Mrs. Red Pepper
By Grace S. Richmond
Author of "Red Pepper Burns," "The Indifference of Juliet," "With Juliet in England," "Strawberry Acres," Etc.
I. Wholly Given Over to Sentiment
II. The Way to Attain an End
III. Burns Does His Duty
IV. A Red Head
V. More Than One Opinion
VI. Broken Steel Wires
VII. Points of View
VIII. Under the Apple Tree
IX. A Practical Artist
X. A Runaway Road
XI. After Dinner
XII. A Challenge
XIII. A Crisis
XIV. Before the Lens
XVI. In February
XVII. From the Beginning
XVIII. The Country Surgeon
MRS. RED PEPPER
WHOLLY GIVEN OVER TO SENTIMENT
The Green Imp, long, low and powerful, carrying besides its two passengers a motor trunk, a number of bulky parcels, and a full share of mud, drew to one side of the road. The fifth April shower of the afternoon was on, although it was barely three o'clock.
Redfield Pepper Burns, physician and surgeon, descended from the car, a brawny figure in an enveloping gray motoring coat. He wore no hat upon his heavy crop of coppery red hair—somewhere under the seat his cap was abandoned, as usual. His face was brown with tan—a strong, fine face, with dark-lashed hazel eyes alight under thick, dark eyebrows. From head to foot he was a rather striking personality.
"This time," said he, firmly, "I'm going to leave the top up. It's putting temptation in the way of something very weak to keep lowering the top. We'll leave it up. There'll be one advantage." He looked round the corner of the top into the face of his companion, as his hands adjusted the straps.
"When we get to the fifty-miles-from-the-office stone, which we're going to do in about five minutes, I can take leave of my bride without having to observe the landscape except from the front."
"So you're going to take leave of her," observed his passenger. She did not seem at all disturbed. As the car moved on she drew back her veil from its position over her face, leaving her head covered only by a close-fitting motoring bonnet of dark green, from within which her face, vivid with the colouring born of many days driving with and without veils, met without flinching the spatter of rain the fitful April wind sent drifting in under the edge of the top. Her black eyelashes caught the drops and held them.
"Yes, I'm going to say good-bye to her at that stone," repeated Burns. "She's been the joy of my life for two weeks, and I'll never forget her. But she couldn't stand for the change of conditions we're going to find the minute we strike the old place. It's only my wife who can face those."
"If the bride is to be left behind, I suppose the bridegroom will stay with her? Together, they'll not be badly off."
Burns laughed. "Ye gods! Is that what I've been—a bridegroom? I'm glad I didn't realize it; it would have made me act queerer than I have. Well, it's been a happy time—a gloriously happy time, but—"
He paused and looked down at her for an instant, rather as if he hesitated to say what was in his mind. He did not know that he had already said it.
But she knew it, and she smiled at him, understanding—and sympathizing. "But you are glad you are on your way back to your work," said she. "So am I."
He drew a relieved breath. "Bless you," said he. "I'm glad you are—if it's true. It's only that I'm so refreshed by this wonderful fortnight that I—well—I want to go to work again—work with all my might. I feel as if I could do the best work of my life. That doesn't mean that I don't dread to see the first patient, for I do. Whoever he is, I hate the sight of him! Can you understand?"
She nodded. "It will be like the first plunge into cold water. But once in—"
"That's it. Of course, if he happened to be lying on my lawn, all mangled up and calling for me to save his life, I'd welcome the sight of him, poor chap. But he won't be interesting, like that. He'll be a victim of chronic dyspepsia. Or worse—she'll be a woman who can't sleep without a dope. I have to get used to that kind by degrees, after a vacation; I don't warm up to 'em, on sight."
"Yet they're very miserable, some of those patients who are quite able to walk to your office, and very grateful to you if you relieve them, aren't they?"
Red Pepper chuckled. "I can foresee," he said, "that you're going to take the side of the unhappy patient, from the start—worse luck for me! Yes, they're grateful if I can relieve them, but the trouble is I can't relieve them—not the particular class I have in mind. They won't do as I order. And as long as I can't get them comfortably down in bed, where the nurse and I have the upper hand, they'll continue to carry out half of my directions—the half they approve, and neglect the other half—the really important half, and then come round and tell me I haven't helped them any—and why not? Oh, well—far be it from me to complain of the routine work, much as I prefer the sort which calls for all the skill and resource I happen to possess. And the dull part is going to take on a new interest, now, when I can escape from the office into my wife's quarters, between times, where no patient can follow me."
She smiled, watching a big cloud, low on the horizon before them, break into fragments and dissolve into blue sky and sunshine. "I hope," said she, "to be able to make those quarters attractive. You remember I haven't seen them yet—not even the bare rooms."
"That's bothered me a good deal, in spite of the assurance you gave me, when we discussed it by letter. If I hadn't been so horribly busy, and had had the faintest notion of what to do with them—or if you had wanted Martha and Winifred to put them in shape for you—"
"But I didn't! It's going to be such fun to work it out, you and I together."
He shook his head. "Don't count on me, dear. I probably shan't have time to do more than take you in to town and drop you in the shopping district. You'll have to do it all. You've married a doctor, Ellen—that's the whole story. And it's the knowledge of that fact that makes me realize that I may as well leave my bride at the fifty-mile-stone. It'll take my wife that fifty miles to prepare herself for the thing that's going to strike her the minute we are home. And, by the fates, I believe that's the stone, ahead there, at the curve of the road!"
He brought the Green Imp's pace down until it was moving very slowly toward the mile-stone. Then he turned and looked steadily down into the face beside him. "Shall you be sorry to get there?" he asked.
"Because I don't want to be a bride. They are useless persons. And I don't care much for bridegrooms, either. I prefer a busy husband. And I shall enjoy getting those rooms in order, quite by myself. To tell the truth I'm not at all sure I don't prefer to do them alone. I've had one enlightening experience, shopping with you, you know."
"So you have." He laughed at the remembrance. "Yet I thought I was pretty meek, that day. Well, so you don't mind getting to the mile-stone?"
"Not a bit."
They were beside it now. Burns stopped the car. It was a country road, although it was the main highway between two large cities, and on this April afternoon it was deserted by motorists. Only in the distance could be discerned anything in the nature of a vehicle, and that was headed the other way.
"I suppose I'm a sentimental chap," he observed. "But in one way I've been rather dreading getting home, for your sake. It's come over me, since we turned our faces this way, that not a thing has been done to make my shabby old place fit for you—except to clean it thoroughly. Cynthia's seen to that. Does it seem as if I hadn't cared to give you a fit welcome home?"
His eyes were a little troubled, as they searched hers. But they grew light again as they read in her serene glance that she did not misunderstand him.
"Red," said she—and her hand slipped into his—"I like best to come into your house, just as it is. Take me in—that's all I ask—and trust me to make my own home there—and in your heart. That's all I want."
"You're in my heart," said her husband, "so close and warm there's not much room for anything else."
"Then don't worry about the house. It will be a dear delight to fill the empty rooms; I've a genius for that sort of thing. Wait and see. And meanwhile"—she smiled up into his nearing face—"say good-bye to your bride. She's quite ready to go—and give place to your wife."
So Redfield Pepper Burns kissed his bride, with the ardour of farewell. But the next minute, safe in the shelter of the deep-hooded top, he had welcomed his wife with his heart of hearts upon his lips, and a few low-spoken words in her ear which would make the fiftieth-from-the-office mile-stone a place to remember for them both.
Then he drove on, silently, for a while, as if the little roadside ceremony had left behind it thoughts too deep for expression. And, quite unconsciously, his hand upon the throttle was giving the Imp more and more power, so that the car flew past the succeeding mile-stones at such short intervals that before the pair knew it they were within sight of the city on the farther side of which lay the suburban village which was their home.
"I might stop at the hospital and see how things are," said Burns as they entered the city's outskirts. "But it would be precisely my luck to find something to detain me, and I think I owe it to you to take you home before I begin on anything else."
"Stop, if you want to, Red," said Ellen. "I expected you would."
"But I don't want to. I might have to send some one else to drive you out to the house, and that would break me up. I want to see you walk in at the door, and know that you belong there. Then, if you like, and not till then, I'll be content to go on duty at the old job."
So he took her home. As they approached the village the ninth April shower of the afternoon came blustering up, accompanied by a burst of wind and considerable thunder and lightning, so that when they caught sight of the low-lying old brick house, well back from the street, which was Red Pepper Burns's combined home and office, after the fashion of the village doctor, it was through a wall of rain.
But the house was not the only thing they saw. In the street before the house stood a row of vehicles. One electric runabout, hooded and luxurious; two "buggies," of the village type, drawn by single horses standing dejectedly with drooping ears and tails; one farmer's wagon, filled with boxes and barrels, its horses hitched to Burns's post by a rope: this was the assemblage.
Red Pepper drew one long, low whistle of dismay, then he burst into a laugh. "Confound that blundering angel, Cynthia," he ejaculated. "She's let it out that we're coming. And Amy Mathewson—my office nurse—not due till to-morrow, to protect us! I was prepared, in a way, to pitch into work, but, by George, I didn't expect to see that familiar sight to-day! Hang it all!"
"Never mind." Ellen was laughing, too. "Remember you've left the bride behind. Your wife will soon be used to it."
"We'll run in by the Chesters' driveway, and sneak in at the back door," and Burns suited the action to the word by turning in at the gateway of his next door neighbour. "I rather wonder Win or Martha didn't go over and drive away my too-eager clientele."
"Possibly they thought it would look more like home to you with an office full of patients."
