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Title: Mrs. Red Pepper
Author: Richmond, Grace S. (Grace Smith), 1866-1959
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mrs. Red Pepper" ***

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                            Mrs. Red Pepper

                         By Grace S. Richmond

Author of "Red Pepper Burns," "The Indifference of Juliet," "With Juliet
in England," "Strawberry Acres," Etc.

                                 1913



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

    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

   XV. Flashlights

  XVI. In February

 XVII. From the Beginning

XVIII. The Country Surgeon



MRS. RED PEPPER



CHAPTER I

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.

"No."

"Why?"

"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 protégé, 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 negligée. 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.



CHAPTER II

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.

"Doctor in?"

"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?"

"No, Red."

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!"



CHAPTER III

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 rôle. 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!"



CHAPTER IV

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."

"Oh, no!"

"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--"

"Red, dear,--"

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!"

"What!"

"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--"

He burst into a great, unexpected laugh and caught her to his breast
again. "That's what I'm doing, is it? That ever I should have lived to
hear you use a phrase like that! But it's a true one, I admit it. I've
let his Satanic Majesty have his own way with me, and bade him welcome,
too. I may again, when I get away from you. But--well--I know you're
right. I--I'll try to bank the fires, little wife. Only don't expect too
much."

"Red," said she,--and it was not at all the sort of rejoinder he might
have expected after his concession,--"why is there no woodpile now behind
the house?"

"Woodpile?" He was clearly puzzled. "Why, there's plenty of wood in the
cellar, you know, if you want fires. You can't be suffering for them,
this weather?"

"No, but I wish there were a woodpile there. Did you think you wouldn't
need one any more after you were married? You should have laid in a
double supply."

"But, what for? Oh!--" Light dawned upon him. "Somebody's told you how I
used to whack at it."

"Yes, and I saw you once myself, only I didn't know what put the energy
into your blows. It was a splendid safety-valve. Red,--send for a load
of wood to-day, please!"

"In July! You hard-hearted little wretch! Do you want me reduced to a
pulp?"

She nodded. "Better that than burning like a bonfire. And better than
running the Imp sixty miles an hour. That doesn't help you,--it merely
helps your arch enemy fan the flames."

He laughed again, and the sound of his own laughter did him good,
according to the laws of Nature. "Bless you, you've put him to rout for
the moment at least, and that's more than any other human soul has ever
done for mine, before."

He kissed her, tenderly, and understanding what he did. In his heart he
adored her for the sweetness and sense which had kept her from taking
these days of trial as a personal affront and finding offence in them.

They went out to dinner, and Burns found himself somehow able to forget
sufficiently to enjoy the appetizing dishes which were served to him, and
to keep his brow clear and his mind upon the table talk. When he went
away, afterward, back to the scene of his irritation and anxiety, he bore
with him a peculiar sense of having his good genius with him, to help him
tend those devastating fires of temperament which when they burned too
fiercely could only hinder him in the fight he waged.

It was almost daybreak when he returned. Ellen was not asleep, although
she did not expect him to come upstairs, if only for fear of disturbing
her at that hour. But presently the cautious opening of her door caused
her to raise her head and lift her arms. Her husband came to her, and sat
down close beside her.

"I've discharged myself from the case," he said. He spoke quietly, but
his voice vibrated with feeling. "It was the only thing to do. No man
could keep on with a case where the family were secretly following the
consultant's directions, instead of those of the physician in charge.
But,--for your sake, little wife, I've done something I never would have
believed I'd do."

She sat up, her eyes fixed on the dim outlines of his face. "Tell me!"
she urged.

"To begin with, I had it out with them, and let them know I understood
the situation perfectly--and had understood it all along. That I couldn't
stay with people who had lost faith in me. That if I were out of it they
could have the full benefit of Van Horn's orders, and the nurses would be
relieved of a mighty difficult situation. I suppose you don't know--few
people do--that it's a bad breach of professional ethics for a consultant
to conduct himself so that he throws doubt on the ability of the man in
charge? In this case it was a piece of outrageous--" He caught himself
up. "I can't get going on that, or--those fires won't stay banked!"

She had his hand in both hers, and she lifted it to her lips. He drew a
smothered breath or two, and went on.

"They were glad enough to see me out of it. Van Horn was--also glad!
You see,--within the last few hours the patient had lost ground--Van's
prognosis was being verified. But, when it came to taking leave of the
patient, there was the dickens to pay. His pulse jumped and his
temperature went up, and there was trouble for fair. He begged me not to
leave him. From the start his faith has been pinned tight to me. The
family hadn't reckoned with that. They found themselves obliged to reckon
with it. They saw I must be kept, or the game would be up in short
order."

"Oh, then you _had_ to stay!"

"Yes, I had to stay--but--I couldn't! Van Horn was in charge, and the
family wanted him in charge."

"But the patient would die if you didn't stay. You couldn't let
professional etiquette--"

"Couldn't you, though? You've got to observe the rules of the game,
Ellen, or you'll be in a worse mess than if you disregard them. After I
had resigned the case, unless Van Horn took himself out of it I could
have no recognized place in the house. He could have invited me, in the
emergency, to share responsibility equally with himself--but would he do
that? Never! There was just one thing I could do,--let the patient think
I was still in charge, and continue to see him, while Van Horn ran things
and so satisfied the family."

"Oh, Red, they couldn't ask you to do that?"

"That was what they did ask. I saw 'red' then, for a minute, I can tell
you. You can't understand just what a humiliation that would be,--it's
more than you could expect of any man--"

"But with the patient needing you--"

"I know,--but it's an anomalous position, just the same--an unbearable
one. Not one man in a thousand would consider it for an instant. But it's
the one I've accepted--for you!"

He drew her into his arms, and had his reward. He had not known she would
be so deeply touched, and his heart grew very warm.

"Bless you!" he murmured. "Do you care so much about seeing those fires
banked? They would never burn _you_!"

"Care? Oh, how I care! But, Red, you haven't accepted an 'anomalous
position.' It's a clearly defined one,--the position of the man who is
big enough to take second place, because it is his duty. And I'm so proud
of you--so proud! And prouder yet because you've controlled that fiery
temper."

"Don't praise me yet,--it may break out again. The test is coming in the
next forty-eight hours."

"You will stand it,--I know you will."

"You would put backbone into a feather-bed," said Red Pepper, with
conviction, and they laughed and clung together, in the early dawn.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later Burns came home again as the first light of the morning
was breaking over the summer sky. It had been the third consecutive night
which he had spent at the bedside of the patient who would not let him
go,--the patient who, every time his weary eyes lifted, during the long
stretches of the night, wanted to rest them upon a halo of coppery red
hair against the low-burning light. The sick man had learned what it
meant to feel now and then, in a moment of torture, the pressure of a
kind, big hand upon his, and to hear the sound of a quiet, reassuring
voice--_"Steady--steady--better in a minute!"_

As he entered his office his eyes were heavy with his vigils, but his
heart was very light. He looked at a certain old leather chair, into
which he had often sunk when he came in at untimely hours, too weary
to take another step toward bed. But now he passed it by and noiselessly
crossed the hall into the living-room, where stood the roomy and
luxurious couch which Ellen had provided with special thought of hours
like these.

He softly opened the windows, to let in the morning breeze and the
bird-songs of the early risers outside, then threw himself upon the
couch, and almost instantly was sound asleep.

Two hours later, before the household was astir, Ellen came down. She was
in flowing, lacy garments, her hair in freshly braided plaits hanging
over her shoulders, her eyes clear and bright with the invigoration of
the night's rest. As if she had known he would be there, she came
straight to her husband's side, and stood looking down at him with
her heart in her eyes.

He looked almost like a big boy, lying there with one arm under his head,
the heavy lashes marking the line of the closed eyes, the face unbent
from the tenser moulding of waking hours, the whole strong body relaxed
into an attitude of careless ease. Even as she looked, though she had
made scarcely a breath of noise, his eyes unclosed. He was the lightest
of sleepers, even when worn out with work. He lay staring up at her for a
minute while she smiled down at him, then he held out his arms.

"He's passed the danger point," he exulted, and he took hold of the two
long plaits and wound them about her head. Then he sat up and began
deliberately to unbraid her hair, while she submitted laughing.

"At two this morning he had a bad turn," said he, his fingers having
their way with the dusky locks. "The nurse gave him Van Horn's drugs,--he
grew worse. I rose up and took charge." He laughed at the thought. "We
had things doing there that would have made Van's hair curl. Everybody's
hair curled but mine. Mine stood up straight. I waved my arms like a
semaphore. I said _'Do this!'_ and they did it. I sent every one of Van's
emergency orders to thunder and tried my own. They were radical--but they
worked. The patient pulled out,--he'll live now,--I'll warrant him.
They got Van there just as the thing was over. He and I looked each other
in the eye--and I won. _Ah--h!--it was worth it!_"

He drew her hair all over her face, like a veil; then he gently parted it
and kissed her happy lips.

"Oh, but I'm the hungry boy," said he. "Can't we have breakfast--_now_?"



CHAPTER V

MORE THAN ONE OPINION


"I want an opinion," said Burns, one night at dinner, "that shall
coincide with mine. Where do you suppose I'm going to find it?"

He had been more or less abstracted during the entire dinner. He now
offered, in a matter-of-fact tone, this explanation of his abstraction
much as he might have observed that he would like a partridge, if it had
happened to be in season.

"What's a ''pinion,' Uncle Red?" inquired his small ward, Bob. Bob's
six-year-old brain seemed to be always at work in the attempt to solve
problems.

"It's what somebody else thinks about a thing when it agrees with what
you think. When it doesn't agree it's a prejudice," replied Burns. He
forestalled further questioning from Bob by refilling his plate with the
things the boy liked best, and by continuing, himself:

"Grayson's idea about a certain case of mine is prejudice--pure
prejudice. Van Horn's is bluster. Field's is non-committal. Buller would
like to back me up--good old Buller--but is honestly convinced that I'm
making an awful mess of it. I want an opinion--a distinguished opinion."

"Why don't you send for it?" his wife asked.

Burns frowned. "That's the trouble. The more distinguished the opinion
I get the more my patient will have to pay for it, and he can't afford
to pay a tin dollar. At the same time--By George! There's Leaver! I
heard the other day that Leaver was at a sanitorium not a hundred miles
away,--there for a rest. I'll wager he's there with a patient for a few
days--at a good big price a day. Leaver never rests. He's made of steel
wires. I believe I'll have him up on the long-distance and see if I can't
get him to run over."

"Is it Dr. John Leaver of Baltimore you speak of?"

"It surely is. Do you happen to know him?"

"Slightly, and by reputation--a great reputation."

"Great? I should say so. Jack's been sawing wood without resting for ten
years. We were great chums in college, though he was two classes ahead
of me. I was with him again for a winter in Germany, when we were both
studying there. If I can get him over here for a day, I'll have an
opinion worth respecting, whether it happens to agree with mine or not.
And if it doesn't, I'll not call it prejudice."

He left the table to put in a long-distance call. Between the salad
and the dessert he was summoned to talk with his friend. Presently he
returned, chuckling.

"It must be fully ten minutes since I thought of Leaver, and now I have
him promised for to-morrow. I'll meet him in the city, give him the
history of the case at luncheon at the Everett, take him to the hospital
afterward, bring him out here to discuss things, and give him one of your
dinners. Then for a fine evening at our fireside. He's agreed to stay
overnight. I didn't expect that. He's usually in too much of a hurry to
linger long anywhere."

"He has never seemed in a hurry, when I have seen him," Ellen observed.
"He has such a quiet manner, and such a cool, calm way of looking at one,
I always thought he must have a wonderful command of himself."

"I always envied him that," admitted Red Pepper, stirring his coffee with
a thoughtful air. "I used to wish it were contagious, that splendid calm.
He never loses his head, as I do. Takes plenty of time to consider
everything, and plenty to get ready in. But when he does come to the
point of operating,--he's a wonder. Talk about rapidity and brilliancy!
And he never turns a hair. I've often wanted to count his pulse at a
crisis, when he'd found something unexpected--one of those times that
sends mine racing like a dynamo. He's as cool as a fish--outwardly, at
any rate. Well, it will be jolly to see him. I could hardly get his voice
to sound natural, over the 'phone. It seemed weak and thin. Poor service,
I suppose,--though he had no difficulty in hearing me, apparently."

"Shall I put him in the small guest-room or the large, comfortable one?
Which will appeal to him most, space or a reading-light over his bed?"

"Put him in the big room and give him all the comforts of home. I doubt
if he gets many of the really homelike sort, living alone with servants,
in the old family mansion, since his mother died. I've often wondered why
he hasn't married."

"As you've only just married yourself I should think you would be quite
able to supply a reason," suggested Ellen, with a sparkle of her dark
eyes under their heavy lashes.

"He's had plenty of opportunities. Many fair ladies have made it easy for
him to propose to them. But he's not the sort that kindles into flame at
the sight of a match in the distance. Yet he's by no means a cold-blooded
proposition. His heart is as warm as anybody's, under that reserve of
his. That's why I know he'll see my patient for the love of science and
humanity, and charge him nothing."

Ellen found herself particularly interested, next day, in making
preparations for the reception of her husband's friend, the first
bachelor who should spend a night in the house. It was a fortnight since
Red Pepper had insisted upon having the telephones extended to the
upstairs rooms, and during that period two more rooms had been furnished
and put in readiness for the guests whom it was a part of Mrs. Burns's
hospitable creed to expect. The larger of these was a charming apartment,
in blue and white, and possessed a small fireplace, in front of which
stood a low couch, luxurious with many pillows.

"It's rather a feminine looking room for so manly a man as Dr. Leaver,"
Ellen reflected, as she looked in at it, an hour before his arrival, "but
perhaps he's not above enjoying little softnesses of comfort. I believe
I'll have a small fire for him, June though it is. It's a cold June, and
it looks like rain. It _is_ raining." She crossed to the window and
looked out. "Why, it's pouring! What a pity! We shall have to stay
indoors."

As she stood contemplating the downpour, it quite suddenly increased, and
in the course of a minute or two became a deluge. In the midst of it she
discovered a white-clad figure running across the lawn, and recognized
Miss Mathewson, evidently caught in the shower as she was returning to
Burns's office.

"She must be soaked through and through," thought Ellen, and ran
downstairs to meet her, herself clad in dinner dress of the pale lilac
which suited her so well, and for which her husband had conceived a
special fondness.

"Oh, don't come near me, please, Mrs. Burns," expostulated Miss
Mathewson, as she stood, dripping, on the porch outside the office, while
Ellen, in the open door, motioned her within. "I'll just stay here until
the worst is over, and then run home and change."

"Indeed you'll come in. Nothing can hurt this floor, and it's turned ever
so cold, as I can feel. It may rain for an hour. I'll give you everything
you need, and be delighted."

There was no resisting Red Pepper's wife; she was accustomed to have her
way. Miss Mathewson, reluctant but shivering, came inside, and when her
clothing had ceased to drip moisture, followed Ellen upstairs. Presently,
dry-clad, she was taken into Ellen's own room and confronted with an
invitation which was rather a command.

"You're to stay and have dinner with us. I've laid out a frock which I'm
confident will fit you. Please don't say no. It's a special providence,
for I've been wishing all the afternoon I had asked somebody to make a
fourth at our table, to meet Dr. Leaver. And now I shall have the
pleasure of dressing you for the occasion, since you can't possibly go
home through this, and wouldn't have time to dress and come back, if you
could."

"But, Mrs. Burns,--" Amy Mathewson began, flushing after a fashion she
had which made her for the moment almost pretty and certainly attractive,
"there's no real reason why you need me, and I--"

"I do need you. Three is such a stupid number. You will enjoy Dr. Leaver
and he will enjoy you. Come, my dear girl, don't spend any more time
remonstrating, but do your hair and put on this simple frock, which I'm
confident will just suit you. You're a bit taller, I know, but the dress
is long for me, and will be quite the right length for you. Sit down here
at my dressing-table, and let me help you dry that beautiful hair. I've
often longed to see it all unconfined, and now I'm going to have the
chance."

