined the car's injuries. The hood was jammed
until they wondered why the engine was not disabled; the left
running-board was nearly torn off and the fender a shapeless
wreck. The green paint was scraped and splintered along the
"He must have come home by himself. How far, do you suppose?"
"Not far, driving with his left hand, and faint."
"He probably wasn't faint till he struck the indoor heat and
the tobacco smoke."
"He's come at least five miles. Look at that red clay on her
sides. There's no red clay like that around here except in
one place - at the old mill on the Red Bank road." Chester
demonstrated his theory excitedly. "I ought to know, I've
ridden with him on every out-of-the-way by-path in the county,
first any' last. There's a fright of a hill just there."
"Five miles with that arm? Gee!" This was Buller.
"Plucky," was Grayson's comment, and there was a general
agreement among the men standing round.
Macauley put his shoulder to the Imp. "Let's push her in,
fellows," he proposed. He had forgotten that they were
medical gentlemen of position. "I don't seem to want to drive
her just now," he explained.
They pushed the Imp to the red barn and shut it in with its
injuries. Then they went back to the house, where presently
Burns came out from under his anaesthetic and lay looking at
his guests from under the bandage which swathed his head.
"I'm mighty sorry to have broken up the fun this way,
gentlemen," he said with a pale sort of smile. "Grayson was
telling a story when I butted in, I think. Finish it, will
"Not much. Yours is the story we want now, if you're up to
telling it. What happened out there on the Red Bank road?"
Burns scanned him. "How do you know what road?"
"Your friend Mr. Chester's detective instincts. He says
there's no other red clay like that that plasters your car.
By the way, that's a fast machine of yours. Did you lose
control on the hill?"
"That's it," acknowledged Burns simply. "I lost control."
Chester was staring at him. It was not in the nature of
reason to suppose that Red Pepper had lost control of that car
unless something else had happened first. The steering gear
of the Imp was certainly in perfect condition; Macauley had
said so. He wondered if Red meant that he had lost his
temper. But what could make him lose his temper - on Red Bank
They questioned him closely, all of them in turn. But that
was all he would say. He had lost control of the car. One or
two of the men who knew Burns least looked as if they could
tell what was the probable cause of such loss of control.
Chester wanted to knock them down as he fancied he recognized
this attitude of mind. And at last they went away - which was
certainly the best thing they could do in the circumstances.
All but Ronald Grant. The Scottish surgeon accepted without
hesitation Burns's suggestion that Doctor Grant should stay
and keep him company for an hour or two while he got used to
his arm, and should then sleep under his roof. So they
settled down, Burns on his couch, Grant in an armchair. When
Chester left he was thinking that, except for the outward
signs of his adventure, Burns did not look as unfit as might
have been expected for a happy hour with an old friend.
Just outside the house Chester himself had an adventure. He
was quite alone, and he almost ran into a slim figure on the
walk. The lights from the office shone out into the October
night, and Chester could see at a glance who the girl was,
even if the gleam of golden hair which all the town knew had