"It certainly will, though I could dispense with them to-night without much sorrow. But—where am I going to put you? You can get to my room, but you won't want to stay there. The part of the house that will be the living part for you is either empty or cluttered up with wedding presents. By all that's crazy, Ellen, I'm just waking up to the fact that there isn't any place to put you, when there are patients in the house—which there ever-lastingly are—except the dining-room and kitchen! Lord Harry! what am I going to do? And what will you think of me? Dolt that I am!"
He had heard her laugh before. A low and melodious laugh she had, and he had often listened to it and joined in with it, and rejoiced at the ability she possessed to laugh where many women would cry. But he had never heard her laugh as she was laughing now. Her understanding of the situation which had only just struck him was complete. She knew precisely how busy he had been in the weeks preceding the wedding, and how thankfully he had accepted her suggestion that she come to his home just as it was, and plan for herself what disposal she would make of the empty rooms in a house of which he had used only the wing. Until he had seen that row of vehicles before the gate he had not comprehended the fact that almost the entire furnished portion of the house was the public property of his patients whenever they chose to come. And they were there now!
The car stopped behind the house, close by the French window opening upon a small rear porch. The window led to the large, low-ceiled room which was Burns's own, leading in turn to his offices, and having only these two means of entrance. Burns looked down at his wife, her expressive face rosy with her laughter.
"I'm glad you see it that way," said he. "That sense of humour is going to help you through a lot, tied up to R.P. Burns, M.D. Will you go into my room, by this window? Or will you accept Cynthia's hospitality in the dining-room? Or—maybe that's the best plan—will you just run over to Martha's? I remember she begged us to come there, and now I see why. Want to stay there a couple of weeks, till we can get your living-rooms straightened out?"
She shook her head. "I've come to your home, Red," said she. "I'm not going to be sent away! Go in and see your patients, and don't bother about me. Cynthia and I will discover a place for me."
His face very red with chagrin, Burns took her in. The downpour of rain had covered all sounds of the car's approach, so that neither the Macauleys on the one side, the Chesters on the other, nor the housekeeper herself, were aware of the arrival of the pair.
"For mercy's sake, Doctor!" cried Cynthia, and hurried across the neat and pleasant kitchen to meet them. "I wasn't expecting you yet for an hour. Mrs. Macauley and Mrs. Chester wasn't either. They was over here ten minutes ago, planning how to get rid o' the folks in there that's insisting on setting and waiting for you to come."
"Never mind them, Cynthia," said her new mistress, shaking hands. "The Doctor will see them and I will stay with you. I've so much to plan with you. What a pleasant kitchen! And how delicious something smells! Cynthia, I believe I'm hungry!"
"Well, now, you just come and set right down in the dining-room and I'll give you something," cried the housekeeper, delighted.
"That's right, Cynthia," approved Burns, much relieved. "Look after her till I'm free." And he vanished.
"I reckon that'll be a pretty steady job," Cynthia declared, "if I'm to do it 'till he's free.' He won't be free, Mrs.—Burns, till the next time you get him out of town."
She led the way into the dining-room.
"Mrs. Macauley wanted to have you come to dinner there, to-night, and Mrs. Chester wanted you, too. But Mr. Macauley said this was the place for you to have your first dinner in—your own home, and he made the women folks give in. So the table's all set, and I can hurry up dinner so's to have it as soon as the Doctor gets those folks fixed up—if there ain't a lot more by that time. Since Miss Mathewson went I've been answering the telephone, and it seems 'sif the town wouldn't let him have his honeymoon out, they're so crazy to get him back. Now—will you set down and let me give you a bit o' lunch? It's only five o'clock, and I've planned dinner for half-past six."
"It would be a pity to spoil this glorious appetite, Cynthia, though I'm sorely tempted. I think I'll use the time getting freshened up from my long drive—we've come a hundred and sixty miles to-day, through the mud. Then I'll find Bob and be ready to have dinner with the Doctor."
"I'll have to take you round by the porch to get to the Doctor's room—you wouldn't want to go through the office, with such a raft of folks."
Ellen's bag in hand, Cynthia led the way. In at the long window she hurried her, out of the rain which was dashing against it.
"I expect you'll think it smells sort o' doctorish," she said, apologetically. "Opening out of the office, so, it's kind o' hard to keep it from getting that queer smell, 'specially when he's always running in to do things to his hands. But, land! his windows are always open, night and day, so it might be worse."
"I think it's beautifully fresh and pleasant here. Oh, what a bunch of daffodils on the dressing-table! Did you put them there?"
"I did—but 'twas Mrs. Macauley sent 'em over. You'll find clean towels in the bathroom. Oh, and—Mrs. Burns,"—Cynthia hesitated,—"the Doctor forgot to say anything about it, but I've fixed up this little room off his for Bobby. He used to have the little boy sleep right next him, in a crib, but I knew—of course,"—her face crimsoned,—"you wouldn't want—" She paused helplessly.
But Ellen helped her with quick assent. "I'm so glad the little room is so near. Bob won't be lonely, and I shall love to have him there. I can hardly wait to see him."
Cynthia went away, rejoicing that her arrangements were approved. She was devotedly fond of little Bob, Burns's six-year-old protege, by him rescued, a year before, from an impending orphan asylum, and now the happy ward of a guardianship as kind as an adoption. She had been somewhat anxious over the child's future status with her employer's wife, but was now quite satisfied that he was not to be kept at arm's length.
"Some would have put him off with me," she said to herself, as she returned to her kitchen, "though I didn't really think it of her that took so much notice of him before. She's a real lady, Mrs. Burns is—and prettier than ever since she married the Doctor, as why shouldn't she be, with him to look pretty for?"
Left alone Ellen looked about her. Yes, this was the room in which he had lived the sleeping portion of his bachelor's life, so long. It gave her an odd sense of what a change it was for him, this having a woman come into his life, share his privacy,—he had so little privacy in his busy days and nights,—and occupy this room of his, this big, square, old-fashioned room with its open windows, the one spot which had been his unassailable place of retreat. She felt almost as if she ought to go and find some other room at once, ought not to take even temporary possession of this, or strew about it her feminine belongings.
The room was somewhat sparsely furnished, containing but the necessary furniture; no draperies at the open windows, few articles on the high old mahogany bureau, an inadequate number of nearly threadbare rugs on the waxed floor, and but three pictures on the walls. She studied these pictures, one after another. One was a little framed photograph of Burns's father and mother, taken sitting together on their vine-covered porch. One was a colour drawing of a scene in Edinburgh, showing a view of Princes Street and the Castle,—one which must have become familiar to him from a residence of some length during the period of his studies abroad. The third picture—it surprised and touched her not a little to find it here—was a fine copy of a famous painting, showing the Christ bending above the couch of a sick man and extending to him his healing touch. The face was one of the best modern conceptions of the Divine personality. She realized that the picture might have meant much to him.
She could hear his voice, as she set about her dressing. He was in his private office, talking with a patient whose deafness caused him to raise his own tones considerably; the closed door between could not keep out all the sound. She felt her invasion of his life more keenly than ever as she realized afresh how close to him her own life was to be lived. Marrying a village doctor, whose home contained also his place of business, was a very different matter from marrying a city physician with a downtown office and a home into which only the telephone ever brought the voice of a patient. It was to be a new and strange experience for them both.
She sat before the dressing-table, having slipped into a little lilac and white negligee. The half-curling masses of her black hair covered her shoulders as she brushed them out—slowly, because she was thinking so busily about it all, and had forgotten to make haste. Suddenly the door leading into the office flew open—and closed as quickly. Steps behind her, pausing, made her turn, to meet her husband's eyes.
He came close. An unmistakably "doctorish" odour accompanied him—an odour not disagreeable but associated with modern means for securing perfect cleanliness. He wore his white jacket, fresh from Cynthia's painstaking hands. His eyes were very bright, his lips were smiling.
His arms came about her from behind, his head against hers gently forced it back to face the mirror. In it the two pairs of eyes met again, hazel and black.
"To think that I should see that reflected from my old glass!" whispered Red Pepper Burns.
THE WAY TO ATTAIN AN END
Mrs. Redfield Pepper Burns stood in the doorway of her living-room and studied it with a critical eye. Within the room, on either side, stood her sister Martha, Mrs. James Macauley, and her friend Winifred, Mrs. Arthur Chester. In precisely these same relative positions were they also her neighbours as to their own homes. Their husbands were Red Pepper's best friends, outside those of his own profession. It was appropriate that they should have stood by her during the period of fitting and furnishing that part of the old house which her husband had termed her "quarters."
"It's the loveliest room in this town," declared Winifred Chester, "and I'm going to have all I can do not to be envious."
"I doubt if very many people in this little town will think it the loveliest," said Ellen's sister. "Its browns and blues will be too dull for them, and Ellen's old Turkey carpet too different from their polished floors and 'antique' rugs. By the way, Ellen, how old do you suppose that carpet is, anyhow?"
"It's been on Aunt Lucy's floors since before the Civil War. Isn't it beautifully faded?—it furnishes the keynote of the whole room. Isn't it fortunate that the room should be so long and low, instead of high and square? Is it a restful room, girls? That's what I'm after."
"Restful!" Mrs. Chester clasped her hands in a speaking gesture. "Red will forget every care, the minute he steps into it. When are you going to show it to him?"
"To-night, when the fire is lighted and evening office-hours are over. If he hadn't been so busy it would have been hard to keep him away, but he hasn't had an hour to spare even for guessing what I've been doing."
"I hope he'll have an hour to spare, to stay in it with you. How you both will hate the sound of the office-bell and the telephones!"
"I'm going to try hard not to, but I suppose I shall dread them, in spite of myself," Ellen owned.
"This great couch, facing the fire, with all these lovely blue silk pillows, is certainly the most comfortable looking thing I ever saw," sighed Winifred Chester, casting her plump little figure into the davenport's roomy depths and clasping her hands under her head in an attitude of repose.