As she spoke she slipped on a loose protecting garment above her lilac
daintiness, and waved an inviting hand to her guest, smiling so coaxingly
that Miss Mathewson yielded without another word of protest. When the
hairpins came out, and the mass of fair hair fell upon the shoulders,
Ellen exclaimed with hearty admiration:

"I knew it was wonderful hair, but I didn't dream there was such a
wealth. My dear, why do you wear it in such a tight fashion, as if you
wanted everybody to think there wasn't much of it? Do let me try dressing
it for you in a way I know, which it seems to me would just suit your
face. Have you always worn it coiled on top of your head, and shall you
feel very strange and uncomfortable if I arrange it lower?"

"Do it as you like, Mrs. Burns, since you will be so kind. But don't
expect me not to feel strange, wearing your clothes and staying to
dinner. Do you realize how far from society I've lived, all these years
that I've been nursing for Dr. Burns?"

"I know you are a lady, and that is quite enough. And our simple dinner
isn't 'society,' it's home. Now, please keep quite still, and don't
distract my mind, while I lay these smooth strands in place. I want every
one to lie in just this shining order."

Ellen worked at her self-appointed task with all the interest of the born
artist, who has an ever-present dream of things as they ought to look.
When the last confining pin was in place she viewed the fair head before
her from every point, then clapped her hands delightedly, and presented
Miss Mathewson with a hand-mirror.

"You must get the side view, then you'll recognize how these new lines
bring out that distinguished profile that's been obscured all this time.
Do you see? Do you know yourself, my dear? Won't you always wear it this
way, to please me?"

"But I never could do it myself, in the world," pleaded Amy Mathewson,
her cheeks again flooding with colour at the strange sight of herself.

"It's perfectly simple, and I'll teach you with pleasure,--only not now,
for we must hurry. I'll slip the frock over your head without disturbing
a hair, and then we'll go down, for I want a bit of a blaze on the hearth
in the living-room, to offset this dull-gray sky."

On went the frock in question, a "simple" one, undoubtedly, but of
the sort of simplicity which tells its own story to the initiated.
Whether its new wearer recognized or not its perfection of detail, she
could but see that it suited her to a nicety, both in hue--a soft apricot
shade--and in its absence of elaboration. Its effect was to soften every
line of the face above it, and to set off its wearer's delicate colouring
as the white uniforms could never do.

"Don't you quite dare to look at her?" questioned the self-appointed
lady's maid, merrily, as she led her charge to stand in front of a long
mirror, set in a door.

"Hardly." Miss Mathewson raised eyes grown suddenly shy to view her own
image in the glass, gave her back a picture such as she had never dreamed
could be made by herself, under any conditions whatever. Over her
shoulder her employer's wife smiled at her.

"She looks very charming, to me, however she looks to you. But I won't
force her to stare long at such a stranger. It might make it difficult
for her to forget the stranger afterward, which is what I want her to
do."

Ellen ran away to make herself ready once more, and returning put her arm
about her guest's waist, in the friendly way of her own which came still
more naturally now that the uniform was gone. Together the two descended
the stairs to the living-room, there to await the arrival of Burns and
his friend.

This took place about three quarters of an hour after it was to be
expected, as Red Pepper's arrivals usually did, whether accompanied or
not by invited guests. The two came in laughing together over some
reminiscence, and Ellen recognized the tall, distinguished figure she
well remembered, with the clean-cut features, the fine eyes rather deep
set under heavy brows, the firm yet sensitive mouth. Yet, after a moment,
as Dr. John Leaver stood talking with her, she observed a careworn look,
a dimming of the fresh, clear colour she had noted on former meetings;
altogether in his whole aspect she found more than a suggestion of undue
fatigue, and when the smile ceased to light his face, even of sadness
quite unwonted.

While he was in his room before dinner, she held a hasty consultation
with her husband, as he dressed with the speed of which he was master
through long practice.

"Dr. Leaver can't be quite well, Red,--to look like that?"

"I should say not. I haven't asked him a question and he hasn't said a
word, but it shows all over him. He's not my old friend Jack Leaver, at
all, and it upsets me. I'm hoping he'll unload, and tell me what's wrong,
though I can guess fairly well for myself. I could see, all through our
consultation, that he held himself in hand with an effort. The old
keenness was there, but not the old command. He's worn out, for one
thing,--though there may be more than that. But, see here,--do you mean
to tell me that's Amy Mathewson you've got downstairs? Never! It might be
her younger sister--six years younger--but not my staid nurse. Not even
you could bring about such a miracle."

"Isn't it wonderful? Yet--it isn't, at all. She's always worn her hair
strained back from her face and put up into that tight coil on the top of
her head. Dressing it properly has made two thirds of the difference and
the apricot frock makes the other third. Isn't it delightful?"

"No doubt of that. She's a mighty good girl, and if she can make shift to
be a good-looking one as well, there may be a bit of fun left in life for
her yet. She's by no means old, and you've made her young,--bless your
generous heart! I don't know how you ever managed to get her consent,
though. She thinks that uniform is her shell, and can't be doffed. But I
don't think she's likely to get much fun out of Leaver to-night. He's
just about fit for bed, or I'm no diagnostician."

"Then let's put him there," said Ellen, promptly.

"Oh, I don't mean that literally. One of your dinners ought to set him
up, and Amy Mathewson won't make any exacting demands on his brilliancy."

"Won't she? You can't tell what pretty clothes may do for her. She will
surprise you some time, in spite of the fact that you know her so well."

"Wise woman. She will, if you have a hand in the game. You can be trusted
to bring out every one's best. Bother this tie--it acts like original
sin."

"I won't offer to tie it for you. I can't imagine Redfield Pepper Burns
allowing his wife to tie his cravat for him."

"Can't you? That is to say, won't you?" He came close.

She shook her head, and moved away, smiling. "It would destroy a certain
ideal. Stop laughing! One of your most powerful charms for me is your
independence."

He groaned and continued to struggle with the bow of black silk which
eluded his efforts to fasten it securely. "I thought all women delighted
in getting their husband's neckwear adjusted according to their own
notions. Another dream shattered!--Well, here goes for the last time. If
I can't get it right now I'll go in and implore Jack to do it for me. It
will open his eyes as to how far hopes may be slain by realities. There!
That's a pretty good result, at last. I'll go across now, and see if he
wants any of my assistance."

Ten minutes later both men appeared in the living-room. In his evening
attire Dr. Leaver looked a tall and sombre figure, and the contrast
between him and his friend, as Red Pepper stood beside him on the
hearth-rug, the picture of ruddy health, was startling.

"You must be pretty heavy, Red," Leaver said considering his host. "Not a
particle of superfluous fat, but good, solid structure, I should say. One
wouldn't want to try to pass you against your will, in a narrow alley, on
a dark night."

"It strikes me you could glide by me in the shadow and never attract my
attention," Burns replied, his keen eyes on his friend's face. "The
difference between us is that every inch of you represents concentrated
energy, while my plant spreads all over the landscape without producing
half as much power."

Leaver smiled. There was both strength and sweetness in his smile, but
there was depression in it also. "That sounds like you," he said. "I
suppose many men envy other men the possession of some supposed source of
efficiency. Just now I find myself envying you your home--and its
occupants. What a delightful room."

He turned to his hostess and her friend. While they talked together Burns
regarded Amy Mathewson, his long-time associate, with renewed wonder, and
presently found himself addressing her from an entirely new point of
view. This fair girl with the graceful head and the glowing blue eyes
could not possibly be the sedate young woman who was accustomed to hand
him instruments and sutures, ligate arteries, and attend to various minor
matters from the other side of his operating-table. He wondered why he
had never before noticed how much real individuality she possessed, nor
how really attractive she was of face and person. He decided afresh that
his wife was the most wonderful woman in the world, to be able to see at
a glance that which had escaped his attention for so long, and he
congratulated Miss Mathewson, in his mind, on the possibilities he for
the first time saw ahead of her. Clearly after all she was a woman, not a
machine!

The party went out to dinner, and Burns looked to see his friend enjoy,
as he thought he must, the cleverly planned and deliciously cooked meal
which came, perfectly served, upon the table. It was such a dinner as he
himself delighted in, unostentatious but satisfying, with certain
touches, here and there, calculated to tempt the most capricious
palate,--such as he shrewdly judged Leaver, in his presumably lowered
state of vitality, to possess.

But to his surprise and dismay the guest barely touched most of the
dishes, and ate so sparingly of others that Burns felt himself, with his
hearty, normal appetite, a gormandizer. Nobody made any comment whatever
upon Dr. Leaver's lack of appetite, but all three noted, with growing
concern, that there were moments when he seemed to keep up with an
effort. Instinctively the others made short work of the later courses,
and felt a decided relief when it became possible to leave the table and
return to the living-room.

By a bit of clever management Ellen was able to put the guest's tall form
into a corner of the big davenport, among the blue pillows, where he
could receive more support than was possible in any other place. After a
little he seemed less fatigued, and charmed them all with his pleasant
discourse. Burns himself was soon summoned to the office. He would not
allow Miss Mathewson to take up her duties there, though she followed him
to offer eagerly to run home and change her attire.

"Not a bit of it," Burns assured her, in the hall. He regarded her with
mischief in his eyes. "Cinderella isn't due at home till the clock
strikes twelve," he whispered. "Besides,--the Prince isn't in his usual
form to-night. He may need her services as nurse at any minute, judging
by his appearance."

That sent her back into the room, as he knew it would. It was, for her,
a wonderfully interesting hour which followed, for Dr. Leaver and Mrs.
Burns fell to discussing life in a certain great city, as both knew it
from quite different standpoints, and she herself had only to listen and
observe. She thought the pair upon the davenport made a striking picture,
the woman in her rich and still youthful beauty, her smile a thing to
wonder at, her voice low music to the ear; the man, though no older than
Burns, worn and grave, yet with a strangely winning personality, and eyes
which seemed to see far beneath the surface. In all Amy Mathewson's
experience with the men of Burns's profession, she had never met just
such a one as John Leaver. The sense of his personal worth and dignity
was strong upon her as she watched him; his evident fatigue and weakness
appealed to her sympathies; and she forgot herself more completely than
she had imagined she could when first summoned to the unaccustomed part
she was this evening playing.

But, quite suddenly, the scene changed. In the act of speaking Dr. Leaver
suddenly stopped, put one hand to his side, and lay back against the high
end of the davenport, breathing short, his face turning pallid, ashen.
Ellen rose to her feet in dismay, but Amy Mathewson sprang toward him,
drew him with strong arms gently down to a position more nearly
recumbent, and with fingers on his pulse said in a low voice, "Call the
Doctor, please."

Ellen ran, and in a minute had Burns there, striding in, in his white
office jacket, his face tense with sudden anxiety. Leaver was panting for
breath as Burns felt his pulse and nodded at Amy, who hurried quietly
away. She was back very quickly, handing Burns a tiny instrument ready
for use. In a moment more the supporting drug was on its way to lend aid,
and Burns was bending over his friend again, laying a gentle hand upon
the damp forehead, and saying with quiet assurance:

"All right, old boy. We'll have you comfortable in no time. You were too
tired to play society man to-night, and we oughtn't to have allowed it."

It was not very long before Leaver was breathing more easily, and a trace
of colour had come back to his face. He moved his head and tried to speak
naturally:

"I am--rather--ashamed of myself--"

"You've no business to be. When a fellow is played out Nature takes her
innings--and she takes all that's coming to her. You're going up to bed
in a few minutes, and you're going to stay there till the rest has had a
chance to get in some work. Miss Mathewson will stay with you for a bit.
She's a famous nurse."

Leaver's head moved in surprised protest, and Miss Mathewson spoke:

"He doesn't know, Dr. Burns, that that is my profession."

Burns laughed. "Oh, I see. That was a bit startling, for a fact. But she
is, Leaver, the most accomplished of her guild, and my right-hand man.
She can make you more comfortable in an hour than I can in a week."

Upstairs, while she released Amy from the apricot frock, that something
more in keeping with the duties of a nurse might be donned, Ellen
questioned anxiously:

"The Doctor must think him really ill, to speak of keeping him in bed. Do
you know what is the matter?"

"His heart action is weak. I don't know the cause, of course. He seems
worn out; that showed plainly all the evening. I'm going to run home,
Mrs. Burns; my wet things must be quite dry, now. There'll be time, I'm
sure. The Doctor won't bring him upstairs for a little yet."

She hurried away, and was back within the half hour. Although she no
longer looked the part of the fine lady, the old rôle seemed hardly hers.
The new fashion of her hair had changed her appearance very completely,
and the youthful look it had restored to her remained, to Ellen's no
little pleasure. Her cheeks were still flushed with the evening's
excitement, and her eyes were charmingly bright and happy.

When everything was in readiness, Burns, in spite of all remonstrance
from his friend, lifted him in his powerful arms and carried him
upstairs. The exertion made him breathe a little heavily for a moment,
but that was all. Leaver was not a light burden, in spite of his
thinness, for his frame was that of a man who should carry many pounds
more than he now bore.

"You strong man, how I envy you," Leaver said, sadly, as Burns laid him
upon the bed.

"Your envy of me can't be a circumstance to that I've felt, many a time,
when I've watched you. But you've been working like a slave too long.
Rest is all you need, man."

But Leaver slowly shook his head. He did not reply to this confident
statement, and Burns knew better than to try to argue it out with him
just then. Instead, with a warm grip of the hand, he turned his new case
over to the care of his nurse, and went away, his heart heavy at sight of
a strong man prone.



CHAPTER VI

BROKEN STEEL WIRES


"But I can't stay here," John Leaver protested, a few days afterward. He
was still in bed, much against his will, but not, as he was forced to
admit, against his judgment, when he allowed it consideration. "I can't
impose on Mrs. Burns's and your kindness like this. I shall soon be fit
for travel, and then--"

"Would you mind listening to me?" R.P. Burns, M.D., sat comfortably back
in a large willow chair, by the bedside, and crossed one leg over the
other in a fashion indicative of an intention to settle down to it and
have it out. "Just let me state the case to you, and try to look at it
from the outside. Of course that's a difficult thing to do, when it
happens to be your own case, but you have a judicial mind, and you can
do the trick, if anybody can."

Leaver was silent. He lay staring out of the open window beside which his
bed had been drawn, his thin cheek showing gaunt hollows, his eyes heavy
with unrest. All the scents and sounds of June were pouring in at the
three windows of the room; a tangle of rose vines looked in at him from
this nearest one. Just before Amy Mathewson had left him, a few minutes
ago, for her afternoon rest, she had brought him one wonderful bloom,
the queen, it seemed, of all the roses of that June. It lay upon the
window-sill, now, within reach of his hand.

Burns began to speak. His tone was matter-of-fact, yet it held
inflections of tenderness. His friend's case appealed to him powerfully;
his sympathy with Leaver's state of mind, as he was confident he
understood it, was intense. "If it were I!" he had said to himself--and
to Ellen--and had groaned in spirit at the thought. If it had been his
own case, it seemed to him he could not have endured it.

"You were at that sanitorium," Burns began. "Sanitoriums are useful
institutions, some of them get splendid results. But they have their
disadvantages. It's pretty difficult to eliminate the atmosphere of
illness. And, for a man whose training and instincts lead him to see
behind every face he meets in such a place, it's not an ideal spot at
all. What you need is a home, and that's what we're offering you, for as
long as you need it."

"And I appreciate it more than any words can express," Leaver said
gratefully. He turned his head now, and looked at his host. "Just to know
that I have such friends does me good. And I know that you mean all you
say. If I were a subject for a cure I might almost be tempted to take you
at your word."

"You are a subject for a cure."

Leaver shook his head, turning it away again. "Only to a certain point,"
he said, quietly. "Of course I know that rest and quiet will put my heart
right, because there's no organic lesion. Probably I shall build up and
get the better of my depression of mind--to a certain extent. But,
there's one thing I'm facing I haven't owned to you. You may as well know
it. I shall never be able to operate again.... Perhaps you can guess what
that means to me," he added. His voice was even, but his breathing was
slightly quickened.