"If Red doesn't send out word that he's not at home and can't be found, when a call finds him stretched out here, he's a stronger character than I think him."
"Now let's go up and look at the guest-rooms." Ellen led the way, an engaging figure in a fresh white morning dress, her cheeks glowing with colour like a girl's.
"If you didn't know, would you ever dream she had been wife and widow, and had lost her little son?" murmured Winifred in Martha's ear.
Martha Macauley shook her head. "She seems to have gone back and begun all over again. Yet there's a look—"
Winifred nodded. "Of course there is—a look she wouldn't have had if she hadn't gone through so much. It's given her such a rich sort of bloom."
The guest-rooms were airy, attractive, chintz-hung rooms, one large, one somewhat smaller, but both wearing a hospitable look of readiness.
"I like the gray-and-rose room best," announced Winifred, after a critical survey, as if she were inspecting both rooms for the first time instead of the fortieth. She had made the gray-and-rose chintz hangings herself, delighting in each exquisite yard of the fine imported material.
"I prefer the green-leaf pattern, it looks so cool and fresh." Martha eyed details admiringly. "This is your bachelor's room, you say, Ellen? Oh, you've put a desk in it! The bachelor will want to stay forever. Who do you suppose he will be?"
"The first friend of Red's who comes. He says he's always wanted to ask certain ones, and never had a place to put them, except at the hotel."
"He'd better be careful whom he asks—now. They'll all fall in love with you. By the way, do you know Red has a terribly jealous streak?" Winifred glanced quickly at Ellen as she spoke.
"No—what nonsense! How do you like my idea of a book-shelf by the bed, and a drop-light?"
"Pampering—pure pampering of your bachelors. You'll never be rid of them. But he can be jealous, Ellen."
"What makes you think so? I never saw a trace of it," cried Martha Macauley.
"It's there—you mark my words. He couldn't help it—with his hair and eyes."
Ellen laughed. "Hair and eyes! What about my black locks and eyes? Shall I not make a trustful wife, because I happen to have them? Oh!"—she ran to the window—"there comes the Imp! You'll excuse me if I run down? Red's been away all night and all morning."
She disappeared as the Green Imp's horn vociferated a signal of greeting from far down the road.
"They'll never get time to grow tired of each other," commented Martha, as the two friends descended the old-time winding staircase. "Isn't this old hall delightful, now? I never realized the possibilities of the house, with this part closed so long."
"One more peep at the living-room, and then we'll go. Isn't it just like Ellen? Such a charming, quiet room, without the least bit of ostentation, yet simply breathing beauty and refinement. She is the most wonderful shopper I know. She made every dollar Red furnished go twice as far as I could. I don't suppose he would let her spend a penny of her own on this house."
"He's too busy to know or care what she does—till he sees it. I'll venture she has slipped in a penny or two. That magnificent piano is hers, you know,—and two or three pieces of furniture. All he'll realize is that it's delightful and that she's in it. It's all so funny, anyhow,—this bringing home a bride and having her fall to work to furnish her own nest."
"She's enjoyed it. I'd like to be on the scene to-night, when she shows it to him."
"No chance of that. When Red does get her to himself for ten minutes he quite plainly prefers to have the rest of us depart. Have you noticed?"
"Yes, indeed. I only hope that state of things will last." And Winifred smiled and sighed at once, as if she were skeptical concerning of the permanency of married bliss.
Office-hours were full ones that evening, and it was quite nine o'clock before R.P. Burns, M.D. closed the door on the last of his patients. The moment he was free he turned to Miss Mathewson, his office nurse, with a deep breath of relief.
"Let's put out the lights and call it off," he said. "Run home and get an hour to yourself before bedtime, and never mind finishing the books. Do you know,"—he was smiling down at her, where she sat, a trim white figure at her desk, an assistant who had been his right hand for nine years, and who perhaps knew his moods and tempers better than anybody in the world, though he did not at all realize this,—"do you know, I find it harder to settle down to work again than I thought I should? Curious, isn't it?"
"Not at all curious, Doctor Burns." Miss Mathewson spoke in her usual quiet tone, smiling in return. "It is distracting, even to me, to know that a person so lovely as your wife is under the same roof."
This was much for this most reserved associate of his to say, and Burns recognized it. He regarded her with interested astonishment. "So she's got you, too!" he ejaculated. "I'm mighty glad of that, for it will tend to make you sympathetic with my wish to have an hour to myself—and her—now and then. I'm to see my home to-night, for the first time,—if—"
Steps sounded upon the office porch. Burns made a flying leap for the door into his private office, intent on getting to his room and exchanging his working garb for one suited to the evening he meant to spend with Ellen. When he had swiftly but noiselessly closed the door, Miss Mathewson answered the knock.
A tall countryman loomed in the doorway.
"He is in," said the office nurse, who would tell lies to nobody, "but he is engaged. Office-hours are over. Please give me any message for him."
"I'd like to see him," said the countryman, doggedly.
"I don't wish to disturb him unless it is quite necessary," explained Miss Mathewson.
"I call it necessary," said the countryman, "when a fellow has a broken leg. Got him out here in the wagon. Now will you call the Doctor?"
"I surely will," and Miss Mathewson smiled sympathetically.
She called her employer, who came out, frowning, still in his white coat.
"Confound you, Jake," said he, "don't you know it's against the law to break legs or mend them after office-hours?"
Miss Mathewson, in the brief interval consumed by the men in bringing the injured man in from the street, slipped across the hall.
"It will be another hour, Mrs. Burns," said she, at the door of the living-room. "But after that I shall not be here to answer the door or the telephone, and the Doctor can ignore them, if he will."
Ellen rose, smiling, and came across the room to her. The two figures, one in the severe white of a uniform, the other in the filmy, lace-bordered white of a delicate house gown, met in the doorway.
"You dear, kind little person," said Red Pepper's wife, with her warm hand on the nurse's arm, "how good it is of you to care! But I can wait. Can't you stay in here with me, while the Doctor sees his patient?"
"I must help him. It's a broken leg, and I must go this minute," said Miss Mathewson. But she paused for an instant more, looking at Ellen. The nurse was the taller, and looked the older of the two, but the affectionate phrase "little person" had somehow touched a heart which was lonelier even than Ellen guessed—and Ellen guessed much more than Red Pepper had ever done. Red Pepper's wife leaned forward.
"You and I must be good friends," said she, and Miss Mathewson responded with a flush of pleasure. Then the nurse flew back to the office, while Ellen, after listening for a little to the sounds of footsteps in the office, turned back to the fire.
"How does it happen," said she musingly to herself, as she stood looking down into the depths of the glowing heart of it, "that one woman can be so rich and one so poor—under the same roof? She sees more of him than I,—lives her life closer to him, in a way,—and yet I am rich and she is poor. How I wish I could make her happy—as happy as she can be without the one thing that would have made her so. O Red!—and you never saw it!"
The hour went by. The broken leg was set and bandaged, the injured man was conveyed back to the wagon which had brought him; and Red Pepper Burns took a last look at his patient, in the light of the lantern carried by the countryman.
"You've been game as any fighting man, Tom," said he, cheerily. "The drive home'll be no midsummer-night's-dream, but I see that upper lip of yours is stiff for it. Good-night—and good luck! We'll take care of the luck."
As he turned back up the path the front door of his house swung open. It was a door he had never entered more than once, his offices being in the wing, and the upright portion having been totally unused since he had owned the place. With an exclamation he was up the steps in two leaps, and standing still upon the threshold.
"Come in a little farther, please, dear," said a voice from behind the door, "so I can close it."
Burns shut the door with a bang, and turned upon the figure in the corner. But his extended arm kept his wife away from him. "Let me go and refresh," he begged. "I can't bear to touch you after handling that unwashed lumberjack. Just five minutes and I'll be back."
He was as good as his word. In five minutes he was no longer a busy professional man, but a gentleman of leisure, with hands cleaner than those of any fastidious clubman, and clothes which carried no hint of past usage in other places less chaste than his wife's private living-rooms.
"Now I'm ready for you," he announced, returning. "And I'll be hanged if I'll see another interloper to-night. A man has some rights, if he is a doctor. Morgan, up the street there, is the new man in town, and he has a display of electric lights in front of his office which fairly yells 'come here!' Let 'em go there! I stay here."
He took his wife in his arms and kissed her hungrily, then stood holding her close, his cheek against her hair, in absolute contentment. He seemed to see nothing of the new quarters, though he was now just outside the living-room door, in the hall which ran between the two parts of the house. Presently she drew him into the room.
"Look about you," said she. "Have you no curiosity?"
"Not much, while I have you. Still—by George! Well!"
He stood staring about him, his eyes wide open enough now. From one detail to another his quick, keen-eyed glance roved, lingering an instant on certain points where artful touches of colour relieved the more subdued general tone of the furnishings. The room suggested, above all things, quiet and repose, yet there was a soft and mellow cheer about it which made it anything but sombre. Its browns and blues and ivories wrought out an exquisite harmony. The furniture was simple but solid, the roomy high-backed davenport luxurious with its many pillows. The walls showed a few good pictures—how good, it might not be that Red Pepper fully understood. But he did understand, with every sense, that it was such a room as a man might look upon and be proud to call his home.
But he was silent so long that Ellen looked up at him, to make sure that there was no displeasure in his face. Instead she found there deeper feeling than she expected. He returned her look, and she discovered that he was not finding it easy to tell her what he thought of it all. She led him to the couch and drew him down beside her. He put his arm about her, and with her head upon his shoulder the pair sat for some time in a silence which Ellen would not end. But at length, looking into the fire, his head resting against hers, Burns broke the stillness.