Burns was silent for a time, his own heart heavy with sympathy for
Leaver. Guess what a conviction like that must mean to a man of Leaver's
early eminence in the world of distinguished operative surgery? He surely
could. It had been his almost certain knowledge that this was his
friend's real trouble which had made him say to himself with a groan, "If
it were I!" So he did not answer hastily to persist in assurance that all
would yet be well. He knew Leaver understood that sort of professional
hypnosis too thoroughly to be affected by it.

Burns got up and took a turn or two up and down the room, thinking things
out. His face was graver than patients usually saw it; there was in it,
however, a look of determination which grew, moment by moment, as he
walked. Presently he came back to the bedside and sat down again.

"Suppose you tell me all about it, Jack," said he. "You haven't done me
that honour, yet, you know. Will it be too hard on you? Just to make a
clean breast of every thought and every experience which has led you to
this point? I know I'm rather forcing myself upon you as your physician.
If you prefer, I'll withdraw from the case, in favour of any better man
you may choose, and send for him to-day."

Leaver's head turned back again. "I know no better man," he said, and
their eyes met.

"There are plenty of better men," Burns went on, "but I confess I want
this case, and am ready to take advantage of having it in my house, for
the present, at least. Well, then,--if you can trust me, why not do as
I suggest?"

Leaver shivered a little, in the warm June light, and put one hand for a
moment over his eyes.

"You don't know what you ask, Red," he said, slowly.

"Don't I? Perhaps not. Yet--I have a notion that I do. It would be a
trifle easier to face the rack and thumbscrew, eh? Well, let's get it
over. Possibly telling will ease you a bit, after all. It works that way
sometimes."

By and by, persisting, gently questioning, helping by his quick
understanding of a situation almost before Leaver had unwillingly
pictured it, he had the whole story. It was almost precisely the story
he had guessed,--an old story, repeated by many such sufferers from
overwork and heavy responsibility, but new to each in its entirety of
torture, even to this man, who, still in his youthful prime, had himself
heard many such a tale from the unhappy lips of his patients, yet to whom
his own case seemed unique in its suffering and hopelessness.

The recital culminated in an incident so painful to the subject of it
that he could recount it only in the barest outlines. His listener,
however, by the power of his experience and his sympathy, could fill in
every detail. A day had come, some six weeks before, when Leaver, though
thoroughly worn out by severe and long continued strain, had attempted
to operate. The case was an important one, the issue doubtful. Friends of
the patient had insisted that no one else should take the eminent young
surgeon's place, and, although he had had more than one inner warning, in
recent operations, that his nerve was not what it had been, his pride had
bid him see the thing through. He had given himself an energizing
hypodermic,--he had never done that before,--and had gone into it. There
had come a terrible moment.... Leaver's lips grew white as he tried to
tell it.

He felt his friend's warm, firm hand upon his own as he faltered.
"Steady, old fellow," said Burns's quiet voice. "We've got this nearly
over. You'll be better afterward."

After a little Leaver went on.

He had come upon an unexpected complication--one undreamed of by himself
or the consulting surgeons. "You know--" said Leaver. Burns nodded,
emphatically. "You bet I know," said he, and his hand came again upon
Leaver's, and stayed there. Leaver went on again, slowly.

Instant decision had been necessary, instant action. It was such a moment
as he had faced hundreds of times before, and his quick wit, his
surgeon's power of resource, his iron nerve, had always come to the
support of his skill, and together these attributes had won the day for
him. Fear, at such crises, had never possessed him, however much,
afterward, reviewing the experience, he had wondered that it had not. But
this time, fear--fear--a throttling, life-destroying fear had sprung upon
him and gripped him by the throat. Standing there, entirely himself,
except for that horrible consciousness that he could not proceed, he had
had to beckon to the most experienced of the surgeons present who
surrounded him as onlookers, and say to him: "Get ready--and take this
case. I can't go on."

There had been no apparent physical collapse on his part, no fainting nor
attack of vertigo, nothing to help him out in the eyes of that wondering,
startled company of observers. He had been able to direct his assistants
how to hold the operation in suspension until the astonished, unwilling
colleague could make ready to step into the breach, cursing under his
breath that such an undesired honour should have been thrust upon him.
Then Leaver had walked out of the room, quite without assistance, only
replying wanly to those who questioned, "There's nothing to say. I
couldn't go on with it. Yes, I am perfectly well."

It had not got into the papers. They had been kind enough to see to
that, those pitying professional colleagues who had witnessed his
dispossession. The patient had lived. If he had died the thing must have
come out. But he had lived. The situation could not have been as
desperate a one as it had seemed. The other man had handled it,--and he
was by no means a man eminent in his profession. There had been no
excuse, then, for such a seizure,--no excuse. It meant--the end.

Well, it was certainly the end of recounting it, for when he had reached
this point Leaver's power to endure the thought of it all failed him, and
he lay back upon his pillows, his brow damp and his breath short.

Burns silently ministered to him, pain in his eyes, his lips drawn tight
together. His sympathy for his friend was intense.

It seemed to him incredible that this shaken spirit before him could be
John Leaver--Leaver, whom, as he had told his wife, he had often envied
his perfect self-command, his supposed steadiness of pulse, his whole
strong, cool personality, unaffected by issues such as always keyed Burns
himself up to a tremendous tension, making him pale with the strain.
"Leaver's made of steel wires," had been his description of his friend to
Ellen. Well, the steel wires were stretched and broken, now, no doubt of
that. The question was whether they could ever be mended and restrung.

When Leaver was comfortable again,--comfortable as far as an evenly
beating heart and a return of blood to the parts which needed it could
make him,--Burns spoke to him once more.

"We won't talk about this any more to-day, Jack," he said. "You've had
enough for now, and I have what I needed,--the facts to work upon. Just
let me say this much. I'm not discouraged by anything I've heard to-day.
I'll not try any bluffs or jollyings with you, because I know they
wouldn't work, but I do say this, honestly: I'm not discouraged. And I'm
interested--interested to the bottom of my heart. I'm going to put the
best there is in me into this problem. I never tackled anything in my
life that appealed to me more powerfully. If that's any comfort just now,
I offer it. If you were my brother I couldn't be more anxious to pull you
out of this ditch. Now, trust me, and try to go to sleep."

Leaver did not look up at the kind, almost boyishly tender face above
him, but he pressed the hand which grasped his own, and Burns saw a tear
creep out from under the closed lids of the eyes under which the black
shadows lay so deeply. The well man took himself away from the sick one
as quickly as he could after that,--he couldn't bear the sight of that
tear! It was more eloquent of Leaver's weakness than all his difficult
words.

When he met Miss Mathewson, an hour afterward, in the hall, on her way
back to her patient, he delayed her.

"I want you to do more than nurse this case, Amy," he said, fixing her
with a certain steady look of his with which he always gave commands.
"I want you to put all your powers, as a woman, into it. Forget that you
are nursing Dr. Leaver, try to think of him as a friend. You can make one
of him, if you try, for you have in you qualities which will appeal to
him--if you will let him see them. You have hardly let even me see
them,"--he smiled as he said it,--"but my eyes have been opened at last.
I'm inclined to believe that you can do more for our patient than even my
wife or I,--if you will. Suppose,"--he spoke with a touch of the
dangerously persuasive manner he could assume when he willed, and which
most people found it hard to resist,--"you just let yourself go, and
try--deliberately try--to make Dr. Leaver like you!"

She coloured furiously under the suggestion. "Dr. Burns! Do you realize
what you're saying?"

"Quite thoroughly. I'm asking you not to hesitate to make of yourself a
woman of interest and charm for him, for the sake of taking him out of
himself. Isn't that a perfectly legitimate part for a nurse to play when
that happens to be the medicine needed? You have those powers,--how
better could you use them? Suppose you are able, through your effect of
sweetness and light, to minister to a mind diseased;--isn't that quite as
worthy an occupation as counting out drops of aconite, or applying
mustard plasters?"

Amy Mathewson shook her head. "Do you realize, Dr. Burns, that a man
like--your guest--is so far beyond me in mind and--tastes--in every way,
that I could never--interest him in the way you speak of--even if I were
willing to try?"

She spoke with difficulty. As Burns studied her downbent face, the
profile his wife had brought out by her skill at hair-dressing showing
like a fine cameo against the dark background of the wall, he was
thinking that unless Leaver were blind he must find her rather satisfying
to the eye, at least. He answered her with confidence.

"He's a man of education, it's true. But what are you? Come,--haven't I
found all sorts of evidences, about my office, that you are a woman of
education? It doesn't matter whether you got that education in a college
or from the books I know you have read,--you have it. I'll trust your
ability to discuss six out of a dozen subjects Leaver may bring up--or,
if you can't discuss them all, you can do what is better--let him
instruct you. Don't tell me you can't handle those cards every
fascinating woman understands so well. If there's anything a man likes to
do it's to teach an interested woman the things she cleverly professes
she wants to know--and the best of it is that no matter how often you
play that game on us we're always caught by it. Leaver will be caught by
it, just as if he hadn't had it tried on him a thousand times. And while
he's playing it with you, he'll forget himself, which is the first step
on the road I want him to travel."

She looked up. "Do you mean that I am to keep on attending him after he
is able to leave his room? Is he going to stay with you after that? He
told me only to-day that he intends to go as soon as he is able to
travel."

"We shall keep him as long as we can possibly persuade him to stay.
Meanwhile, my plan is to have you settle down and stay with us, as a
member of the family. We'll have someone else attend to the office. You
can go with me, as usual, when I operate, but I shall put you on no case
but Dr. Leaver's, and the greater part of your time will be his."

"But what will he think? Doesn't he know that I'm your office nurse?"

"How should he know it--unless you have taken pains to tell him?"

She shook her head. "He only knows that I am your assistant at
operations. The other point hasn't come up."

"Good. Then he will accept whatever situation he finds, and never think
of questioning it. The way is clear enough. And it's the only way I know
of to insure his having what he needs--the close companionship of a
sympathetic--yet not too sympathetic--woman--with a face like yours,"
he added, slyly.

The quick colour answered this, as he knew it would. "Dr. Burns! You know
I'm not even good looking! Please don't say such things."

"I only said 'a face like yours.' That may imply a face as plain as you
think Amy Mathewson's is--and as my wife and I know it is not. It's time
you waked up, girl, to your own attractions. You ought to have faith in
them when I'm asking the use of them for this patient of mine. I'd give
about all I own to put him on his feet again."

"I hope you can--indeed I do. And of course--anything I can do--"

He nodded. "I'll leave that to you. Consult--not your head alone,
but--your heart!"

And he let her go, smiling at her evident confusion of mind. But when
left alone he sighed again.

"He needs a woman like my Ellen,--_that_ would be a drug of a higher
potency. But--he can't have that--he can't have that! I must do the
next best thing."

And he went on his way, studying it out.

That evening he took his wife into his confidence. He did not tell her
the whole story,--it was not his to tell. But he made her acquainted with
the fact that Leaver had had a severe nervous shock and that the thing to
be overcome was his own distrust of himself, the thing to be recovered
was his entire self-command.

"I have insisted on his staying as long as he can be content," Burns
explained. "I had your consent to that, I know?"

"Of course, Red. You knew that."

"In my enthusiasm I went a step further, without realizing that I had not
consulted you. I asked Amy Mathewson to stay with us too, as a member of
the family. I asked her cooperation as a woman, as well as a nurse, and
to have that it seemed to me necessary to have her here, even after he is
up and able to look after his own wants. How will you feel about that?"

He looked straight into her eyes. They were sitting upon a small side
porch, in the late June evening. He had come in from a visit to a nearby
patient, and, finding her upon the porch, had thrown himself upon the
cushion at her feet, his head against her knee. Now, he turned and looked
up at her, and she could see his expression clearly in the moonlight.

"I don't believe I quite understand yet," she said. "What is it that you
want Amy to do for him, 'as a woman'? Read to him, and walk with him, and
be a sort of comrade?"

"Precisely that--and a bit more."

"Can you prescribe that sort of thing, and make sure that it will work
out? He may not care for it."

"I want him to have a woman's companionship; it's what he needs, I firmly
believe. It must be a certain sort of woman--the kind who will be good
for his nerves, gently stimulating, not exacting. One of the brilliant
society women he knows wouldn't do at all. The ideal kind would be--your
own kind. But he can't have that." He spoke so decidedly that she smiled,
though he did not see it. "It seems to me that Amy, if she puts her heart
into it, can give him just what he needs. Remember he's a sick man, and
will continue to be a sick man for some time after he's walking about our
streets and climbing our hills."

"Yes, I'm afraid he will be. And you think he will accept Amy's
companionship, after he is walking about, as a part of his medicine?
Shall you insist on her being with him, or is she to wait to be invited
to read to him and walk with him?"

His brows knit in a frown. "You think I'm prescribing something I can't
administer? But I think that he will grow so used to having her with
him, while he actually needs her as a nurse, that, when he gets about and
finds her still here, he will quite naturally fall into the way of
seeking her company."

"Perhaps he will. At any rate, she is very welcome to stay, as long as
you want her for the experiment."

"You are an angel! I realize that I shouldn't have made such an
arrangement without asking your permission. To tell the truth, I'm so
used to--"

He stopped short, with a little ejaculation of dismay.

"I understand, dear," she said quickly. "You are so used to being master
of the house that you forgot the new conditions. It's all right--you are
still master--particularly in everything that has to do with your
profession. And if you can find a cure for poor Dr. Leaver's broken
spirit I shall be as happy as you."

"It's going to make you a lot of trouble,--two guests in the house, for
an indefinite period. You see, I'm just waking up to what I'm asking of
you. It's precisely like my impetuosity to create a situation I can't
retreat from, and then wonder at my own nerve. Will it bother you very
much?"

"It's what we're here for, isn't it?" She smiled at him as he turned and
put both arms around her, kneeling beside her in the shadow of the vines.
"It's certainly what you are here for, and I am your partner, or I'm not
much of a wife."

"Bless you, you darling; you surely are. And such a partner! If Leaver
had one like you--he wouldn't be where he is. But he can't have you,"
he repeated, and held her closer. "I couldn't see you reading to him and
walking with him, and being a friend to him,--I couldn't see it, that's
all, no matter how much good you might do him. Queer--I didn't know that
was in me--that feeling. Macauley calls me a Turk. I guess that's what I
am. It's a primitive sort of instinct, scoffed at in these days when half
the married women are playing with fire in the shape of other women's
husbands. But I hate that sort of thing--have always hated it. I'm a
Turk, all right. Do you mind?"

"No, I don't think I mind," she answered softly. "But I want your perfect
trust, Red."

"You have it, oh, you have it, love. No possible question of that. And
I don't mean that I'm not willing to have Leaver get what he can of
your dearness, as he's bound to feel it, in our home. But this comrade
business, which I feel he's so much in need of,--that's what he can't
have from you. And if he stayed on, and there was no other woman about,
why, quite naturally--"

He stopped. Then, as she was silent, "You won't misunderstand me, little
wife?" he begged. "I've seen so much of the other thing, you know. Can I
be--enough for you?"

"Quite enough, Red."

After a minute he went back to the thing which absorbed him. "I can see
you haven't much confidence in my plan for Amy's helping him?"

She hesitated. "You spoke just now of playing with fire. You don't
feel that in throwing two people so closely together you are risking
something?"

He considered it. "My idea is that Amy will administer her comradeship as
she would her medicines. She is the most conscientious girl alive; she
won't give him a drop too much."

"Not a drop too much for his good, perhaps. But what about hers, dear?
When he is himself Dr. Leaver can be a wonderfully interesting and
compelling man, you know. It would be a pity for her to grow to care for
him, if--I don't suppose it is at all possible to expect him to care
seriously for her,--do you?"

"Well, I shouldn't have said so a month ago. But I'm just beginning to
realize a new side to Amy Mathewson. I don't suppose I ever saw her--to
look at her--out of her uniform, before that night when you dressed her
up. By George, along with the clothes she seemed to put on a new skin!"

"Uniforms are disguising things," Ellen admitted, "and Amy is a lady,
born and bred, in her uniform and out of it. But it's not much use
speculating on what will happen, when the arrangements are already made.
We must just do our best for Dr. Leaver, and hope that no harm will come
to either of them."

"None will--under your roof," her husband asserted confidently.



CHAPTER VII

POINTS OF VIEW


"A lady downstairs to see you, Mrs. Burns." Cynthia presented a card.

It was early morning. Ellen had just seen her husband off in the Green
Imp, and was busy at various housewifely tasks. She took the card in
some surprise, for morning calls were not much in vogue in this small
town. But when she read the name--"Miss Ruston"--she gave a little cry of
delight, and ran downstairs as one goes to welcome a long absent friend.

A graceful figure, radiant with health and good looks, dressed in the
trimmest and simplest of travelling attire, yet with a gay and saucy air
about her somewhere, quite difficult to locate, rose as Ellen came in.
Dark eyes flashed, lips smiled happily, and a pair of arms opened wide.
Ellen found herself caught and held in a warm embrace, which she returned
with a corresponding ardour.

"Why, Charlotte, dear!" she cried. "Where did you come from? And why
didn't you let me know?"

"Straight from home, Len, darling. And I didn't let you know because I
didn't know myself till I was here. Oh, do let me look at you! How dear,
how dear you are! I had almost forgotten anybody could be so lovely."

"That sounds like you, you enthusiastic person. How glad I am to see
you--it seems so long. I hope you have come to make me a visit, now you
are here."

"Just a wee one, for a day, while I make plans at express speed, and fly
back again to grandmother. I left her in Baltimore."

"Really? Did you bring her 'way up from Charleston? Then she must be
pretty well?"

"Very well, if, like a piece of old china, I keep her quiet on the top
shelf. Baltimore is the bottom shelf, for her, even though she's with
the Priedieus, who will take the kindest care of her. Hence my haste.
Oh, I can't wait a minute till I tell you my plans. Let me splash my
dusty face and I'll plunge in. I want your advice, your interest, and
your--cooperation!"

"You shall have them all, my dearest girl. Come upstairs," and Ellen led
the way, Miss Ruston following with a small travelling bag of which she
would not give her hostess possession.

"What a dear house!" The guest was throwing rapid glances all about her
as she mounted the stairs. "I should have known that living-room was
yours if I hadn't had your Aunt Lucy's famous old desk to give me a clue.
O, Len, the very back of you is enchanting!"

Ellen turned to laugh at Charlotte Ruston's characteristic fervour of
expression. "I remember you are always admiring people's backs," she
observed.

"Yes, they're often so much more interesting than their faces. But
yours--merely gives promise of what the face fulfills! Forgive me,
Len,--you know when I haven't seen you for ages I have to tell you
what I think of you. In here? Oh, what an adorable room!"

It was Ellen's own. She was thinking rapidly. Dr. John Leaver occupied
one of her two guest-rooms, Amy Mathewson the other. She should have to
turn Bob out of the bachelor's room, and send him down to stay with
Cynthia. But Miss Ruston put an end to her planning at once by adding:

"I can't even sleep under your roof, Len, for I've engaged my berth on
the sleeper to-night. I'm always in such anxiety about Granny when I get
her away from her quiet corner. Now let me make myself clean with all
haste, that I may not lose a minute of this happy day with you."

She was as good as her word, and in five minutes was looking as fresh as
the fortunate possessor of much rich and youthful bloom can be at a touch
of soap and water. She gave her hostess a second embrace, laying a cheek
like a June rose against Ellen's more delicately tinted cheek, and
murmuring:

"I never can tell you how I have missed you since that all-conquering
husband of yours brought you off up North. By the way, is that his
photograph?"

She was looking over Ellen's shoulder at a picture in an ivory-and-silver
frame upon the dressing-table. She answered her own question.

"Of course it is. I'd know by the look of him that he must be Red Pepper
Burns." She went over and examined the pictured face closely. "I could
make a better picture of him than that,--I know it without seeing him in
the flesh. What a splendid pair of eyes! Do they look right down into
your inmost thoughts--or do they see only as far as your liver? Fine
head, good mouth, straight nose, chin like a stone wall! Goodness! do you
never meet up with that chin?"

She looked around at Ellen with mischief in her bright brown eyes.

"Of course I do! Would you have a man chinless?"

"Luckily, you have a determined little round chin of your own," Miss
Ruston observed. "And you're happy with him? Yes, I can see it in your
face. Well, now, shall we talk about me? Because I have so little time,
you know, and so much has to be settled before night."

"Tell me all about it at once, dear." And Ellen established her guest in
a high-backed, cushioned wicker chair by the window, and sat down close
by. The two looked at each other, smiling.

"Well, Len, I never could lead up to a thing; I have to tell it in one
burst, and trust to Providence to sustain the hearer. What would you
say--to--my coming to this place for a year, renting a cottage, putting
in a skylight, and--practising my profession of photography in your
midst?"

"Charlotte Ruston!"

"My middle name is Chase," observed Miss Ruston, laying her head back
against the chair, and smiling out at Mrs. Burns through half-closed
lids. "Charlotte Chase Ruston forms a quite imposing signature to imprint
upon the distinguished portraits she is to make. Portraits of the
aristocracy who can afford to pay ever so many dollars a dozen for
likenesses of themselves in exquisite, informal poses, with wonderful
shadows just where they will hide the most defects, and splendid high
lights where they will bring out all the charm the subjects didn't know
they possessed."

"Charlotte! Have you been studying in secret? I know you do delightful
amateur work, but--a studio! Do you dare?"

"I've worked a year in the developing room of the Misses Kendall, and
have been allowed to make trial studies of subjects, when they were busy.
I have their friendship, also that of Brant--Eugene Brant--who does the
cleverest professionally amateur studio work in the world, according to
my humble opinion. And the Kendalls do the finest garden and outdoor
studies, as you know. Could I have better training? Mr. Brant thinks
me fit to start a city studio--a modest one--but the Misses Kendall
advise a year in a small town, just working for experience and
perfection. Then when I do begin in a bigger place I'll be ready to do
work of real distinction. Come, tell me, isn't it a beautiful plan?"

"Any plan, which brings you to live near me, is a beautiful plan. And
you've really chosen this little town? How did you come to do it?"

"Tales of the beauty of the region, and the reflection that, since one
small town in it was probably as good as another, there was no reason why
I shouldn't be near one of my dearest friends, and have, frankly, the
help of her patronage. Shall you mind giving it to me?"

"I'll bring you a dozen subjects the first day. I suppose you haven't
looked about at all as yet for the place?"

"I shall not need to, if you won't object to having me close by, even so
near as across the road. As I stood on your doorstep I saw my future
studio spring, full-fledged, into view, with a '_To rent_' notice already
up. Could I have a plainer sign that my good fairy is attending my
footsteps?"

Miss Ruston leaned forward to the window as she spoke, drew aside the
thin curtain which swayed there in the summer breeze, and pointed across
the street. "Isn't there a little old cottage, back in there somewhere,
in a tangle of old-fashioned flowers? It doesn't show from here, I see,
but from below I caught just a glimpse of its unimposing dimensions. The
sign is on the gate, in the hedge. It's simply perfect that the place
should have a hedge!"

"Evidently you didn't inspect it very closely, Charlotte dear. It's a
most forlorn little old place, and much run down. Two old ladies have
lived there all their lives, and have died there within the year. They
would never sell, although, as you see, the neighbourhood all about is
built up with modern houses--all except our own. This house is quite
old, I believe, too."

"Two old ladies lived and died there, did they?" mused Charlotte Ruston.
"Their gentle ghosts won't trouble us, and Granny will delight in that
garden. What a background for an outdoor studio! Do let's go over and
explore the place, will you?"

As they crossed the street the newcomer was using her eyes with eager
observation. "It's a fine old street," she said, "with all these
beautiful trees. What a pity it is mostly so modern in the matter of
architecture! I wonder if the people in those houses will think me
out of my head, to begin with, because I choose this quaint little
dwelling-place. I shall choose it, Len, if I can get it, I warn you."

With some difficulty they opened the gate in the hedge, and proceeded up
the path of moss-grown stones to the house, set so far back from the
street that it was nearly concealed by the growth of untrimmed shrubbery,
old rose-bushes heavy with pink and white roses, lilac trees, and
barberry-bushes.

"Of all the dear, queer, little front porches!" Miss Ruston cried,
setting her exploring foot on a porch floor which promptly sagged beneath
her weight. She threw a quizzical glance at her companion. "Even though
the roof falls in on my head, and the walls sway as I pass by, I must
have this house--if it is dry! Of course I can't bring Granny to a damp
house. Putting in my skylight and shingling the rest of the roof will
take care of dampness from above, but I must look after the floors and
foundations. Who owns it, and how can we get in?"

An hour later the key had been obtained from the astonished owner, an
inhabitant of one of the modern houses near by and a nephew of the former
occupants, and the place had been thoroughly gone over. It was examined
by a future tenant who made light of all the real drawbacks to the
place--as the owner secretly considered them--but who demanded absolutely
water-tight conditions as the price of her rent. As she was willing to
pay what seemed to the landlord an extraordinary rent--though he
carefully concealed his feelings on this point--he somewhat grudgingly
agreed to put in the skylight and shingle the roof.

"But when it comes to paint and paper and plumbing, the house isn't worth
it, and I can't agree to do it," he declared positively. "Not for any one
year rental."

"I don't want paint, paper, or plumbing," she replied, and he set her
down as eccentric indeed. "But I do want that fireplace unsealed, and if
you will put that and the chimney in order, so I can have fires there, I
won't ask for any modern conveniences. When can you have it ready for me?
By the middle of July?"

He did not think this possible, but his new tenant convinced him that it
was, and went away smiling, her hands full of June roses, and her spirits
high. It was with her vivid personality at its best that she presently
took her place at the luncheon table, meeting there, however, at first,
only Miss Mathewson.

"My patient has fallen asleep after his walk," Amy explained to Mrs.
Burns, as she came in. "I thought he had better not be wakened."

"You were quite right, I am sure," Ellen agreed. Then she made the two
young women known to each other, and the three sat down. R.P. Burns,
M.D., rushing in the midst of the meal, found them laughing merrily
together over a tale the guest had been telling.

As Burns came forward Miss Ruston rose to meet him. The two regarded each
other with undisguised interest as they shook hands.

"Yes, I can make a much better photograph of you than the one on your
wife's dressing-table," said she, judicially, and laughed at his
astonished expression.

"Can you, indeed?" he inquired. "Have you a snapshot camera concealed
anywhere about you? If so, I'll consider going back to town for my
luncheon."

"You are safe for to-day," Ellen assured him, and he sat down.

He was told the tale of the morning, the subject introduced by his wife,
and amplified by their guest. He expressed his interest.

"You have a good courage, Miss Ruston," said he. "And we'll agree to
stand by you. Any time, in the middle of the night, that we hear the
crash and fall of decayed old timbers, we'll come to the rescue and pull
you out. We don't have much excitement here. The wreck will have the
advantage of advertising you thoroughly. Then you can build a tight
little bungalow on the spot and settle down to real business."

Miss Ruston shook her shapely head. "No tight little bungalows for me,"
she averred. "Those vine-clad old walls will make wonderful backgrounds
for my outdoor subjects--they and the garden. Then, indoors--the
fireplace, the queer old doors--"

Red Pepper looked at his wife. "Has the village a passion for
quaintness?" he asked her. "Will our leading citizens want to be
photographed in their old hoopskirts, with roses behind their ears?"

"Oh, you don't understand!" cried Miss Ruston. "Ellen--will you excuse me
while I run up and bring down an example or two of my work?"

She was back in a minute, several prints in her hand. She came around
behind Burns's chair and laid one before him, another before Amy
Mathewson. Ellen, who had already seen the prints, watched her husband's
face as he examined the photograph.

"You don't intend me to understand," said he, after a minute's steady
scrutiny, "that this is a photograph of actual children?"

Miss Ruston nodded. Her face glowed with enthusiasm over her work.
"Indeed it is. Flesh and blood children--Rupert and Rodney Trumbull.
And it's really the night before Christmas, too. They were not acting the
part--it was the real thing."

Burns continued to study the picture--of two small boys in their
night-clothes, standing before a chimney-piece, looking up at their
stockings, at that last wondering, enchanted moment before they should
lay hands upon the mysteries before them. The glow of the firelight was
upon them, the shadows behind held the small sturdy figures in an
exquisitely soft embrace. It was such a photograph as combines the
workings of the most delicate art with the unconscious posing of absolute
realism.

Burns looked from the picture to his wife's face. "We must have one of
Bobby like that," said he.

Ellen agreed, her eyes meeting her friend's over his head. The guest laid
another print before him. "Since you like fireplace effects," she
explained. Then she gave the Christmas-eve picture to Miss Mathewson,
smiling as Amy, returning the print she had been studying, said softly,
"It is wonderful work, Miss Ruston. I shall want one of my mother like
this."

"You shall have it," Miss Ruston promised.

Burns exclaimed with pleasure over the presentment of a little old lady,
knitting before a fire, a faint smile on her face, as if she were
thinking of lovely things as she worked. As in the other picture the
shadows were soft and hazy, only the surfaces touched by the fireglow
showing with distinctness, the whole effect almost illusive, yet giving
more of the human touch than any clear and distinct details could
possibly have done.

"That is Granny," said Miss Ruston, a gentle note in her eager voice. "My
little piece of priceless porcelain which I guard with all the defences
at my command. Tell me, Dr. Burns, I shall not be bringing her into any
danger if I put her in the little old house, when it is made right?"

"If you are thinking of bringing _this_ old lady here," said he,
emphatically, his eyes on the picture again, "you must let me look the
place over thoroughly for you first."

"But I've engaged it!" cried his wife's friend, in dismay.

"That doesn't matter. You will call it all off again, if I don't find
the place can be made fit," said he. "Old ladies like this shall not
be risked in doubtful places, no matter how quaint and artistic the
background, not while I am on hand to prevent."

Miss Ruston looked at Mrs. Burns. "_Is_ this what he is like?" said she,
in dismay. "I didn't reckon with him!"

"You will have to reckon with me now," said Red Pepper Burns, with
coolness.

"But the owner says it can be made perfectly tight. And I have to go back
to-night!"

"The owner of a sieve would say it could be made perfectly tight--if
it was wanted for a dishpan. And you are at liberty to go back
to-night--much as we shall dislike to lose you. I will take time
to go over, right now, and make sure of this thing for you."

He rose as he spoke.

"Well, of all the positive gentlemen! Will you stay to look at one more?
It may soften that austere mood."

Miss Ruston gave him a third print. It was of a very beautiful woman
standing beside a window, the attitude apparently unstudied, the lighting
unusual and picturesque, the whole effect challenging all conventional
laws of photography.

"It's very nice--very nice," said Burns, indifferently. "But it's not in
it with the old lady by the fire. I'll run across and make sure of her
quarters, if you please."

"That will be wonderfully good of you," and the guest looked after her
host, dubiously, as he went out.

"Does one have to do everything he says, in these parts?" she inquired,
glancing from Mrs. Burns to Miss Mathewson, both of whom were smiling.
Her own expression was an odd mixture of interest and rebellion.

Miss Mathewson spoke first. "I have been his surgical assistant for more
than nine years," said she. "When I have ventured to depart from the line
he laid out for me I have--been very sorry, afterward."

"Did you ever venture to depart very far?"

"Do I look so meek?"

"You don't look meek at all, but you do look--conscientious." Miss Ruston
gave her a daring look.

Amy spoke with more spirit than the others had expected. "If I were not
conscientious I couldn't work for Dr. Burns."

"He doesn't look conscientious, to me," declared Miss Ruston. "He looks
adventurous, audacious, unexpected."

"Perhaps he is. But he doesn't expect his assistant nurse to be
adventurous, audacious, or unexpected!"

"Good for you!" Miss Ruston was laughing, and looking with newly roused
interest at this young woman, whom she had perhaps taken to be of a
more commonplace type than her words now indicated. "As for my friend,
Mrs. Burns--he is her husband, and she must have known what he was like,
since I, in one short hour, have already discovered two or three of his
characteristics! Well, here's hoping he's on my side, when he comes back.
If he's not--"

But when he came back he was on her side, reluctantly convinced by a
painstaking examination of the possibilities in the old cottage, and by a
man-to-man talk with its owner as to his good faith in promising to carry
out the lessee's requirements.