"I suppose I'm an impressionable chap," he said, "but I wasn't prepared for just this. I knew it would be a beautiful room, if you saw to it, but I had no possible notion how beautiful it would be. There is just one thing about it that breaks me up a bit. Perhaps you won't understand, but I can't help wishing I could have done the work for you instead of you for me. It isn't the work, either, it's the—love."
"And you couldn't have spared enough of that to furnish a room with?"
He laughed, drawing her even closer then he had held her before. "I'll trust you to corner me, every time," he said. "Yes, I could have spared love enough—no doubt of that. But it seems as if it were the man who should put the house in order for the woman he brings home."
"You have excellent taste," said she demurely, "but I never should credit you with the discriminations and fastidiousnesses of a decorator. And why should you want to take away from me the happiness of making my own nest? Don't you know it's the home-maker who finds most joy in the home? Yet—it's the home-comer I want to have find the joy. Do you think you can rest in this room, Red?"
He drew a deep, contented breath. "Every minute I am in it. And from the time I first begin to think about it, coming toward it. Home! It's Paradise! This great, deep, all-embracing blue thing we're sitting in—is it made of down and velvet?"
"Precisely that. Velvet to cover it, down in the pillows. I hope you'll have many a splendid nap here."
"You'll spoil me," he declared, "if you let me sleep here. I'm used to catching forty winks in my old leather chair in the office, while I wait for a summons."
Her face grew very tender. "I know. James Macauley has told me more than one tale of hours spent there, when you needed sounder sleep. It's a hard life, and it's going to be my delight to try to make it easier."
Red Pepper sat up. "It's not a hard life, dear,—it's one of many compensations. And now that I have one permanent compensation I'm never going to think I'm being badly used, no matter what goes wrong. Come, let's stroll about. I want to look at every separate thing. This piano—surely the sum I gave you didn't cover that? It looks like one of the sort that are not bought two-for-a-quarter."
"No, Red, that was mine. It came from my old home with Aunt Lucy—that and the desk-bookcase, and two of the chairs. And Aunt Lucy gave me this big rug, made from the old drawing-room carpet. I built the whole room on the rug colourings. You don't mind, do you, dear?—my using these few things that belonged to me in my girlhood, in South Carolina?"
"In your girlhood? Not—in your Washington life?"
She looked straight up into his eyes, reading in the sudden glowing of them under their heavy brows the feeling he could not conceal that he could bear to have about his house no remote suggestion of her former marriage.
"All right, dearest," he answered quickly. "I'm a brute, I know, but—you're mine now. Will you play for me? I believe I'm fond of music."
"Of course you are. But first, let's go upstairs. I'm almost as proud of our guest-rooms as of this."
"Guest-rooms?" repeated Burns, a few minutes later, when he had examined everything in the living-room and pronounced all things excellent. "We're to have guests, are we? But not right away?"
"I thought you'd be eager to entertain those bachelor friends you mentioned, so I lost no time in getting a second room ready for them."
"Well, I don't know." Burns was mounting the stairs, his arm about his wife's shoulders. "By the way, Ellen, I don't believe I ever went up these stairs before. Comfortable, aren't they? I'm glad there's covering on them. I never like to hear people racketing up and down bare stairs, be they never so polished and fine. That comes of my instincts for quiet on my patients' account, I suppose. About the guests—we don't need to have any for a year or two, do we?"
"Why, Red!" Ellen began to laugh. "I thought you were the most hospitable man in the world."
"All in good time," agreed her husband, comfortably. He looked in at the door of the gray-and-rose room, as he spoke. "Well, well!" he ejaculated. "Well, well!"
And again he was silent, staring. When he spoke:
"Would you mind going over there and sitting down in that willow chair with the high back?" he requested.
His wife acceded, and crossing the room smiled back at him from the depths of the white willow chair, her dark head against its cushioning of soft, mingled tints of pale gray and glowing rose. Red Pepper nodded at her.
"I thought so," said he. "This is no guest-room. This is your room."
"Oh, no, dear. My place is downstairs, with you—unless—you don't want me there."
He crossed the room also and stood before her, his hands thrust into his pockets. "This is your room," he repeated. "It's easy enough to recognize it. It looks just like you. I've been uncomfortable about you downstairs, whenever I had to leave you. You'll be safe here, with every window wide open."
She looked up at him, mutely smiling, but something in her eyes told him that all was not yet said. Red Pepper leaned still lower and kissed her.
"It will be easy enough to have an extension of the telephone brought up here," he added—and found her arms about his neck. But she shook her head. "Don't settle it so quickly," she urged.
"You said there was another guest-room," he reminded her presently. "The bachelor's room. Is it next door?"
They went together to look at the bachelor's room. Burns surveyed it with satisfaction.
"The jolliest room for the purpose I ever saw," he confessed. "And I know the bachelor who will sleep in it. He's downstairs now, in the small room out of ours."
"Bob? Why, Red—"
"We'll have a door cut through. The telephones shall be in there, then they won't disturb you. They won't bother Bob a minute. And when I come in at 2 a.m. I can slip in here, shove the boy over against the wall, and be asleep in two minutes."
"Red! All my preparations for the bachelor! The desk,—the reading-light by the bed—"
"They suit me admirably. I never saw a better arrangement. The two rooms together make a perfect suite—when the door is cut through."
"And where will you put our guests? There's only one more room on this floor, of any size."
"Let's go and see."
Catching up a brass candlestick from the bachelor's desk, Burns lit it and proceeded to explore, Ellen following. There were dancing lights in her eyes as she watched him.
"Here's your fourth room," said he, throwing open a door at the back of the hall.
"This box? It can't be made a really comfortable room, even if I do my best with it. Your bachelor will not stay long."
"Best not make him too comfortable. Nobody wants him to stay long." And Red Pepper closed the door again, with an air of having settled the matter to his entire satisfaction. "Besides," he added, "if he's really a desirable chap, and we want him around more than a day or two, he can bunk in my old room downstairs. When he's not there I'll use it for an annex to my offices. Somebody's always needing to be put to bed for an hour or two. Amy Mathewson will revel in that extra space. Her long suit is making people comfortable, and smoothing the upper sheet under their chins."
"Redfield Pepper, please consider this carefully," said his wife, as they returned to the gray-and-rose room. "Remember how long you have had that downstairs room,—you are attached to it, perhaps, more than you think. You have been a bachelor yourself a good while—"
"And am supposed to be old and set in my ways," interpolated her listener. He stood before her with folded arms, a judicial expression on his brow. Beneath his coppery hair his black eyebrows drew together a little above a pair of hazel eyes which sparkled with a whimsical light which somewhat impaired the gravity of the expression.
"You are wonted to your ways—naturally," Ellen pursued. "It will not be so convenient for you, having your rooms up here. I am quite contented there, with you, and not in the least afraid with Cynthia sleeping down there too—and the little bachelor. Think twice, Red, before you decide on this arrangement."
He glanced at the wall between the two rooms. "Where would be a good place to have the door cut through? What's behind that curtain? A clothes-press?"
He advanced to the curtain and swept it aside. It hung in a doorway, and was of a heavy gray material, with an applied border of the gray-and-rose chintz. As he moved it light burst through from the other side of the wall, and Burns found himself looking into the "bachelor's room" next door.
He turned, with a shout of laughter. "You witch!" he cried, and returning to his wife laid a hand on either richly colouring cheek, gently forcing her face upward, so that he could look directly into it. "You meant it, all the while!"
"Don't be too sure of that. If this room looks like me, the one downstairs certainly looks like you. I don't want to take you out of your proper environment."
"My environment!" he repeated, and laughed. "What is it, now, do you think? Not bachelor apartments, still?"
But she persisted, gently. "Keep the downstairs room, dear, just as it is. Don't make it a public room, except for necessity. Sometimes you'll be glad to take refuge there, just as you're used to doing. Leave those three pictures on your walls, and look at them often, as you've always done. And be sure of this, Red: I shall never be hurt when you show me that you want to fight something out alone, there. It must be your own and private place, just as if I hadn't come."
Sober now, he stood looking straight down into her eyes, which gave him back his look as straightly. After a minute he spoke with feeling:
"Thank you, dearest. And bless you for understanding so well. At the same time I'm confident you understand one thing more: That by leaving a man his liberty you surely hold him tightest!"
BURNS DOES HIS DUTY
"Excuse me for coming in on you at breakfast," Martha Macauley, Ellen's sister and next-door neighbour, apologized, one morning in late May. "But I wanted to catch Red before he got away, and I saw, for a wonder, that there was no vehicle before the door."
"Come in, come in," urged Burns, while Ellen smiled a greeting at her sister, a round-faced, fair-haired, energetic young woman, as different as possible from Ellen's own type. "Have a chair." He rose to get it for her, napkin in hand. "Will you sit down and try one of Cynthia's magnificent muffins?"
"No, thank you. And I'll plunge into my errand, for I know at any minute you may jump up and run away. You may, anyway, when you hear what I want! Promise me, Red, that you won't go until you've heard me out."
"What a reputation I have for speed at escape!" But Burns glanced at his watch as he spoke. "Fire away, Martha. Five minutes you shall have—and I'm afraid no more. I'm due at the hospital in half an hour."
"Well, I want to give a reception for you." Martha took the plunge. "I know you hate them, but Ellen doesn't,—at least, she knows such things are necessary, no matter how much you may wish they weren't. I don't mean a formal reception, of course. I know how you both feel about trying to ape city society customs, in a little suburban village like this. But I do think, since you had such a quiet wedding, you ought to give people a chance to come in and greet you, as a newly married pair."
Burns's eyes met his wife's across the table. There was a comical look of dismay in his face. "I thought," said he, "you and I agreed to cut out all that sort of thing. As for being a newly married pair—we aren't. We've been married since the beginning of time. I can't conceive of existence apart from Mrs. Redfield Pepper Burns, nor recall any period of my life when she wasn't a part of it."