"Though what in the name of time possesses a stunning girl like that to
come here and shut herself up in Aunt Selina's old rookery, I can't make
out," the landlord, Burns's neighbour, had confessed.

"Possibly she won't shut herself up," Burns had suggested, though he
himself had been unable to discover the mysterious attraction of the
little old house. The garden promised better, he thought. He could
understand her being caught by the forsaken though powerful charm of
that. Doubtless it would furnish backgrounds for her outdoor photography,
which would put to blush any painted screens such as the village
photographers were accustomed to use.

He returned to give Miss Ruston his sanction of her project, and to
receive her half-mocking, wholly grateful acknowledgment.

"And I hope, Dr. Burns," said she, as he took leave of her, his watch in
his left hand as he shook hands with his right, "that you will let me
make that photograph of you, at the very beginning of my stay here."

"With a clump of hollyhocks behind me, or a 'queer old door'?" he
inquired.

"With nothing behind you except darkness and mystery," said she.

"I thought those were the things one looked toward, not out of?"

"Your patients looking toward 'the black unknown,' and seeing your face,
must find their future lighted with hope!"

He turned and looked at his wife, a sparkle in his eye. "She's from
the big town," said he. "Here in the country we don't know how to give
fine, fascinating blarney like that, eh? Good-bye, Miss Ruston, and good
luck. Bring the little grandmother carefully wrapped in jeweller's
cotton--nothing is too good for her!"

When luncheon was over Mrs. Burns and her guest went off for a long
drive, Miss Ruston being anxious to explore the region of which she had
heard as offering a field for her camera. The drive, taken in the
Macauley car, by Martha's invitation, and in the company of Martha
herself, Winifred Chester, and several children, prevented much
confidential talk between the two friends, and it was not until a few
minutes before train time, at five o'clock, that the two were for a brief
space again alone together.

"I'm so sorry you are not to be here at dinner," Ellen said, as Miss
Ruston repacked her small travelling bag, while the car waited outside to
take her to the station. "I should have liked you to meet our guest, Dr.
Leaver. He is an old friend of my husband's, who has been ill and is here
convalescing. He over-tired himself in taking a walk this morning, and
has been resting in his room all the afternoon."

Charlotte Ruston, adjusting a smart little veil before Ellen's mirror,
her back to her friend, asked, after a moment's pause:

"Dr. Leaver? Not Dr. John Leaver, of Baltimore?"

"Yes, indeed. Do you know him?"

"I have met him. Is he ill? I hadn't heard of that."

"He has worked very hard, and is worn out," explained Ellen, choosing her
terms carefully. Her husband had warned her against allowing any definite
news concerning Leaver to get back to his home city. "He is improving,
and we are keeping him here because it is a place where he can be out of
the world, for a time, and not be called upon to go back before he
should. So please don't mention to your Baltimore friends that he is
here. I am ever so sorry, if you know him, that he wasn't down to-day. It
might have done him good to see the face of an acquaintance."

"It might be too stimulating for him," suggested Miss Ruston. She seemed
difficult to satisfy in the matter of the veil's adjustment. Though she
had had it fastened, she now took it off and began again to arrange it.

"Can't I help you?" Ellen offered, coming close.

"Thank you, I can manage it. I had it too tight. I suppose your guest
will be gone before I come back?"

"I don't know. He needs a long rest, and we shall keep him just as long
as he can be contented. Not that he is contented to be idle, but it is
what he needs. He is going to need diversion, too, and perhaps you can
help supply it, when you come back. Do you know him well enough to know
what an interesting man he is?"

"I have heard people talk about him who do," said Miss Ruston. "But I
hope he will be quite recovered and away before I come back--for his
own sake. There, I believe this veil's on, at last. What a terrible
colour it gives one to drive in the sun all afternoon! I must put on
plenty of cold cream to-night, or I shall be a fright to-morrow."

"Why, you _are_ burned! I hadn't noticed it before. And the top was up,
all the time, too. But it's very becoming, Charlotte, since it seems to
have confined itself to your cheeks. One's nose is usually the worst
sufferer."

"That will probably show later. I must be off. Thank you,
dear--dearest--for all you have done for me to-day. It's been such
a happy day, I can't tell you how I feel about it."

Charlotte Chase Ruston laid her burning, rose-hued cheek against her
friend's--cool and quite unburned by the drive--embraced her, and hurried
down the stairs. She seemed in haste to be off, but it was like her to be
eager to do whatever was to be done. Ellen looked after her as the
Macauley car bore her away.

"Dear Charlotte!" she said to herself. "It's like having a warm,
invigorating wind sweep over one to have her company, even for a day. How
I shall enjoy her, when she comes! Of all the young women I know she
seems to me the most alive. I wish Dr. Leaver had been down to-day. He
would surely have liked to see her; I never knew a man who didn't. If he
has ever met her, he must remember her. But perhaps he will want to run
away, if he knows any one who knows him has found him out. Perhaps it
will be better not to tell him--just yet."



CHAPTER VIII

UNDER THE APPLE TREE


"A walk, Miss Mathewson? Yes, I'll take a walk--or a pill--or whatever is
due. Did you ever have a more obedient patient?"

John Leaver rose slowly from the steamer-chair in a corner of the porch
where he had been lying, staring idly at the vines which sheltered him
from the village street, or out at the strip of lawn upon which the early
evening light was falling. His tall figure straightened itself; evidently
it cost him an effort to force his shoulders into their naturally erect
carriage. But as he walked down the path by Miss Mathewson's side there
was not much look of the invalid about him. His face, though still rather
thin, showed a healthy colour, the result of constant exposure to the sun
and air. His days were spent wholly out of doors.

"Which way, this time?" Amy asked, as they reached the street.

"Away from things rather than toward them, please. I shall be very glad
when I can tramp off into the open country."

Amy glanced across the street. "Don't you want to approach a visit to the
country by exploring the old garden, over there? I hear that it has all
sorts of treasures of old-fashioned flowers in it. Do you care for old
gardens?"

"Very much, though it is a long time since I've been in one."

"Have you heard that the old house over here is to have a new tenant?"

"No, I haven't heard."

Leaver opened the gate in the hedge for his companion, looking as if the
least interesting thing in the world to him were the matter of tenants
for the little old cottage before him. But his tone was, as always,
courteously interested.

"I was so sorry, the other day, that it happened you didn't meet Mrs.
Burns's friend, such an interesting young woman. She is coming here to
open a photographic studio in this old house--as an experiment."

"A professional photographer?"

"I believe not--as yet. She would still call herself an amateur, but from
the pictures she showed us she would seem an expert. I never saw anything
like them. Dr. Burns--he had never met her--was very much taken with
them, especially with one of the little old lady, her grandmother, whom
she is to bring here."

They strolled along the moss-grown path, past the house, aside into the
garden, its tangle of flowers and shrubbery rich with neglected bloom and
sweet with all manner of scents--sweet-william, larkspur, clove-pink.
Leaver, stooping, picked a spicy-smelling, fringe-bordered pink, and
sniffed its sun-warmed fragrance.

"It takes me back to my boyhood," he said, "when I used to think a visit
at my grandfather's old country place the greatest thing that could
happen to me. There was a big bed of these flowers under my window. When
the sun was hot upon them they rivalled the spices of Araby."

Miss Mathewson stood looking back at the house. From the garden, which
lay at the side and behind it, it showed all of its forlornness and few
of its possibilities.

"What will she make of living there, even for the year she means to
stay?" she wondered, aloud. "Now, if it were I, it wouldn't seem strange;
I am used to living in a little old house. But such a girl as Miss
Ruston--I can hardly imagine her here. She thinks the house and the old
garden will make fine backgrounds for her work. I suppose they will."

"Miss Ruston?" Dr. Leaver repeated. "Was that the name?"

"Miss Charlotte Ruston, of South Carolina, I believe. I never heard the
name before, have you?"

"It is an unusual one. I have known only one person of that name." Leaver
walked slowly over to a decayed and tumbling bench beneath an apple-tree,
whose boughs had been so long untrimmed that they spread almost to the
earth. He sat down upon it, rather heavily, and lifted the clove-pink
to his nostrils again. His dark brows contracted slightly. He looked at
the house. "It will have to have a good deal done to it before it is fit
for any one," he observed. "You said there was an old lady to come, too?"

"A most beautiful little old lady, whom Miss Ruston seemed to be very
anxious over, lest she suffer any harm. Dr. Burns, when he heard of it,
insisted on coming over here to make sure the house could be made
perfectly dry and comfortable for her."

"He was right. Little old ladies must be taken care of, and young women
are apt to think any place that is picturesque is safe."

Miss Mathewson, seeing him apparently more interested in the subject than
he was apt to be in the topics she brought up to amuse him, except as he
assumed interest for her sake, went on with this one, and told him all
she knew about Miss Ruston's plans, ending with a description of the
photographs she had shown.

"But I should like to see one of herself," she added. "She has such
a--brilliant face. I can't think of any other word to describe it!
When she looks at you she looks as if she--cared so much to see what
you were like!" She laughed at her own attempt to make her description
clear. "Not as if she were curious, you know, but as if she were
interested--attracted. Can you imagine the expression?"

Leaver leaned his head back against the apple-tree trunk, and closed his
eyes. The spice-pink, still held at his nostrils, shielded his lips. He
looked rather white, his nurse noticed, but she had become accustomed to
seeing these moments come upon him--they passed away again, and Dr. Burns
had said that no notice need be taken of them unless they were long in
passing. In spite of his pallor, he spoke naturally enough.

"Yes, I have seen such a face. But many women--Southern women,
especially--have that look of being absorbed in what one is saying; it is
a pretty trick of theirs. Won't you sit down, too, on this old bench? It
is so warm yet, we may as well rest a little and walk when it is dusk and
cooler."

She sat down beside him, a pleasant picture to look at in her white lawn
in which, at Ellen's suggestion, she now made of herself, in the
afternoons, a figure less severe than in her uniform. She had even added
a touch of turquoise to the chaste whiteness of the dress, a colour which
brought out the beauty of her deep blue eyes and fair cheeks and even
lent warmth to the pale hues of her hair.

"If you want to sit here, Dr. Leaver, I might run across and bring the
book we are reading. Would you like to hear a chapter?"

"Thank you, not to-night. It's a great book, and stirs the blood with its
attempt to tell the story of a war whose real story can never be told by
any one, no matter what skill the historian brings to the telling. But
I'm not in the mood for it to-night. I wonder if, instead, you won't tell
me a bit about yourself. You've never said a word about the work you do
with my friend, Dr. Burns. Do you like it?"

She hesitated. Was this a safe subject, she wondered, for a surgeon who,
she understood, had broken down from overwork? But the question had been
asked.

"Very much," she answered, quietly. "One could hardly help liking work
under Dr. Burns."

"Why? Do you think him a fine operator?"

"Very fine. He is considered the best in the city, now, I believe, even
though his office is out here in the village. Of course it is not a great
city, but his reputation extends out into the towns around."

"He is an enthusiast in his profession, I know. And you are one in yours,
I see."

"Do you see it, Dr. Leaver? I thought I spoke quite moderately."

"So moderately that I recognized the restraint. You assist Dr. Burns
whenever he operates?"

"Yes--if I am free."

"He can't have been doing much lately, then."

She glanced at him. He was still leaning back against the apple-tree
trunk, but his eyes were open and regarding her rather closely. They were
eyes whose powers of discernment, as Burns had said, one could not hope
easily to elude.

"He is so interested in your recovery, Dr. Leaver, that he is willing,
anxious, to spare me. There are other capable assistants, plenty of
them."

"But none trained to his hand, as you are trained."

In spite of herself, the quick colour rose in a wave and bathed her face
in its tell-tale glow. He smiled.

"I see. It's worth everything to an operator to have a right-hand man--or
woman--like that. One doesn't often find a woman capable of taking the
part, but, when one is, she is like a second brain to the operator. Well,
I'll soon release you. I don't need to be coddled now, though it's very
pleasant. I shall remember these walks and talks and hours with books. If
one must be disabled, it's much to be looked after by one who seems a
friend."

"But--Dr Leaver!--" She spoke in some alarm. "You mustn't talk of
dismissing me like this--unless you are dissatisfied with me. I know Dr.
Burns is taking great satisfaction in having me give my time to you. If
I am helping you at all--"

"You are. But--I must help myself.... Never mind." He closed his eyes
again. "Tell me about yourself--as Dr. Burns's assistant. Do you enjoy
making things ready for him?"

She saw that he would have it, so she answered. "Yes, I suppose I take
pride in having everything as he will want it. I know quite well what he
wants, by this time."

"Yes. And he can depend on you. When the time comes for the start, you
have yourself well in hand? No quick pulse--short breath?"

"Why, it would not be possible, I suppose, to be so self-controlled as
that. Even Dr. Burns is not. He has told me, more than once, that his
heart is pounding like an engine when he goes into an operation, or when
he faces an unexpected emergency, in the course of it."

"Ah!... But it doesn't affect his work--or yours--this racing of the
engine?"

"One forgets it, I think, when one is once at work. Dr. Leaver, look at
that squirrel! Out on the roof of the house--at the back. Do you see him
peering over at us? Inquisitive little creature!"

"Like myself. Yes, I see his small majesty. Well, tell me, please, why
you like the work so much? You wouldn't give it up?"

She drew a quick breath. "Oh, no!"

"And the reason why you like it--am I too curious? Do you mind telling
me?"

"Why, not at all. I can--hardly tell you, though, what it is that makes
me like it. Of course, I'm happy to have a hand, even though it's only an
assistant's hand, in saving life. But--the life isn't always saved. I
suppose, the real secret of it is one likes to be doing the thing one can
do best."

"That's it!" He drew a heavy breath. "The thing one can do best.
And when that thing is the setting poor, disabled human machinery
straight--making it run smoothly again! One can hardly imagine turning
one's hand to--book-binding, making things in brass, dressing dolls,
to take up one's time, occupy one's mind, keep one's hands busy, after
having known the practice of a profession like that!"

He got up from the bench and strode a few paces with a quick, impatient
step, such as she had never seen him take. Then, wheeling suddenly, he
came back to the bench and dropped upon it, breathing short. She had
instantly to his support a small bottle of strong salts which she always
carried, but for a moment she feared that this might not be stimulant
enough to a heart still inclined to be erratic upon small provocation.
She laid anxious fingers upon his pulse, but found it already steadying.

"This will be over in a minute," she said quietly. "Soon, you will have
got above such bothersome minutes. I shouldn't have let you talk about a
thing which means so much to you."

"No, I can't even talk about it," he said. "I'm as much of an infernal
hypochondriac as that. I beg your pardon--" and he set his lips.

They sat in silence for a little. Then, suddenly a voice hailed them--a
cheerful, familiar voice.

"'Under the spreading chestnut-tree?' Or is it an apple? May I join the
party?"

Redfield Pepper Burns appeared, looking like a schoolboy lately released
from imprisonment. But his face sobered somewhat as his eye fell upon his
friend. It was not that John Leaver had not looked up with a smile, as
Burns approached, nor was it that he now showed physical distress of any
significant sort. A certain hard expression of the deep-set eye told the
story to one who could read signs.

"There's a caller for you at the house, Miss Mathewson," said Burns.

As she went away he dropped down upon the grass near Leaver. "It's at
least five degrees cooler under this tree," said he, "than in any outdoor
spot I've found yet."

"Work must have been trying to-day."

"Rather. But so much worse for my patients that I haven't thought much
about it for myself. At two places I had the satisfaction of personally
seeing to the moving of the invalid from a little six-by-nine inferno of
a bedroom to a big and airy sitting-room. It gave me the keenest pleasure
to see it hurt the tidy housewife, who didn't want her best room mussed
up." He chuckled. "In one case I made her take down the stuffy lace
window-curtains and open things up in great shape. She came near having
a convulsion on the spot. Curious how a certain type of mind regards any
little innovation like that. That woman would have let her unlucky
husband smother to death in that oven before it would have occurred to
her to move him out of it."

"I rather wonder at your continuing to practise in a village like this,
with that sort of people, when you have so much city work, and could do a
large business with a city office."