"You've been married just seven weeks and three days, however," retorted his sister-in-law, with a touch of impatience, though she smiled, "and not a quarter of the people in town have ever met Ellen. You'll find that it's not the same, now that you're married. They won't flock to your office, just out of admiration for you, unless you show them some attention."
Burns chuckled. "Won't they? By George, I wish they wouldn't! Then I could find time to spend an uninterrupted hour with my wife, at least once a day."
"Do be reasonable, Red. Ellen, will you make him see it's a very simple thing I'm asking of him? Just to stand by you and shake hands for a couple of hours. Then he can go out and stand on his head on the lawn, if he wants to."
"To relieve the tension?" her victim suggested. "That's an excellent idea—real compensation. But as the blood will be all at the top, anyway, after two hours' effort at being agreeable, saying the same idiotic things over and over, and grinning steadily all the time, I think I'd prefer soaking my head under a pump."
"Do what pleases you, if you'll only let me have my way."
Burns looked at Ellen again. "What do you say, dear? Must these things be? Do you want to be 'received'?"
"Martha has set her heart on it," said she, gently, "and it's very dear of her to want to take the trouble. She promises really to make it very informal."
"Informal! I wish I knew what that word meant. Don't I have to wear my spike-tail?"
"I'm afraid you do—since Martha wants it in the evening. The men in a place like this are not available for afternoon affairs."
"If I must dress, then I don't see what there is informal about it," argued her husband, with another glance at his watch. "My idea of informality is not a white necktie and pumps. But I suppose I'll have to submit."
He came around the table, and Ellen rose to receive his parting kiss. With his arm about her shoulder, and his chin—that particularly resolute chin—touching her hair, he looked at Martha. "Go on with your abominable society stunt," said he. "I'll agree to be there—if I can."
His eyes sparkled with mischief, as Martha jumped up, crying anxiously:
"Oh, that's just it, Red! You must be there! We can't have any excuses of operations or desperately sick patients. We never yet had you at so much as a family dinner that you didn't get up and go away, or else weren't even there at all. Even your wedding had to be postponed three hours. That won't do at this kind of an affair. Ellen can't be a bridal pair, all by herself!"
"Can't she?" His arm tightened about his wife's shoulders. "Well, I'll tell you what I'll do. If I have to leave suddenly I'll take her with me. That'll make it all right and comfortable. If you and Jim will retire too, the company can have a glorious time talking us over."
He stooped, whispered something in Ellen's ear, laughing as he did so, then kissed her, nodded at Martha, and departed. From the other side of the closed door came back to them a gay, whistled strain from a popular Irish song.
"He's just as hopeless as ever," Martha complained. "I thought you would have begun to have some effect on him, by this time. The trouble is, he's been a bachelor so long and has got into such careless notions of having his own way about everything, you're going to have a bad time getting him just to behave like an ordinary human being."
"What an outlook!" Ellen laughed, coming over to her sister, and stopping on the way to help little Bob insert a refractory napkin in its silver ring. "Perhaps I'd better not waste much time trying to make him over. He really suits me pretty well, as he is,—and it doesn't strike me he's so different from the average man, when it comes to receptions. Is Jim enthusiastic over this one?"
"Oh, Jim isn't making any fuss about it," evaded Martha. "He'll be good and amiable, when the time comes. Of course, any man likes better just having a group of men smoking round the fire, or sitting down to a stag dinner, but Jim understands the necessity of doing some things just because they're expected. I really think that having a perfectly informal affair of this sort is letting them off easily. They might have had to stand a series of 'At Homes.'"
"Not in this little place. Everybody would have come to the first one, and there would have been nobody left for the rest. As it is, you will have a houseful, won't you? It's lovely of you to do it, Martha dear, and Red and I will be good, and stand in line as long as you want us."
"And you won't let him get away?"
"He won't try,—though if an urgent call comes, it's not I who can keep him. But don't worry about that. It doesn't always happen, I suppose."
"Pretty nearly always. But I'll hope for the best."
Mrs. Macauley went away with her head full of plans for the success of the affair she was so sure ought to take place. It was difficult for her to understand how Ellen, who had known so much of the best social life in a city where there is no end to the round of formal entertaining, could be now as indifferent as Martha understood she really was to all experience of the sort. It was association with Redfield Pepper Burns which had done it, Martha supposed. But was he to do all the influencing, and Ellen to do none? It looked like it—to Martha.
Left alone with Bob, Ellen made him ready for the little village kindergarten which he had lately begun to attend. Before he went he put up both arms, and she bent to him.
"I'm going to be a pretty good boy to-day, Aunt Ellen," said he. "I promised Uncle Red I would. But I don't like to skip in the circle with girls. Why need I?"
"Would you rather skip with boys, dear?"
"Lots rather. But the girls keep asking me. Why do they, when I don't ask them?"
Ellen smiled down into the questioning little face, its dark eyes looking seriously up into hers through long and curly lashes. Bob was undoubtedly a handsome little lad, and the reason why the girls—discerning small creatures, true to their femininity—should be persistent in inviting him to be their partner was obvious enough.
"Because that's part of the skipping game, Bobby. I'd ask the girls sometimes—and, do you know, I think it would be fine to ask some of the little girls whom the other boys don't ask. Do you know any?"
Bob considered. "I guess I do. But why do I have to ask them?"
"Because they're not having as much fun as the others. You wouldn't like never to be asked by anybody, would you?"
"I don't care 'bout any girls ever asking me," Bob insisted stoutly. "I like boy games better—'circus' and 'grandfather's barn.' Only they let the girls play those too," he added, disgustedly.
He started away. But he came back again to say, soberly, "I'll ask Jennie Hobson, if you want me to, Aunt Ellen. She's some like a boy, anyway. Her hair's cut tight to her head—and her eyes are funny. They don't look at you the same."
"Do ask her, Bob. And tell me how she liked it." And Ellen looked affectionately after the small, straight little figure trudging away down the street.
Martha's plans for her reception went on merrily. On the day set she came hurrying over before breakfast, to administer to her brother-in-law a final admonition concerning the coming evening.
"I hope this isn't going to be the busiest day of your life?" she urged Burns.
"It's bound to be,—getting things clear for to-night," he assured her, good-humouredly.
"Promise me you won't let anything short of a case of life or death keep you away?"
"It's as serious as that, is it? All right, I'll be on hand, unless the heavens fall."
He was good as his word, and at the appointed hour his hostess, keeping an agitated watch on her neighbour's house, saw him arrive, in plenty of time to dress. She drew a relieved breath.
"I didn't expect it," she said to James Macauley, her husband.
"Oh, Red's game. He won't run away from this, much as he hates it. Like the rest of us married men, he knows when dodging positively won't do," and Macauley sighed as he settled his tie before the reception-room mirror, obtaining a view of himself with some difficulty, on account of the towering masses of flowers and foliage which obscured the glass.
When Burns and Ellen came across the lawn, Martha flew to meet them.
"You splendid people! Who wouldn't want to have a reception for such a pair?"
"We flatter ourselves we do look pretty fine," Burns admitted, eying his wife with satisfaction. "That gauzy gray thing Ellen has on strikes me as the bulliest yet. If I could just get her to wear a pink rose in her hair I'd be satisfied."
"A rose in her hair! Aren't you satisfied with that exquisite coral necklace? That gives the touch of colour she needs. The rose would overdo it—and wouldn't match, besides." Martha spoke with scorn.
"Yes, a rose would be maudlin, Red; can't you see it?" James Macauley gave his opinion with a wink at his friend. "With the necklace your wife is a dream. With a rose added she'd be a—waking up! Trust 'em, that's my advice. When they get to talking about a 'touch of' anything, that's the time to leave 'em alone. A touch of colour is not a daub."
"Who's lecturing on art?" queried Arthur Chester, from the doorway.
His wife, Winifred, entering before him, cried out at sight of the pale gray gauze gown.
"O Ellen! I thought I looked pretty well, till I caught sight of you. Now I feel crude!"
"Absurd," said Ellen, laughing. "You are charming in that blue."
"There they go again," groaned Macauley to Burns. "Winifred feels crude, when she looks at Ellen. Why? I don't feel crude when I look at you or Art Chester. Neither of you has so late a cut on your dress-coat as I, I flatter myself. I feel anything but crude. And I don't want a rose in my hair, either."
"You're a self-satisfied prig," retorted Burns. "Hullo! Somebody's coming. Tell me what to do, Martha. Do I run to meet them and rush them up to Ellen, or do I display a studied indifference? I never 'received' at a reception in my life."
"Get in line there," instructed Macauley. "Martha and I'll greet them first and pass them on to you. Don't look as if you were noting symptoms and don't absent-mindedly feel their pulses. It's not done, outside of consulting rooms."
"I'll try to remember." R.P. Burns, M.D. resignedly took his place, murmuring in Ellen's ear, as the first comers appeared at the door, "Promise you'll make this up to me, when it's over. I shall have to blow off steam, somehow. Will you help?"
She nodded, laughing. He chuckled, as an idea popped into his head; then drew his face into lines of propriety, and stood, a big, dignified figure—for Red Pepper could be dignified when the necessity was upon him—beside the other graceful figure at his side, suggesting an unfailing support of her grace by his strength to all who looked at them that night. He had declared himself ignorant of all conventions, but neither jocose James Macauley nor fastidious Arthur Chester, observing him, could find any fault with their friend in this new role. As the stream of their townspeople passed by, each with a carefully prepared word of greeting, Burns was ready with a quick-wittedly amiable rejoinder. And whenever it became his duty to present to his wife those who did not know her, he made of the act a little ceremony which seemed to set her apart as his own in a way which roused no little envy of her, if he had but known it, in the breasts of certain of the feminine portion of the company.
"You're doing nobly. Keep it up an hour longer and you shall be let off," said Macauley to Burns, at a moment when both were free.
"Oh, I'm having the time of my life," Burns assured him grimly, mopping a warm brow and thrusting his chin forward with that peculiar masculine movement which suggests momentary relief from an encompassing collar. "Why should anybody want to be released from such a soul-refreshing diversion as this? I've lost all track of time or sense,—I just go on grinning and assenting to everything anybody says to me. I couldn't discuss the simplest subject with any intelligence whatever—I've none left."
"You don't need any. Decent manners and the grin will do. Had anything to eat yet?"
"What's got to be eaten?" Burns demanded, unhappily.
"Punch, and ices—and little cakes, I believe. Cheer up, man, you don't have to eat 'em, if you don't want to."
"Thanks for that. I'll remember it of you when greater favours have been forgotten. Martha has her eye on me—I must go. I'll get even with Martha for this, some time." And the guest of honour, stuffing his handkerchief out of sight and thrusting his coppery, thick locks back from his martyred brow, obeyed the summons.
The next time Macauley caught sight of him, he was assiduously supplying a row of elderly ladies with ices and little cakes, and smiling at them most engagingly. They were looking up at him with that grateful expression which many elderly ladies unconsciously assume when a handsome and robust young man devotes himself to them. Burns found this task least trying of all his duties during that long evening, for one of the row reminded him of his own mother, to whom he was a devoted son, and for her sake he would give all aging women of his best. Something about this little group of unattended guests, all living more or less lonely lives, as he well knew them in their homes, touched his warm heart, and he lingered with them to the neglect of younger and fairer faces, until his host, again at his elbow, in a strenuous whisper admonished him:
"For heaven's sake, Red, don't waste any more of that rare sweetness on the desert air. Go and lavish your Beau Brummel gallantry on the wives of our leading citizens. Those new Winterbournes have sackfuls of money—and a chronic invalid or two always in the family, I'm told. A little attention there—"
"Clear out," Burns retorted shortly, and deliberately sat down beside the little, white-haired old lady who reminded him of his mother. As he had been standing before, this small act was significant, and Macauley, with a comprehending chuckle, moved away again.
"Might have known that wouldn't work," he assured himself. He strolled over to Ellen, and when, after some time, he succeeded in getting her for a moment to himself, he put an interested question.
"What do you think of your husband as a society man? A howling success, eh? He's been sitting for one quarter of an hour by the side of old Mrs. Gillis. And a whole roomful of devoted patients, past and future, looking daggers at him because he ignores them. How's that for business policy, eh? Can't you bring him to his senses?"
"Are you sure they're looking daggers? I passed Mrs. Gillis and Red just now, and thought they made a delightful pair. As for business policy, Jim,—a man who would be good to an old lady would be good to a young one. Isn't that the natural inference,—if you must think about business at all at such an affair. I prefer not to think about it at all."
"You may not be thinking about it, but you're capturing friends, right and left. I've been watching you, and knew by the expression on the faces of those you were talking to that you were gathering them in and nailing them fast. How does a woman like you do it?—that's what I'd like to know!"
"Go and do your duty like a man, Jimmy. Flattering the members of your own family is not a part of it." Dismissing him with a smile which made him more than ever eager for her company, she turned away, to devote herself, as her husband was doing, to the least attractive of the guests.
The evening wore away at last, and at a reasonably early hour the hosts were free. The last fellow citizen had barely delivered his parting speech and taken himself off when Red Pepper Burns turned a handspring in the middle of the deserted room, and came up grinning like a fiend.
"Good-bye—good-bye—'tis a word I love to speak," he warbled, and seizing his wife kissed her ardently on either cheek.
"Hear—hear!" applauded James Macauley, returning from the hall in time to see this expression of joy. "May we all follow your excellent example?"
"You may not." Red Pepper frowned fiercely at Mr. Macauley, approaching with mischievous intent. "Keep off!"
"She's my sister-in-law," defended Macauley, continuing to draw near, and smiling broadly.
"All the more reason for you to treat her with respect." Burns's arm barred the way.
Macauley stopped short with an unbelieving chuckle. Arthur Chester, Winifred, his wife, and Martha Macauley, coming in from the dining-room together, gazed with interest at the scene before them. Ellen, herself smiling, looked at her husband rather as if she saw something in him she had never seen before. For it was impossible not to perceive that he was not joking as he prevented Macauley from reaching his wife.
"Great snakes! he's in earnest!" howled Macauley, stopping short. "He won't let me kiss his wife, when I'm the husband of her sister. Go 'way, man, and cool that red head of yours. Anybody'd think I was going to elope with her!"
"Think what you like," Burns retorted, coolly, "so long as you keep your distance with your foolery. You or any other man."
"Red, you're not serious!" This was Martha. "Can't you trust Ellen to preserve her own—"
"Dead line? Yes—in my absence. When I'm on the spot I prefer to play picket-duty myself. I may be eccentric. But that's one of my notions, and I've an idea it's one of hers, too."
"Better get her a veil, you Turk."
Macauley walked away with a very red face, at which Burns unexpectedly burst into a laugh, and his good humour came back with a rush.
"Look here, you people. Forget my heroics and come over to our house. I'll give you something to take the taste of those idiotic little cakes out of your hungry mouths. No refusals! I'm your best friend, Jim Macauley, and you know it, so come along and don't act like a small boy who's had his candy taken away from him. You've plenty of candy of your own, you know."
He was his gay self again, and bore them away with him on the wave of his boyish spirits. Across the lawn and into the house they went, the six, and were conducted into the living-room and bidden settle down around the fireplace.
"Start a fire, Jim, and get a bed of cannel going with a roar. You'll find the stuff in that willow basket. Open all the windows, Ches. Then all make yourselves comfortable and await my operations. I promise you a treat—from my point of view."
And he rushed away.
"It's my private opinion," growled Macauley, beginning sulkily to lay the fire, "that that fellow is off his head. He always did seem a trifle cracked, and to-night he's certainly dippy. What's he going to do with a fire, at 11 P.M., on a May evening, I'd like to know?"
"Whatever it is, it will be refreshing." Winifred Chester, reckless of her delicate blue evening gown, curled herself up in a corner of the big davenport and laid her head luxuriously down among the pillows. "Oh, I'm so tired," she sighed. "Seems to me I never heard so many stupid things said, in one evening, in my life."
Arthur Chester, having thrown every window wide—though he discreetly drew the curtains over those which faced the street—sat down in a great winged chair of comfortable cushioning, and stretched his legs in front of him as far as they would go, his arms clasped behind his head. He also drew a deep sigh of content.
"I don't recall," said he, wearily, "that I have sat down once during the entire evening."
"How ridiculous!" cried Martha Macauley, bristling. "If you didn't, it was your own fault. I took away hardly any chairs, and I arranged several splendid corners just on purpose for those who wished to sit."
"As there were a couple of hundred people, and not over a couple of dozen chairs—" began Chester, dryly.
But Martha interrupted him. "I never saw such a set. Just as if you hadn't been going to affairs like this one all your lives,—and Ellen, especially, must have been at hundreds of them in Washington,—and now you're all disgusted with having to bear up under just one little informal—"
"Cheer up, my children," called Burns, reentering. He was garbed in white, which his guests saw after a moment to be a freshly laundered surgical gown, covering him from head to foot, the sleeves reaching only to his elbows, beneath which his bare arms gleamed sturdily. He bore a wire broiler in one hand, and a platter of something in the other, and his face wore an expression of content.
"Beefsteak, by all that's crazy!" shouted James Macauley, eying the generous expanse of raw meat upon the platter with undisguised delight. He forgot his sulkiness in an instant, and slapped his friend upon the back with a resounding blow. "Bully for Red!" he cried.
"Well, well! Of all the wild ideas!" murmured Arthur Chester. But he sat up in his chair, and his expression grew definitely more cheerful.
Winifred laughed out with anticipation. "Oh, how good that will taste!" she exclaimed, hugging herself in her own pretty arms. "It is just what we want, after wearing ourselves out being agreeable. Who but Red would ever think of such a thing, at this time of night?"
"I believe it will taste good," and Martha Macauley laid her head back at last against the encompassing comfort of the chair she sat in, and for the first time relaxed from the duties of hostess and the succeeding defence of her hospitality.
"Don't you want my help, Red?" his wife asked him, at his elbow.
He turned and looked at the gray gauze gown. "I should say not," said he. "Lie back, all of you, and take your ease, which you have richly earned, while I play chef. Nothing will suit me better. I'm boiling over with restrained emotion, and this will work it off. Lie back, while I imagine that it's one of the male guests who bored me whom I'm grilling now. I'll do him to a turn!"
He proceeded with his operations, working the quick fire of cannel which Macauley had started into a glowing bed of hot coals. He improvised from the andirons a rack for his broiler, and set the steak to cooking. While he heated plates, sliced bread, and brought knives, forks, and napkins, he kept an experienced eye upon his broiler, and saw that it was continually turned and shifted, in order to get the best results. And presently he was laying his finished product upon the hot platter, seasoning it, applying a rich dressing of butter, and, at last, preparing with a flourish of the knife to carve it.
It was at this to-be-expected moment that the office-bell rang. Miss Mathewson summoned her employer, and Burns stayed only to serve his guests, before he left them hungrily consuming his offering and bewailing his departure.
"Only," Martha Macauley said, "we ought to be thankful that for once he got through an evening without being called out."
Ellen had placed her husband's portion where it would keep hot for him, and the others had nearly finished consuming their own, when Burns came in. He made for the fire, amid the greetings and praises of his guests, and served his own plate with the portion remaining on the platter, covering it liberally with the rich gravy. Then he cut and buttered two thick slices of bread and laid them on the plate.