Burns stretched out an arm, thrusting his hand deep into the long grass.
"That sort--narrow-minded people--aren't all found in the country,
though--not by a long shot. I've sometimes thought I'd take an office in
town, but, when it comes to making the move, I can't bring myself to it.
You see, I happen to like it out here, and I like the village work. This
way I get both sorts. I don't know why one's ambition should be all for
city work. The people out here need me just as much as those where the
streets are paved. There's a heap more fresh air and sunshine and liberty
here than in town. And, as for being busy, there are only twenty-four
hours in the day, anywhere."

"And you fill the most of those full. So you do. Yet, I should think
your love for surgery would lead you to take up an exclusive surgical
practice. You could make a name. You have a good-sized reputation
already, with your ability you could make it a great one."

Burns looked at Leaver. The two men regarded each other with a sudden
fresh interest, a sudden wonder as to the operation of each other's
minds. The man on the bench, broken down by just such a life as he
recommended to his friend, looked at the man on the grass, unworn and
vigorous, and questioned whether, with all his virtues, Burns were really
possessed of the proper ambition. The man on the grass, aware of large
interests in his busy life, looked at the man on the bench, whose
interests were at present wholly concerned with recovering his health,
and wondered what insanity it was which bound his fellow mortal's brain
that he could not see things in their right values. There was a long
minute's silence. Then Burns, lying at full length upon his side in the
warm grass, his head propped upon his elbow, began, in a thoughtful tone:

"Ever since a period early in our acquaintance my wife and I have had
a vision before us. It was one that, curiously enough, we both had
separately first, and then discovered, by accident, that it was mutual.
The time has come when we are to carry it out. My wife has bought an old
place, in the real country, three miles out on a road that turns off from
the main road to the city. She is going to fit it up for a hospital for
crippled children, curables, mostly, though her heart may lead her into
keeping a few of the other sort, if there is no other home for them to go
to. I'm to have the distinguished honour of being surgeon to the place."

He made this final announcement in the tone in which he might have made
it if it had been that of an appointment to the greatest position the
country could have given him.

"Well," said Leaver, after a moment, his weary eyes still studying
Burns's face, "that is a fine thing for you two to do. I can see that
such an interest might well hold a man away from an ordinary city
practice. There is no children's hospital near here, then?"

"None at all. Children's wards, of course, but nothing like what ought to
be. Of course we can't take care of the surplus. It will be only special
cases, here and there, that we shall try to handle. But I'm meeting with
those every day--cases where the country air and the country fare are
almost as much a part of the cure as the surgical interference. My word!
but it will be a satisfaction to bundle the poor little chaps off to our
farm!"

His eyes were very bright. He lay smiling to himself for a minute, then
he sat up.

"In a month," said he, "we shall be ready for business. I have four
little patients waiting now for the place. On three of them I'm going to
operate at once. On the fourth--_you_ are."

Again the two pairs of eyes met--hazel eyes confident and determined,
brown eyes startled, stabbed with sudden pain. Burns held up his hand.

"Don't say a word," he commanded. "I'm merely making an assertion. I'm
willing to back it up by argument, if you like, though I'd rather not.
In fact, I'd much rather not. I prefer simply to make the assertion, and
let it sink in."

But Leaver would speak. "You forget," he said, bitterly, "that I've put
all that behind me. I told you I should never operate again. I meant it."

"Yes, you meant it," said Burns comfortably. "A man means it when he
swears he'll never do again something that has become second nature to
him to do. He'll do it--he's made that way. You will do this thing, and
do it with all your old grip and skill. But I'm not going to discuss it
with you. Some day, if you are good, I'll describe the case to you. It's
one you can handle better than I, and it's going to be up to you."

He got to his feet, ignoring the slow shaking of Leaver's downbent head.
"By the way," he said, with a glance at the cottage, now a mere blur in
the oncoming twilight, "have you heard of the young photographer who is
to sweep down upon us and make wonderful, dream-like images of us all,
for good hard cash and fame? A friend of my wife's: a girl who looks
twenty-five, but is a bit more, I am told. A remarkably good-looking, not
to say fascinating, person with a grandmother still more fascinating--at
least to me. They are to come as soon as this rookery can be made
habitable."

"Miss Mathewson spoke of it. It will be an interesting event to the
village, I should suppose. But I shall not be among the victims of the
lady's art. I may as well tell you, Red--I must get away next week."

Burns wheeled upon him. "What's that you say?"

The other proceeded with evident effort, laying his head back against the
tree-trunk again. "I am as grateful to you and Mrs. Burns as a man can
possibly be, so grateful that I can't put it into words--"

"Don't try. Go on to something more important."

"I have trespassed on your hospitality--"

"Don't use hackneyed phrases like that. Say something original."

--"as long as I can be willing to do it. I am as much improved as I can
expect to be--for a long time. I can't hang on, a useless invalid on your
hands--"

"Cut it, old man! You're not an invalid, and you're not useless. You're
giving me one of the most interesting studies I've engaged in in a long
time. I'm liable to write a book on you, when I get sufficient data."

Leaver smiled faintly. "Nevertheless, I can't do it, Red. You wouldn't do
it in my place. Be honest--would you?"

"Probably not. I'd be just pig-headed fool enough to argue the case to
myself precisely as you are doing. Well, Jack, I've expected this hour.
It's a pity there isn't more faith and trust in friendship in the world.
We're all deadly afraid of trying our friends too far, so after just
about so long we strike out for ourselves. But since it is as it is, and
you're growing restless, I'll agree that you leave us, if you'll stay for
a while where you'll be under my observation. I've set my heart on making
a complete cure in this case--or, rather, you understand, assisting
Nature to do so. If you go off somewhere I shall lose track of you.
Suppose you stay in the village here for a while longer. I know a
splendid place for you, just round the corner. Quiet, pleasant home,
middle-aged widow and her young son--a lady, and a sensible, cheerful
one--she'll never bore you by talk unless you feel like it--and then the
talk will be worth while. What do you say? You know perfectly well that
you're not yet quite fit to shift for yourself. Be rational, and let me
manage things for you a while longer."

Leaver stood up; in the dim light Burns could not see his face. But he
heard his voice--one which showed tension.

"You don't know what you're asking, old friend. There are reasons why I
feel like getting away, entirely apart from any conditions under your
control. Yet since you ask it of me, and I owe you so much, and since--I
suppose it doesn't really make much difference where I am--I'll stay for
the present."

"Good! I'm much obliged, Jack."

Burns got up, also, and the two strolled away together, in the pleasant
summer dusk.



CHAPTER IX

A PRACTICAL ARTIST


"Here I am! And the goods are here too. Isn't it a miracle? It could
never have been done if I hadn't found a kind friend among the railroad
men, who sent my things by fast freight. Now to settle in a whirlwind of
a hurry and fly back for Granny."

These were Miss Charlotte Ruston's words of greeting as she shook hands
with the occupants of the Macauley car, which had met her at the station
on the last day of July. She looked as fresh and eager to carry out her
plans as if she were not just at the end of a journey.

"I suppose you'll stop for luncheon first," Martha Macauley suggested.
She noted, with the approval of the suburbanite who cares much to be well
dressed, the quietly smart attire of the arriving traveller.

"Indeed I will. Fuel first, fire afterward. But I'm fairly burning to
begin, July weather though it is. How are my hollyhocks? A splendid row?
I've dreamed of those hollyhocks!"

"They are all there--as well as one can see them above the weeds. We
would have had the grass cut for you, but didn't venture to touch so much
as a spear, lest we destroy some picturesque effect," Ellen said, giving
her friend's hand an affectionate grasp as Charlotte took her place
beside her.

"I do want to see to it all for myself. I've had the greatest difficulty
in waiting these four weeks, or should have had if I hadn't been so busy.
But now that I'm here I'll show you how to make a home out of four
chairs, three rugs, a table, a mirror, and an adorable copper bowl. Talk
of the simple life--you're going to see it lived just across the street,
you matrons with innumerable things to dust!"

"We shall be delighted to watch you do it," Ellen assured her, and Martha
gave an incredulous assent.

It was but a few hours before they saw the prophecy coming true. Miss
Ruston barely took time for luncheon, and by the time the dray containing
her modest supply of household goods was at her door she was ready for
work. A blue painter's blouse slipped over her travelling dress, her
sleeves rolled well up her shapely arms, she had plunged into the labour
of settling. She had for an assistant a woman whom Ellen had engaged for
her, and a tall youth who was the woman's son, and these two she managed
with a generalship little short of genius.

The floors had been cleaned and stained with a simple dull-brown stain a
week before, and Miss Ruston eyed them with satisfaction, uneven though
they were. She set the lad at work oiling them, demonstrating to him with
her own hands, carefully gloved, the way to do it. Every window she flung
wide, and Mrs. Kelsey was presently scrubbing away at the dim, small
panes, trying her best to make them shine to please the young lady who
from time to time stopped as she flew by to comment on her work.

"That's it, Mrs. Kelsey, you know how, don't you? I haven't much in the
way of hangings for them, so we must have them bright as mirrors. Hard to
get into the corners? Yes, I know. But it's somehow the corners that show
most. Try this hairpin under your cloth,"--she slipped one out from her
heavy locks--"you can get into the corners with that, I'm sure. Tom,
there's a spot as big as a plate you haven't hit. You can't see it in
that light; bend over this way a minute, and you'll find it. That's it!
It would have been a pity to leave it, wouldn't it! Don't miss any more
places, Tom. I haven't many rugs, and the floors will show a good deal."

"I didn't know artists were ever such practical people," confessed Mrs.
Red Pepper Burns, sitting on the edge of a straight-backed old chair in
the small kitchen. The house boasted but four rooms, two below and two
above, with a small enclosure off the kitchen which had been used for a
bedroom in the benighted days when people knew no better, and which
Charlotte had promptly set aside for a dark room.

"Practical? I'm not an artist, as you use the word, but I assure you real
artists are the most practical people in the world. Not one of them but
can make a whistle out of a pig's tail, or a queen's robe out of a sheet
and a blue scarf! What do you think of my light-housekeeping outfit?"

She held up an aluminum skillet which she had just taken from the box she
was unpacking. "Here's everything we can need in the way of cooking
utensils, packed into a foot square, and light as a feather, the whole
thing. My purse was rather light when I had bought it, too." She made a
funny little grimace, then laughed. "But my most trying purchase was my
tin bath! You can't imagine what a hunt I had for it. But I found it at
last in an Englishman's little out-of-the-way shop, and a big tin ewer to
go with it. I'm proud of them now, and emptying the tub once a day is
going to be fine for my muscles."

"You have splendid courage, dear, and I can see you're not afraid of hard
work. I want you to promise me this, though, Charlotte. When you are
specially tired, and there's luncheon or dinner to get, run over and let
us give you a trayful of things. Cynthia always cooks more than we eat,
and then has to contrive to use it in other ways."

Charlotte nodded. "Thank you. Luckily, though I'm poor I'm not proud. By
the way, you haven't an unused kitchen chair, have you? To tell the truth
I forgot several things, and one of them is a chair for the kitchen. I
probably shall not sit down myself, and shall always serve our little
meals in the living-room, but I foresee that I shall have guests here in
the kitchen, and I'd like to be able to offer them a chair. That one
you're sitting in is my very best old split-bottomed, high-backed
photographer's treasure, which must go in the front room by the
fireplace."

"When you are through explaining I will assure you that two kitchen
chairs will arrive as soon as I go home," promised Ellen.

"Bless you! I foresee that you will make a splendid neighbour. Do you
want to climb upstairs and see the nest I'm going to feather for Granny?"

She turned to the narrow little staircase between the walls, and gayly
led the way. But Ellen exclaimed in dismay over the steepness of the
stairs.

"Charlotte! Do you think dear little old Madam Chase can climb these?
They are the steepest I ever saw!"

"She won't need to. Private lift, always ready."

"What do you mean? Surely not--"

Charlotte extended two round, supple arms. "Why not? Granny weighs just
eighty pounds--if she is wearing plenty of clothes. In her little nightie
and lavender kimono considerably less. And I'm strong as strong."

"But even then she's more than you ought to carry up and down this
ladder."

Charlotte turned at the top of the stairs, and laughed back at her
friend. "Granny's a sports-woman," said she. "She will--whisper
it!--thoroughly enjoy sliding down these stairs, and, as for my carrying
her up them, haven't you yet found out that a weight you love devotedly
is just no weight at all? Now, look here! Aren't these bits of rooms
fascinating? Hot, just now, I admit--" She ran to the windows, wrenched
them open and propped them up. "Too hot in July, certainly; we'll camp
downstairs while this weather lasts. But fine and warm and sunny through
the winter. A bit of an oil-stove will make Granny as snug as a kitten,
and her maid Charlotte will see that she's never left alone with it
burning."

"I see you're quite invincible in your determination to make the best of
everything. I can hardly believe you are the same girl I used to know,
brought up to be waited on and petted by everybody. You've developed
splendidly, and I'm proud of you."

"Thank you, Len. No, I'm not the same girl at all. I've been having to
depend upon my own management for four years now--long enough to learn
a good many makeshifts. It's been rather a pull, but I've had Granny
through it all, and as long as she's left to me I won't complain. I used
to be an extravagant person, but you've no idea how I've learned to make
money last. Don't stay up here, it's too hot for you. But I'll get the
place in order, for it may be cooler by the time I bring Granny, so we
can sleep here."

"I'll help. What comes first?"

"Nothing--for you. I'll run up and down with rugs and
curtains,--really, they're about all there are to go up here,
except Granny's dressing-table. I've saved that for her, and a
little old single bed she likes. I'll have Tom bring them up."

But Ellen insisted on helping, and when the bed was in place made it up
with the fine old linen Charlotte produced, exclaiming over its handsome
monograms, of an antique pattern much admired in these days.

"But where is your bed, Charlotte? I want to get that ready, too," she
urged, when various small tasks were completed.

"Oh, never mind about mine. I'll see to that later." Charlotte was
rubbing away at an old brass candlestick upon the dressing-table.

"I didn't see another bed. Surely you can't both sleep in this?"

"Hardly--poor Granny! No; mine is a folding cot, the nicest thing!"

"And you've no furniture at all for your room?"

"Don't want it. Granny will let me peep in her mirror. Don't look so
shocked, Len. We're just camping out for a year, you know, and I brought
all we needed. What's the use of being encumbered with household goods?"

"But you have them, somewhere? Let me send for them, dear, please. If you
are to stay all winter you must be comfortable."

"We shall be. And--I haven't any more things, if you must have it. When
the estate was sold I bought in all I could afford, but have sold some
since. You may as well know it, but I want you to understand that I don't
consider it a hardship at all to live as I intend to live this year. I
shall be making money hand over fist, presently, and by the time I have
had my city studio a year or two shall be affording Eastern rugs and
hand-carved furniture. Wait and see!"

She stopped polishing and stood looking at her friend with the peculiar,
radiant look which was her greatest charm, her dark eyes glowing, her
lips in proud, sweet lines of resolution, her round chin held high. Then
she laughed, throwing her head higher yet, with a gay spirit; came
forward and caught Ellen Burns by the shoulders and bending kissed her.

"I told you I wasn't proud," she said, "but I am! _Too proud to be
proud!_ I never believed in the pride which covers up, but in that which
frankly owns its poverty, and laughs at it. I laugh!"

"You splendid girl! Where did you get it?"

"Picked it up. But I really think I shall have the happiest year out of
this I've known yet."

"I believe you will. And I shall delight in having you so near."

The two descended. By the time Mrs. Kelsey's work-day was over the front
room was in order, and Charlotte, bidding good-night to her servitors,
gave them hearty praise and bade them come back early in the morning.
Ellen had gone home, bidding Charlotte follow her at convenience.

"I must run out and pick some flowers for my copper bowl," Charlotte had
said. "Then the room will be ready to show your husband this evening. I'm
anxious to have it make a good impression on him, and I've discovered
that men always notice posies."

So, out in the tangled garden she chose a great bunch of delphinium, in
mingled shadings from pale blues and lavenders to deepest sapphire tones,
and bringing it in exultingly filled the copper bowl and set it on the
old spindle-legged table opposite the fireplace. Woven rag rugs in dull
blues lay on the floor; one great winged chair, Granny's chair, stood by
the window. Besides this were the splint-bottomed, high-backed chair, two
Sheraton chairs, and a Chippendale mirror,--all relics of a luxurious old
home. Two small portraits in oil hung upon the wall, painted by some
master hand, portraits of Charlotte's parents. This was all the
furnishing the room contained, but somehow, in the warm light of
the late July afternoon, it looked anything but bare.