"Sit down, sit down, man!" urged Macauley, as his host rose to his feet. "We're waiting to see you enjoy this magnificent result of your cookery. It's the best steak I've had in a blue moon."
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to take mine in the office," Burns explained. "Can't leave my patient just yet." And he went away again, carrying his plate, napkin over his arm.
Five minutes later Macauley, putting down his empty plate, got up and strolled out into the hall. A moment afterward he was heard abruptly closing the office door, saying, "Oh, I beg pardon!" Then he returned to the company. He was whistling softly as he came, his hands in his pockets and his eyebrows lifted.
"He is dippy," he said, solemnly. "No man in his senses would act like that."
"You eavesdropper, what did you see?" Winifred Chester looked at him expectantly.
"I saw the worst-looking specimen of tramp humanity who has come under my observation for a year, with a bandage over one eye. He is sitting in that big chair with a plate and napkin in his lap, and his ugly mouth is full of beefsteak."
"And isn't Red having any?" cried Martha, with a glance at the empty platter.
"Not a smell. He's standing up by the chimney-piece, looking the picture of contentment—the idiot. But he modified his benevolent expression long enough to give me a glare, when he saw me looking in. That's the second glare I've had from him to-night, and I'm going home. I can't stand incurring his displeasure a third time in one day. Come, Martha, let's get back to our happy home—what there is left of it after the fray. We'll send over a plate of little cakes for the master of the house. A couple of dozen of them may fill up that yawning cavity of his. Of all the foolishness!"
A RED HEAD
"Marriage," said James Macauley, looking thoughtfully into his coffee cup, as he sat opposite his wife, Martha, at the breakfast-table, "is supposed to change a man radically. The influence of a good and lovely woman can hardly be overestimated. But the question is, can the temper of a red-headed explosive ever be rendered uninflammable?"
"What are you talking about?" Martha inquired, with interest. "Ellen and Red? Red is changed. I never saw him so dear and tractable."
"Dear and tractable, is he? Have you happened to encounter him in the last twenty-four hours?"
"No. What's the matter? He and Ellen can't possibly have had any—misunderstanding? And if they had, they wouldn't tell you about it."
"Well, they may not have had a misunderstanding, but if Ellen succeeds in understanding him through the present crisis she'll prove herself a remarkable woman. As near as I can make it out, Red is mad, fighting mad, clear through, with somebody or something, and he can no more disguise it than he ever could. I don't suppose it's with anybody at home, of course, but it makes him anything but an angel, there or anywhere else."
"Where did you see him? Hush—Mary's coming!"
Macauley waited obediently till the maid had left the room again. Then he proceeded. He had not begun upon the present subject until the children had gone away, leaving the father and mother alone together.
"I ran into his office last night, after those throat-tablets he gives me, and heard him at the telephone in the private office. Couldn't help hearing him. He was giving the everlasting quietus to somebody, and I thought he'd burn out the transmitter."
"Jim! Red doesn't swear any more. He surely hasn't taken it up again?"
"He didn't do any technical swearing, perhaps, but he might as well. He can put more giant-powder into the English language without actually breaking any commandments than anybody I ever heard. When he came out he had that look of his—you know it of old—so that if I'd been a timid chap I'd have backed out. He gave me my throat-tablets without so much as answering my explanation of how I came to be out of them so soon. Then I got away, I assure you. He had no use for me."
"He's probably all right this morning. Ellen could quiet him down."
"She didn't get the chance. The light in his old room burned all night,—and you know he's not sleeping there now."
"Well, I'm sorry for her." Martha rose, her brow clouded. "But I'd never dare to ask her what the trouble was, and she'll never tell, so there it is."
"It certainly is—right there. Oh, well, he'll get over it, if you give him time. Queer, what a combination of big heart and red head he is."
At the moment of this discussion the red head was still in the ascendency. R.P. Burns, M.D., had come out of his old quarters downstairs that morning with lips set grimly together, heavy gloom upon his brow. He met his wife at the breakfast-table with an effort at a smile in response to her bright look, and kissed her as tenderly as usual, but it was an automatic tenderness, as she was quick to recognize. He replied monosyllabically to her observations concerning matters usually of interest to him, but he evidently had no words to spare, and after a little she gave over all effort to draw him out. Instead, she and Bob held an animated discussion on certain kindergarten matters, while Red Pepper swallowed his breakfast in silence, gulped down two cups of strong coffee, and left the table with only a murmured word of apology.
"Red,—" His wife's voice followed him.
He turned, without speaking.
"Do you mind if I drive into town with you this morning?"
He nodded, and turned again, striding on into his office and closing the door with a bang. She understood that his nod meant acquiescence with her request, rather than affirmation as to his objecting to her company. She kept close watch over the movements of the Green Imp, suspecting that in his present mood Burns might forget to call her, and when the car came down the driveway she was waiting on the office steps.
It would have been an ill-humoured man indeed, whose eyes could have rested upon her standing there and not have noted the charm of her graceful figure, her face looking out at him from under a modishly attractive hat. Ellen's smile, from under the shadowing brim, was as whole-heartedly sweet as if she were meeting the look of worshipful comradeship which usually fell upon her when she joined her husband on any expedition whatever. Instead, she encountered something like a glower from the hazel eyes, which did, however, as at breakfast, soften for an instant at the moment of meeting hers.
"Jump in! I'm in a hurry," was his quite needless command, for she was ready to take her place the instant the car drew to a standstill, and the delay she made him was hardly appreciable.
In silence they drove to town, and at a pace which took them past everything with which they came up, from lumbering farm-wagon to motor-cars far more powerful and speedy than the Imp. Ellen found herself well blown about by the wind they made, though there was none stirring, and wished she had been dressed for driving instead of for shopping. But the trip, if breezy, was brief, though it did not at once land her at her destination.
Drawing up before a somewhat imposing residence, on the outskirts of the city, Burns announced: "Can't take you in till I've made this call," and stopped his engine with a finality which seemed to indicate that he should be in no haste to start it again.
"It doesn't matter in the least. I shall enjoy sitting here," his wife responded, still outwardly unruffled by his manner. She looked in vain for his customary glance of leave-taking, and watched him stride away up the walk to the house with a sense of wonder that even his back could somehow look so aggressive.
She had not more than settled herself when a handsome roadster appeared rushing rapidly down the road from the direction of the city and came to a stop, facing her, before the house. She recognized in the well-groomed figure which stepped out, case in hand, one of the city surgeons with whom her husband was often closely associated in his hospital work, Dr. Van Horn. He was a decade older than Red, possessed a strikingly impressive personality, and looked, to the last detail, like a man accustomed to be deferred to.
Descending, he caught sight of Ellen, and came across to the Imp, hat in hand, and motoring-glove withdrawn.
"Ah, Mrs. Burns,—accompanying your husband on this matchless morning? He is a fortunate man. You don't mind the waiting? My wife thinks there is nothing so unendurable,—she has no patience with the length of my calls."
"I've not had much experience, as yet," Ellen replied, looking into the handsome, middle-aged face before her, and thinking that the smile under the close-clipped, iron-gray moustache was one which could be cynical more easily than it could be sympathetic. "But, so far, I find the waiting, in such weather, very endurable. I often bring a book, and then it never matters, you know."
"Of course not. You are familiar with Balzac's 'Country Doctor'? There's a tribute to men like your husband, who devote their lives to the humble folk." He glanced toward the house. "I mustn't keep my colleague waiting, even for the pleasure of a chat with you. He's not—you'll pardon me—so good a waiter as yourself!"
He went away, smiling. Ellen looked after him with a little frown of displeasure. From the first moment of meeting him, some months ago, she had not liked Dr. James Van Horn. He was the city's most fashionable surgeon, she knew, and had a large practice among folk the reverse of "humble." She had seen in his eyes that he liked to look at her, and knew that in the moment he had stood beside her he had lost no detail of her face. He had also, after some subtle fashion, managed to express his admiration by his own look, though with his smoothly spoken words he had not hesitated to say a thing about her husband which was at once somehow a compliment and a stab.
"I can't imagine Dr. Van Horn taking much pains with 'humble folk,'" Ellen said to herself. "Yet he's evidently consulting with Red at this house, which doesn't seem exactly a 'humble' abode. I wonder if they get on well together. They're certainly not much alike."
The wait proved to be a long one. Ellen had studied her surroundings with thoroughness in every direction before the house-door opened at last, and the two men came down the walk together. They were talking earnestly as they came, and at a point some yards away they ceased to advance, and stood still, evidently in tense discussion over the case just left. They spoke in the low tones customary with men of their profession, and their words did not reach Ellen's ears. But it was not difficult to recognize, as she watched their faces, that they were differing, and differing radically, on the matter in hand.
They had turned to face each other, and neither looked her way, so it was possible for Ellen to study the two without fear of intrusion. They made an interesting study, certainly. Dr. Van Horn's face was impassive as to the play of his features, except that he smiled, from time to time,—a smile which bore out Ellen's previous feeling concerning its possibilities for cynicism rather than sympathy. His eyes, however, steely blue and cold in their expression, told more than his face of antagonism to the man with whom he spoke. But his command of manner, to the outward observer, who could not hear his words, was perfect.
As for R.P. Burns, M.D., there was no disguising the fact that he was intensely angry. That he strove, and strove hard, to control his manner, if not his anger, was perfectly evident to his wife, but that he was succeeding ill at the task was painfully apparent. His colour was high—it nearly matched his hair; his eyes burned like consuming fires under their dark brows; his lips spoke fast and fiercely. He kept his voice down—Ellen was thankful for that—and his gestures, though forceful, were controlled; but she feared at every moment that he would break out into open show of temper, and it seemed to her that this she could not bear.