The Chesters, the Macauleys and the Burnses, all came across the street
in the early July evening, to view the work which had been done.
Charlotte had slipped on a thin white gown and pinned a bunch of
old-fashioned crimson-and-pink "bleeding-hearts" at her waist, to do the
occasion honour. She looked, somehow, already as if she belonged with the
place. She sat upon the doorstone and hemmed small muslin curtains which
were to go in the bedrooms upstairs, and Martha, Winifred, and Ellen,
seeing this, sent for their sewing materials and helped her, while the
daylight lasted.

Burns, looking on, hands in pockets, suddenly observed, "We fellows ought
to be doing something for her. What do you say to every man going for
a scythe and cutting the grass? No lawn mower can tackle a tangle like
this."

Macauley groaned. "Why begin to be neighbourly at such a pace? Cutting
this grass is going to be no easy task."

But Chester and Burns had already started across the street, and Macauley
was obliged to follow. By the time darkness fell the front yard had been
cropped into at least a semblance of tidiness, and Charlotte was offering
her thanks to three warm gentlemen, and regretting that she had not been
keeping house long enough to have any refreshment to offer them.

"Come over when we are settled, and Granny and I will have some sparkling
Southern beverages for you," she promised.

"You are coming over to sleep, child," Ellen said, as the time for
departure arrived, and Charlotte showed signs of closing up her small
domain.

"Not at all. I mean to have the fun of spending my first night in my new
home," Miss Ruston declared, and held to her decision, in spite of the
arguments and entreaties of the women and the assertions of the men that
she would be afraid.

"Well, then, beat on a dishpan if anything disturbs you, and we'll rush
across in a body and rescue you," promised Macauley.

Left alone, Charlotte went inside, lighted a genial looking lamp, and sat
down alone in her little living-room. Chin in her palms, she leaned her
elbows upon the spindle-legged table, looking up at the portrait of her
mother, its fine colourings glowing in the mellow light from the lamp.
She sat for a long time in this posture, her eyes losing their sparkle
and growing dreamy, and--at last--a trifle misty. When this stage
occurred she suddenly jumped up, carried the lamp into the kitchen,
searched until she found a candle and lighted it, then, extinguishing
the lamp, she went slowly upstairs to the cot bed.

By the following evening her preparations were so far complete that she
could take the evening train for Baltimore, announcing that the two
future occupants of the little house would return within forty-eight
hours. During her absence the three women who were her friends put their
heads together, ordered extra baking and brewing done in their own
kitchens, and ended by stocking her small shelves with a great array
of good things.

Before the forty-eight hours had quite gone by Miss Ruston was leading a
tiny figure, with shoulders held almost as straight as her own, in at the
hedge gate. It was twilight of the August evening. The cottage door was
open and the rays from the lamp lately lighted by her neighbours streamed
down the path.

Charlotte stooped--she had to stoop a long way--and put her lips close to
the small ear under the white hair which lay softly over it. "Doesn't it
look like home, Granny?" she said, in a peculiar, clear tone, a little
raised.

"What say, dear?" responded a low and quite toneless voice--the voice of
the very deaf.

"Home, Granny?" repeated the younger voice. The strong arm of the taller
figure came about the little shoulders in the small gray travelling coat.

"Warm? Not so warm as it was on the train. I shall be quite comfortable
once I am sitting quietly in my chair."

Doctor and Mrs. Burns, following the travellers with certain pieces of
hand luggage, looked at one another.

"Bless her small heart, is she as deaf as that?" queried Red Pepper, in a
whisper. "I shall have difficulty in getting my adoration over to her!"

"She has grown much deafer since I knew her, several years ago," Ellen
explained. "But as her eyes seem bright as ever I imagine you will have
no difficulty in making her understand your adoration. She is used to
it."

"I should think she might be. She is the prettiest old lady I ever saw,
and looks one of the keenest. We shall understand each other, if we have
to write on slates."

Charlotte led Madam Chase--Mrs. Rodney Rutherford Chase was the name
on the visiting cards she still used with scrupulous care for the
observances of etiquette--in at the cottage door and placed her in the
winged chair. She untied and removed a microscopic bonnet, drew off the
gray coat, and laid an inquiring finger on her charge's wrist.

"Let me attend to that," begged R.P. Burns, looming in the small doorway.
"I'll find out how tired she is. I doubt if she would admit it by word
of mouth."

He went down on one knee beside the chair, a procedure which brought his
smiling face beside the old lady's questioning one. His fingers clasped
her wrist, and held it after he had found out what it told him.

"Tired?" he said, very distinctly, his lips forming the word for her to
see.

Madam Chase shook her head decidedly. "Not at all, Doctor. But the train
was very warm and very dusty. I shall be glad to feel a cool linen pillow
under my head instead of a hot cotton one."

He nodded. "Could you eat a bit, and drink a cup of tea?"

"What say, Doctor? Tea? Yes, I should be glad of tea. I never like the
decoction they serve upon trains and call tea."

"I'll have it for her in a minute," and Ellen went out into the kitchen.

Burns looked up at Miss Ruston. "As soon as she has had her tea she must
go to bed. She has stood the journey well, but she needs a long rest
after it." Then he looked again at Mrs. Rodney Rutherford Chase. "I can
see you are a very plucky small person," said he, and her nod and smile
in answer showed that at least she caught the indications of a
compliment.

Presently, when she had had her tea, had patted Ellen's hand for bringing
it, and had looked about her a little with observant eyes which showed
pleasure when they rested on certain familiar objects, she laid her white
curls back against the chair and looked up at her granddaughter like a
child who asks to be put to sleep.

Burns advanced again. "May I have the honour?" he asked, stooping over
the tiny figure with outstretched arms.

"You'll find me pretty heavy, Doctor," said she, but she put up her
arms and clasped his neck as he lifted her, quite as if it were a matter
of course with her to have stalwart men offer their services on all
occasions. Burns strode up the steep and narrow staircase with her as if
she had been a child, Charlotte preceding him with a pair of candles. In
her own room he laid the little old lady on her bed, then stooped once
more.

"May I have a reward for that?" he asked, and without waiting for
permission kissed the delicate cheek, as soft and smooth as velvet
beneath his lips.

"You are a very good young man," said the old lady. "I think I shall have
to adopt you as a grandson."

Burns laid his hand on his heart and made her a deeply respectful bow, at
which she laughed and waved him away.

"Adorable," said he to Charlotte, on his way down, "is not a word which
men use over every small object, as you women do, therefore it should
have the more force when they do make use of it. No other word fits
little Madam Chase so well. Consider me yours to command in her service,
at any hour of day or night."

"Thank you," Charlotte called softly after him. "I assure you she will
command you herself, and delight in doing it. She never fails to
recognize homage when she receives it, or to demand it when she does
not. But she will give you quite as much as she takes from you."

"I'm confident of it," and Burns descended to his wife. "You have a
rival," he told her solemnly.



CHAPTER X

A RUNAWAY ROAD


Camera hung by a strap over her shoulder, small tripod tucked under her
arm, Charlotte Chase Ruston, photographer, turned aside from the country
road along which she was walking, to follow a winding lane leading into a
deep wood. The luring entrance to this lane had been beyond her power to
resist, although the sun had climbed nearly to the zenith, warning her
that it was time to turn her steps toward home. In her search for
picturesque bits of landscape to turn to account in her work, her
enthusiasm was likely at any time to lead her far afield.

Just as the lane promised to debouch into an open meadow and release its
victim from any special sense of curiosity, it suddenly swerved to one
side, forced its way under a pair of bars, and ran curving away into deep
shadows, fringed with ferns, and overhung with the dense foliage of oak
and walnut. A distant glimpse of brilliant scarlet flowers, standing like
sentinels in uniform against the dark green of the undergrowth, beckoned
like a hand. With a laugh Charlotte set her foot upon the bottom rail.
"I'm coming," she called blithely to the scarlet flowers. "You needn't
shout so loud at me."

Hurrying, because of the hour, she pulled her blue linen skirts over the
fence, and dropped lightly upon the other side. She ran along the lane to
the flowers, stopped to admire, but refused to pick them, telling them
they were better where they were, and would droop before she could get
them home. Then she went swiftly on around a bend in the cart-path,
catching the faint sound of falling water, and impelled to seek its
source, just as is every one at hearing that suggestive sound. And, of
course, the water was farther away than it sounded.

A trifle short of breath, from her haste, she ran it down at last, and
came upon it--a series of small waterfalls down which a small stream
tumbled recklessly along a vagrant watercourse, seeming to care little
when it reached its destination, so that it contrived to have plenty of
fun and exercise by the way. And on the bank, stretched recumbent, hands
clasped under head, lay a long figure in gray flannels, a straw hat and a
book at its side.

Charlotte stopped short. The figure turned its head, sat up, and got
rather quickly to its feet, pushing back a heavy, dark lock of hair which
had fallen across a tanned forehead. Dr. John Leaver came forward.

"I'm so sorry I disturbed you," said Charlotte Ruston, finding words at
last, after having been surprised out of speech by the sudden apparition,
"I hope I didn't wake you from a nap."

"You haven't disturbed me, and I was not asleep. I'm only waiting for Dr.
Burns, who may come now at any minute. This is a pleasant place to meet
in, isn't it?"

Their hands met, each looked with swift, straight scrutiny into the face
of the other, and then hands and eyes parted abruptly. When they regarded
each other after that, it was as two casual acquaintances may exchange
glances, in the course of conversation, when other things are of more
interest than the personal relation.

"Indeed it is pleasant--charming! The path lured me on and on, I couldn't
stop. I ought to be at home this minute. Did you walk so far? Mrs. Burns
told me you were here, and that you had been ill. I was very sorry, and
I'm now so glad to see you looking so well."

"Thank you. I am much myself again, but not yet quite equal to a walk of
this distance. Dr. Burns and his car are just a few rods away, on the
other side of this bit of woods. He has a patient in a little shack over
there, and brought me along to see this spot. It was worth coming for."

"You must enjoy Dr. Burns very much."

"We are old friends, and being together again after a nine-years'
separation, is a thing to make the most of."

"I should think so. He seems so alive, so full of interest in every
living thing. He must be a fine comrade."

"The finest in the world. To me there is nobody like him, and most people
who know him, I've noticed, feel in the same way. He has a beautiful
wife. She is a friend of yours, she tells me."

"Also an old friend, and almost the dearest I have. I'm very happy to be
near her. Dr. Leaver, will you tell me what time it is, please? I have a
dreadful suspicion that I shall be very late."

As he drew out his watch a voice was heard from the other side of a clump
of undergrowth, calling crisply:

"All right, Jack, we're off. One more call before luncheon, and it's
blamed late, so get busy."

"In a minute," Leaver called back, smiling, as he showed Charlotte his
watch's dial.

Red Pepper Burns looked over the bushes, discerning in his friend's tone
an intention of delay, and inclined to be still more peremptory with him
about it. Discovering now what looked like an interesting situation, he
came forward, bareheaded, his frown of impatience turning to a smile of
greeting.

"What luck, to find a dryad in the woods!" he cried. "Did this gentleman
invade your domain?"

"Not at all. I invaded his most unexpectedly. I was following a lane,
intending to turn back at any moment, when it ran away under a fence and
treacherously led me into trouble."

"Call it trouble, do you, meeting your friends in the woods? That's
always the way! Call a woman luck, and she calls you trouble! Let me tell
you, Miss Charlotte, it's luck for you, meeting us, for we can give you a
lift of a mile down the road. We have to turn off there, but you'll be
less late for a luncheon that's probably already cold than you would be
after walking the whole distance. You won't refuse? You mustn't, for I
expect it's my only chance to get John Stone Leaver of Baltimore started.
Otherwise he'll stand here till mid-afternoon, showing you his watch and
pointing out to you the beauties of this noisy brook."

"Thank you, Dr. Burns, but you can't very well take me in a car built for
two."

"Can't I? The car has frequently carried half a dozen, judiciously
distributed over the running-boards, to the imminent peril of the tires
and springs. We'll put Dr. Leaver on the running-board. It will hurt
neither his clothes nor his dignity, and if it does he can get off and
walk."

He led the way. If she could have done so Charlotte would gladly have
turned and run away. But there are people from whom one cannot easily
run away, and Red Pepper Burns was one of them. With all his powers of
discernment, he had no possible notion that the two who followed him were
not eager to accept this arrangement. They looked well together, too, he
had observed as he neared them--exceedingly well. He was sure he was
doing them a favour in keeping them together as long as possible.

In point of actual distance he certainly succeeded literally in
keeping them extremely near together, during the few minutes it took to
get out of a winding wood-road to the main highway, and to drive at a
stimulating pace a mile down that road. When Leaver took his place upon
the running-board he was unavoidably close to Charlotte's knee, and his
head was within reach of her hand. His hand, grasping the only available
hold with which to keep himself in place, as Burns let the car go at high
speed, was close under her eyes.

Keeping his eyes upon the road, Burns, in a gay mood now, kept up a
running fire of talk, to which Charlotte, as became necessary, responded.
Leaver, straw hat in hand, also stared straight ahead, and Charlotte,
unobserved by either companion, looked at the head below her, its heavy,
dark-brown hair ruffled by the wind of their progress, noted--not for the
first time--the fine line of the partial profile, the shoulder in its
gray flannel, the well-knit hand, tanned, like its owner's face, with
much exposure. And, as she made these furtive observations, something
within her breast, which she had thought well under control, became
suddenly unmanageable.

"I'm sorry to desert you here, so ungallantly," Burns declared, bringing
the car to a standstill at a cross-road. "If my friend here were quite
fit I'd put him down, too, and give him the pleasure of walking in with
you. In a week or two more I'll turn him loose. Looks pretty healthy,
doesn't he?"

"I'm entirely able to walk in with Miss Ruston now," said Leaver,
standing, hat in hand, in the road, as Charlotte adjusted her belongings
and prepared to walk rapidly away.

"That's my affair, for a bit longer," and Burns put out a peremptory
hand. "Be good and jump in. The lady will excuse you, and I won't, so
there you are. Forgive me, Miss Ruston, and don't bring on heart failure
by walking too fast in this August sun."

"I won't. Good-bye, and thank you both," and Charlotte set briskly off
toward home, while the car swept round the turn and disappeared into
a hollow of the road.

"That's what I call a particularly worth-while girl," commented Burns, as
the Imp carried them away. "Beauty, and sense, and spirit, not to mention
originality and a few other attributes. You don't often get them all
combined. Good old family, according to my wife, but all gone now, and
this girl left to make her way on her own resources. But perhaps you know
all this already, since you've met her before?"

"I know the main facts?--yes," Leaver responded. His lips had taken on a
curiously tight set, since the car had left the corner. His eyes, under
their strongly marked brows, narrowed a little, as he looked out across a
field of corn yellowing in the sunlight. "She has visited more or less in
Baltimore, where she has been very much admired."

"Why 'has been'?" queried Burns. "She doesn't look like a 'has-been' to
me. More like very much of a 'now-and-here'--eh?"

"I mean only that since she has been thrown upon her own resources she
has applied herself closely to the study of photography, and has been
little seen in society."

"I imagine when she was seen she kept a few fellows guessing. She looks
to me as if she might have refused her full share of men."

"I have no doubt of it."

That which Burns would have enjoyed saying next he refrained from. But to
himself he made the observation: "By the signs I haven't much doubt you
were one of them, old man." Aloud he questioned innocently:

"You know her rather well?"

"Quite well."

"Your manner says 'Drop it,'" observed Burns, with a keen glance at a
side-face clean-cut against the landscape. "I've encountered that manner
before, and I'll take warning accordingly. This is a fine day, and it's
rather an interesting case I'm going to see, up this road. If you care to
come in I'll be glad of your opinion, but I won't insist on it."

"Unless you really wish it, I'll stay out, thank you."