She had never before seen Red Pepper really angry. She had been told, again and again since her first meeting with him, by her sister and her sister's husband, and by the Chesters, that Burns was capable of getting into a red rage in which nobody could influence or calm him, and in which he could or would not control himself. They invariably added that these hot exhibitions of high temper were frequently over as suddenly as they had appeared, and usually did nobody any harm whatever. But they hinted that there had been times in the past when Red had said or done that which could not be forgiven by his victims, and that he had more than once alienated people of standing whose good-will he could not afford to lose.
"He keeps a woodpile back of the house," James Macauley had told her once, laughingly, in the last days before she had married Burns, "where he works off a good deal of high pressure. If you catch a glimpse of him there, at unholy hours, you may know that there's murder in his heart—for the moment. Art Chester vows he's caught him there at midnight, and I don't doubt it in the least. But—a woodpile isn't always handy when a man is mad clear through, and when it isn't, and you happen to be the one who's displeased His Pepperiness, look out! I give you fair warning, smiles and kisses won't always work with him, much as he may like 'em when he's sane!"
"I'm not afraid, thank you, Jim," Ellen had answered, lightly. "Better a red-hot temper than a white-cold one."
She thought of the words now, as she saw her husband suddenly turn away from Dr. Van Horn, and march down the walk, ahead of him. The action was pretty close to rudeness, for it left the elder man in the rear. Evidently, in spite of his irritation, Burns instantly realized this, for he turned again, saying quickly: "I beg your pardon, Doctor, but I've got a lot of work waiting."
"Don't apologize, Doctor," returned the other, with perfect courtesy. "We all know that you are the busiest man among us."
His face, as he spoke, was as pale as Burns's was high-coloured, and Ellen recognized that here were the two sorts of wrath in apposition, the "red" sort and the "white." And looking at Dr. Van Horn's face, it seemed to her that she still preferred the red. But as his eyes met hers he smiled the same suave smile which she had seen before.
"Not tired of waiting yet, Mrs. Burns?" he said, as he passed her. "You must be a restful companion for a man harassed by many cares."
She smiled and nodded her thanks, with a blithe word of parting,—so completely can her sex disguise their feelings. She was conscious at the moment, without in the least being able to guess at the cause of the friction between the two men, of an intense antipathy to Dr. James Van Horn. And at the same moment she longed to be able to make her husband look as cool and unconcerned as the other man was looking, as he drove away with a backward nod—which Red Pepper did not return!
It was not the time to speak,—she knew that well enough. Besides, though she was not the subject of his resentment, she did not care to incur any more of the results of it than could be helped. She let Burns drop her at a corner near the shopping district without asking him to take her to the precise place she meant to visit first, and left him without making any request that he return for her,—a courtesy he was usually eager to insist upon, even though it took him out of his way.
At night, when he returned, she met him with the hope that he would be able to spend the evening with her,—a thing which had not happened for a week. Her arms were about his neck as she put the question, and he looked down into her face with again a slight softening of his austere expression. She had seen at the first glance that he was not only still unhappy, he was suffering profound fatigue.
"No, I've got to go back to that infernal case." It was the first time he had disclosed even a hint as to what was the matter.
"The one where I stopped with you this morning?"
"Yes. Each time I go I vow I'll not go again. To-night, if I find things as they were two hours ago, I'll discharge myself, and that will end it."
"Red, you're just as tired and worn as you can be. Come in to the big couch, and let me make you comfortable, until dinner. You'll eat the better for it—and you need it."
He yielded, reluctantly,—he who was always so willing to submit to her ministrations. But he threw himself upon the couch with a long sigh, and let her arrange the pillows under his head. She sat down beside him.
"Can't you tell me something about it, dear?" she suggested. "Nothing I ought not to know, of course, but the thing which makes you so miserable. It can't be because the case is going wrong,—that wouldn't affect you just as this is doing."
"You've seen it, I suppose. I thought I'd kept in, before you." Burns shut his eyes, his brows frowning.
She could have smiled, but did not. "You have—only of course I have seen that something was wearing you—keeping you on a tension. You've not been quite yourself for several days."
"I am myself. I'm the real fellow—only you haven't known him before. The other is just—the devil disguised in a goodly garment, one that doesn't belong to him."
"No question of it. I'm so swearing mad this minute I could kill somebody,—in other words, that foul fiend of a James Van Horn—smooth-tongued hypocrite that he is!"
"Has he injured you?"
"Injured me? Knifed me in the back, every chance he got. Always has—but he never had such a chance as he has now. And plays the part of an angel of light in that house—fools them all. I'm the ill-tempered incompetent, he's the forbearing wise man. The case is mine, but he's played the game till they all have more confidence in him than they have in me. And he's got all the cards in his hand!"
He flung himself off the couch, and began to pace the room. Speech, once unloosed, flowed freely enough now,—he could not keep it back.
"The patient is a man of prominence—the matter of his recovery is a great necessity. If he were able to bear it he ought to be operated upon; but there isn't one chance in a hundred he'd survive an operation at present. There's at least one chance in ten he'll get well without one. I'm usually keen enough to operate, but for once I don't dare risk it. Van Horn advises operation—unreservedly. And the deuce of it is that with every hour that goes by he lets the family understand that he considers the patient's chances for relief by operation are lessening. He's fixing it so that however things come out he's safe, and however things come out I'm in the hole."
"Not if the patient gets well."
"No, but I tell you the chance for that is mighty slim—only one in ten, at best. So he holds the cards, except for that one chance of mine. And if the patient dies in the end it's because I didn't operate when he advised it—or so he'll let them see he thinks. Not in so many words, but in the cleverest innuendo of face and manner;—that's what makes me so mad! If he'd fight in the open! But not he."
"Would he have liked to operate himself?"
Burns laughed—an ugly laugh, such as she had never before heard from his lips. "Couldn't have been hired to, not even in the beginning, when he first advocated it. And I couldn't have let him, knowing as well as I know anything in life that the patient would never have left the table alive. Don't you see I've had to fight for my patient's very life,—or rather for his slim chance to live,—knowing all the while that I was probably digging my own grave. Easy enough to let Van Horn operate, in the beginning, and kill the patient and prove himself right,—if he would have done it. Easy enough to pull out of the case and let them have somebody who would operate on Van Horn's advice."
"Is the patient going down?"
"No, he's holding his own fairly well, but the disease isn't one that would take him off overnight. It'll be a matter of two or three days yet, either way. How I'm going to get through them, with things going as they are;—meeting that Judas there at the bedside, three times a day, and trying to keep my infernal temper from making me disgrace myself—"
She rose and came to him, putting her hands on his shoulders and looking straight up into his face.
"That's where Dr. Van Horn is stronger than you, and in no other way. He can control himself."
"Not inside! Nor outside—if you know him. He's exactly as mad as I am, only—"
"He doesn't show it. And so he has the advantage."
"Do you think I don't know that? But I'm right and he's wrong—"
"So you are the one who should keep cool. You've heard the saying of some wise man—'If you are right you have no need to lose your temper—if you are wrong you can't afford to.'"
Red Pepper laid hold of the hands upon his shoulders, and looked down into his wife's eyes with fires burning fiercely in his own.
"You can give me all the wise advice you want to, but the fact remains.—I have reason to be angry, and I am angry, and I can't help it, and won't help it! Great heavens, I'm human!"
"Yes, dear, you're human, and so am I. You have great provocation, and I think I'm almost as angry, in my small way, with Dr. Van Horn, as you are, now that I know. But—I want you somehow to keep control of yourself. You are a gentleman, and he is not, but he is acting like a gentleman—hush—on the outside, I mean—and—you are not!"
"Dear, are you?"
"What do you know about it?"
"From the little I saw outside the house this morning."
He grasped her arms so tightly that he hurt her. "Lord! If you mean that I ought to grin at him, as he does at me, the snake in the grass—"
"I don't mean that, of course. But I do think you shouldn't allow yourself to look as if you wanted to knock him down."
"There's nothing in life that would give me greater satisfaction!"
He relaxed his grasp on her arms, and she let them drop from his shoulders. She turned aside, with a little droop of the head, as if she felt it useless to argue with one so stubbornly set on his own destruction.
He looked after her. "A big brute, am I not? Didn't know me before, did you? Thought I was all fine, warm heart and blarneying words. Well, I'm not. When a thing like this gets hold of me I'm—well, I won't shock your pretty ears by putting it into words."
He walked out of the room, leaving her standing looking after him with a strange expression on her face. Before she had moved, however, the door burst open again, and he was striding across the floor to her, to seize her in his arms.
"I am a brute, and I know it, but I'm not so far gone as not to realize I'm wreaking my temper on the one I love best in the world. Forget it, darling, and don't worry about me. I've been through this sort of thing times enough before. Best not try to reform me—let me have my fling. I'm no Job nor Moses,—I wasn't built that way."
She lifted her head, and the action was full of spirit. "I don't want you a Job or a Moses, but a man! It's not manly to act as you are acting now."
He threw up his head. "Not manly! That's a new one. According to your code is there no just anger in the world?"
"Just anger, but not sane rage. You have reason to be angry but there's no reason in the world why you should let it consume you. Red, dear, why not—bank the fires?"
He stared down into her upturned face. He had thought he knew her, heart and soul, but he found himself thoroughly astonished by this new attitude. He was so accustomed to a charming compliance in her, he could hardly realize that he was being brought to book in a manner at once so felicitous yet so firm. She gave him back his scrutiny without flinching, and somehow, though she put him in the wrong, he had never loved her better. Here was a comrade who could understand and influence him!
"Bank the fires, eh?" he growled. "Not put them out? I should suppose you would have wanted them drowned out in a flood of tears of repentance for letting them burn."
"No! You are you, and the fires are warming—when they are kept under control. You're fighting the harder for your patient's life because the fight's a hard one. But when you let the Devil fan the flame—"