Burns left his companion in the car, open book in hand. It was a book Red
Pepper had strongly recommended, with the motive of stirring up his
friend to interested resentment,--a particularly unfair and prejudiced
discussion of a subject just then being torn to pieces by all manner of
disputants, with the issue still very much in doubt. He knew precisely
the place Leaver had reached in his reading, and noted, as he got out of
the car, the page at which he was about to begin. The page was one easily
recognizable, for it was one upon whose margin he himself had drawn, in a
moment of intense irritation with the argument advanced thereon, a rough
outline of a donkey's head with impossibly long and obstinate ears.

He left Leaver with eyes bent upon the page, not the semblance of a smile
touching his grave mouth at sight of the really striking and effective
cartoon which so ably expressed a former reader's sentiments. Burns went
into the house making with himself a wager as to how far Leaver's perusal
of the chapter would have progressed in the ten minutes which would
suffice for the visit, and was divided whether to stake a page against a
half-chapter, or to risk his friend's being aware of his observation and
leaping through the chapter to its end.

When he came out the book was closed and lying upon Leaver's knee. Burns
took his place and drove off, malice sparkling in his eye.

"What did you think of that chapter?" he inquired.

"Interesting argument, but weak in spots."

"Hm--m. Which spots?"

Leaver indicated them. There could be no doubt that he had read
the chapter carefully to the end. Burns put him through a severe
cross-examination, but he stood the test, much to his examiner's disgust.
In detective work it is usually irritating to have one's theories
disproved. But he still doubted the evidence of his ears. Either John
Leaver was a colder blooded deceiver than he thought him, or his powers
of concentration were more than ordinarily great, that he could turn from
the contemplation of a subject like the one left at the cross-roads
corner, a subject which Burns was pretty sure vitally concerned him, to
a mere abstract discussion of a modern sociological problem, bare of
practical illustration, and dealing purely with one man's notions not yet
worked out to any constructive conclusion.

"Well," said Leaver, turning suddenly to look at Burns with a smile, "are
you satisfied that I have read the chapter?"

Burns also turned, met his companion's eye, and broke into a laugh. "I
shall have to admit you have," said he.

"Why should you have doubted it?"

"I haven't been gone long enough for you to have read and digested it."

Leaver looked at his watch. "You were gone seventeen minutes. That's
long enough to take in the argument pretty thoroughly. As to digesting
it--it's indigestible. Why try?"

"No use at all. But having given my mental machinery a lot of friction I
enjoyed trying to stir yours up also to irritation and discontent. But
I haven't done it. You've remained calm where I grew hot. Also you've
proved your ability to change the subject of your thinking as you would
switch off one electric current and switch on another. It shows you're a
well man."

"I must warn you, as I have done at various times in our association:
'Don't jump to conclusions.' Your first one, that I hadn't read the
chapter, was wrong. I had read it. Your second one, that, after all, I
had read the chapter while you were in the house, was also wrong. I had
read it by the side of the brook, an hour ago."

Burns's laughter spoke his enjoyment as heartily as if he were not the
one cornered. But his amusement ended in triumph, after all, though to
this he discreetly did not give voice. Since he had met Miss Charlotte
Ruston in the woods Dr. John Leaver had not given himself to the study of
any other man's ideas.



CHAPTER XI

AFTER DINNER


"Charlotte Chase Ruston, I want you to come over to a little dinner
to-night. Just a few people, and as informal as dinners on hot August
evenings should be. Afterward we'll spend the time on the porch."

"Thank you, Len. Whom are you going to have? I want to prepare my mind
for what is likely to happen."

Mrs. Burns mentioned her guests. "I've arranged them with special
reference to Dr. Leaver," she explained. "I think it will do him good,
just now, to have to exert himself a little bit. He seems well enough,
but absolutely uninterested in things or people,--except the children. He
spends hours with them. I'm going to put you next him, if I may."

"Please don't. I particularly want the chance to talk with Mr. Arthur
Chester about something I've found he can tell me. We never can get time
for it, and this will be just the chance. Give Miss Mathewson to Dr.
Leaver, and put some pretty girl on his other side."

"I will, if you prefer, of course," Ellen agreed promptly. She had
observed that, although she had taken pains to have them meet, Dr. Leaver
and Miss Ruston seemed to be in the habit of quietly avoiding each other.
But she was not the woman to ask her friend's confidence, since it was
not voluntarily given. She could only wonder why two people from the same
world, apparently so well suited to each other, should be so averse to
spending even a few moments together.

An hour later Charlotte, having dispatched considerable business,
bundling it out of the way as if it had suddenly become of no account,
was delving in a trunk for a frock.

"It's the one and only possible thing I have that will do for one of
Len's 'little dinners,'" she was saying to herself. "I know just how
she'll be looking, and I must live up to her. I wonder if I can mend it
to be fit--I wonder."

She carried it downstairs. Madam Chase, sitting by the window with her
knitting, looked up.

"Mending lace, dearie?" she asked. "Can't I do it for you?"

"I'm afraid it's beyond even you, Granny," she said, ruefully. To the
deaf ears her gesture told more than her words.

"Let me see," commanded the old lady. When the gauzy gown was spread
before her she examined it carefully.

"If it need not be washed--" she began.

"It must be. Look at the bottom." Charlotte's expressive hands
demonstrated as she talked. "I've danced in it and sat out dances in all
sorts of places in it. But I can wash it, if you can mend it. I'll wash
it with the tips of my fingers."

"I will try," said her grandmother.

That afternoon Charlotte carefully laundered the mended gown, dried it in
the sun and ironed it, partly with her fingers, partly with a tiny iron.
Finished, it was a work of art, a frock of rare lace of exquisite design,
several times made over, and now, in its last stage, prettier than in its
first.

"If it will hold together," Charlotte said laughing, as she put it on,
and, kneeling before Granny, waited while the delicate old fingers slowly
fastened each eyelet. When she rose she was a figure at which the old
lady who loved her looked with pleased eyes.

"You are beautiful, dearie," she said. "And nobody will guess that your
dress is mended."

"Not a bit, thanks to your clever fingers. Now I'll go find some flowers
to wear, and then I'm off. I'll come back to put you to bed, and you'll
send Bob over if you want the least thing, won't you, even the least?"

Charlotte went out into her garden, holding her skirts carefully away
from possible touch of bush or briar. Late August flowers were many, but
among them were none that pleased her. She came away therefore without a
touch of colour upon her white attire, yet seeming to need none, the
bloom upon her cheek was so clear, the dusk of her hair so rich.

"Isn't she fascinating?" said Winifred Chester in the ear of John Leaver,
as Charlotte came in. "I never saw a girl who seemed so radiantly well
and happy, with so little to make her so. I think she and Madam Chase
must be very poor, all the nice things they have seem so old, and the new
things so very simple. Ellen says the family was a very fine one."

"Very fine," he agreed. His eyes were upon Charlotte as she greeted her
hosts. He answered Winifred's further comments absently. He bowed gravely
in response to Charlotte's recognition of him, then turned and talked
with the pretty girl whom Ellen had asked him to take in to dinner.

At the table Miss Ruston and Dr. Leaver found themselves nearly opposite.
Leaver talked conscientiously with his companion, then devoted himself to
Winifred Chester, upon his other side. Returning to do his duty by Miss
Everett, he found her eager to discuss those opposite.

"They say Miss Ruston does the most wonderful photographs," she observed.
"One would know she was devoted to some art, wouldn't one? The way that
frock is cut about her shoulders--only an artist would venture to wear it
like that, without a single touch of colour. Every other woman I know
would have put on a string of gold beads or pearls or at least a pendant
of some sort."

For a moment Leaver forgot to answer. He had not looked at Charlotte
since he had first taken his seat. Now, with Miss Everett calling
his attention to her, and everybody else, including the subject of
their interest, absorbed in their own affairs, he let his eyes rest
lingeringly upon her. He had had only brief glimpses of her since she
had come to town, and had seen her at such times always in the summer
street-or-garden attire which she constantly wore. Now he saw her under
conditions which vividly brought back to him other scenes. The white lace
gown she wore, with its peculiar cut, like the spreading of flower petals
about the beautifully modeled shoulders--it struck him as familiar. Had
she worn any jewels upon that white neck when he had seen her? He thought
not. He had never known her to wear ornament of any sort, he was sure.
She needed none, he was equally sure of that. As she sat, with her head
turned toward Arthur Chester, who was expounding with great elaboration
something which called for maps upon the tablecloth drawn with a rapidly
moving finger, she was showing to the observers across the table a face
and head in profile, an outline which had been burned into the memory of
the man who now regarded it and forgot to make answer.

Miss Everett glanced at him curiously. Then she murmured: "Don't you
think the leaving off of all ornaments is sometimes just as much a
coquetry as the wearing of them would be? It certainly challenges notice
even more, doesn't it?"

"It depends on whether one happens to possess them, I should say," Leaver
returned.

"About their drawing attention, or their absence drawing it? I suppose
so. But when you don't know which it is, but judge by the richness of the
gown that the wearer can afford them--"

"I'm no judge of the richness of a gown."

"I am, then. That is the most wonderful lace--anybody can see--at least
any woman."

"Tell me, Miss Everett,"--Leaver made a determined effort to get away
from the personal aspect of the subject,--"why does a woman love jewels?
For their own sake, or because of their power to adorn her--if they do
adorn her?"

The young woman plunged animatedly into a discussion of the topic as he
presented it. She was wearing certain striking ornaments of pearl and
turquoise, which undoubtedly became her fair colouring whether they
enhanced her beauty or not. It was while this discussion was in progress,
Leaver forcing himself to attend sufficiently to make intelligent
replies, that Charlotte Ruston suddenly turned and looked at him. He
looked straight back at her, a peculiar intentness growing in his
deep-set eyes.

He did not withdraw his gaze until she had turned away again, and the
encounter had been but for the briefest space, yet when it was over John
Leaver's colour had changed a little. For the moment it was as if nobody
else had been in the room--he was only dully conscious that upon his
other side Winifred Chester was addressing him, and that he must make
reply.

When the company which had spent the sultry August evening upon the porch
in the semi-darkness was near to breaking up, Leaver came to Charlotte
and took his place beside her. When she left the house he was with her,
and the two crossed the street and went in at the hedge gate together.

"May I stay a very little while?" he asked. And when she assented he
added, "Shall we find the bench in your garden?"

"Do you know that bench?" she questioned, surprised.

"I spent many hours upon it before you came, and during the days when I
was not getting about much. I listened to the reading of two books,
lounging there. So it seems like a familiar spot to me."

"It is my favourite resting place. I am sorry you were driven away by my
coming. You and Miss Mathewson would have been very welcome there, all
the rest of the summer, if I had known."

"Thank you. But I have passed the invalid stage and am not being treated
as a patient. I read for myself, at present, and tramp the country,
instead of sitting on benches, anywhere. It's a great improvement."

"I am very glad."

Charlotte let him lead the way to the retreat under the apple-tree, and
he proved his knowledge of it by stopping now and then to hold aside
hindering branches of shrubbery, and to lift for her a certain heavily
leafed bough which drooped across the path, but which would hardly have
been discerned in the summer starlight by one not familiar with its
position.

"It would be a pity to tear that gown," he remarked, as the last barrier
was passed. "It occurred to me, as I looked at you to-night, that it was
one I had seen you wear in Baltimore, last winter. Am I right?"

"Last winter, and the winter before, and even the winter before that, if
you had known me so long," she answered, with a gay little laugh. "I am
so fond of it I shall not discard it until it can no longer be mended."

"You are wise. I believe it is hardly the attitude of the modern woman
toward dress of any sort, but it might well be. We never tire of Nature,
though she wears the same costume season after season."

"Her frocks don't fray at the edges--or when they do she turns them such
gorgeous colours that we don't notice they are getting worn."

"Aren't there some rough edges on this bench? Please take this end; I
think I recall that it is smoother than the other."

"Thank you. One good tear, and even Granny's needle couldn't make me
whole again."

He bent over to pick up a scarf of silver gauze which had slipped from
her shoulders. He laid it about them, and as he did so she shivered
suddenly, though the air was warm, without a hint of dampness. But she
covered the involuntary movement with a shrug, saying lightly, "A man I
know says he thoroughly believes a woman is colder rather than warmer in
a scarf like this, on the theory that anything with so many holes in it
must create an infinite number of small draughts."

"He may be right. But I confess, as a physician, I like to cover up
exposed surfaces from the open night air--to a certain extent--even with
an excuse for a protection like this."

He sat down beside her. The bench was not a long one, and he was nearer
to her than he had yet been to-night. She sat quietly, one hand lying
motionless in her lap. The other hand, down at her side, laid hold of the
edge of the bench and gripped it rather tightly. She began to talk about
the old garden, as it lay before them, its straggling paths and beds of
flowers mere patches of shadow, dark and light. He answered, now and
then, in an absent sort of way, as if his mind were upon something else,
and he only partly heard. She spoke of "Sunny Farm"--the children's
hospital in the country--of Burns and Ellen and Bob--and then, suddenly,
with a sense of the uselessness of trying all by herself to make small
talk under conditions of growing constraint, she fell silent. He let the
silence endure for a little space, then broke it bluntly.

"I'm glad," he said, in the deep, quiet voice she remembered well, "that
you will give me a chance. What is the use of pretending that I have
brought you here to talk of other people? I have something to say to you,
and you know it. I can't lead up to it by any art, for it has become
merely a fact which it is your right to know. You should have known it
long ago."

He stopped for a minute. She was absolutely still beside him, except for
the hand that gripped the edge of the bench. That took a fresh hold.

When he spoke again, his voice, though still quiet, showed tension.

"Before I saw you the last time, last spring, I meant to ask you to marry
me. When I did see you, something had happened to make that impossible.
It had not only made it impossible, but it made me unable even to
explain. I shall never forget that strange hour I spent with you. You
knew that something was the matter. But I couldn't tell you. I thought
then I never could. Seeing you, as I have to-night, I realized that I
couldn't wait another hour to tell you. But, even now, I don't feel that
I can explain. There's only one thing I am sure of--that I must say this
much: All my seeking of you, last winter, meant the full intent and
purpose to win you, if I could. And--you can never know what it meant to
me to give it up."

The last words were almost below his breath, but she heard them, heard
the uncontrollable, passionate ache of them. Plainer than the words
themselves this quality in them spoke for him.

For a moment there was silence between them again. Then he went on: "I
can't ask--I don't ask--a word from you in answer. Neither can I let
myself say more than I am saying. It wouldn't be fair to you, however you
might feel. And I want you to believe this--that not to say more takes
every bit of manhood I have."

Silence again. Then, from the woman beside him, in the clearest, low
voice, with an inflection of deep sweetness:

"Thank you, Dr. Leaver."

Suddenly he turned upon the bench--he had been staring straight before
him. He bent close, looked into her shadowy face for a moment, then
found her hand, where it lay in her lap, lifted it in both his own, and
pressed it, for a long, tense moment, against his lips. She felt the
contact burn against the cool flesh, and it made intelligible all that he
would not allow himself to say, in terms which no woman could mistake.

Then he sprang up from the bench.

"Will you walk as far as the house with me?" he asked, gently. "Or shall
I leave you here? It is late: I don't quite like to leave you here
alone."

"I will go with you," she answered, and, rising, drew her skirts about
her. He stood beside her for a moment, looking down at her white figure,
outlined against the darkness behind them. She heard him take one deep,
slow inspiration, like a swimmer who fills his lungs before plunging into
the water; she heard the quick release of the breath, followed by his
voice, saying, with an effort at naturalness:

"If I had such a place as this, where I'm staying, I should be tempted to
bring out a blanket and sleep in it to-night."

"One might do worse," she answered. "These branches have been so long
untrimmed that it takes a heavy shower to dampen the ground beneath."

They made their way back along the straggling paths, and came to the
cottage, from whose windows streamed the lamplight that waited for
Charlotte. As it fell upon her Leaver looked at her, and stood still.
Pausing, she glanced up at him, and away again. She knew that he was
silently regarding her. Quite without seeing she knew how his face
looked, the fine face with the eyes which seemed to see so much, the firm
yet sensitive mouth, the whole virile personality held in a powerful
restraint.

Then he opened the door for her, and she passed him. She looked back at
him from the threshold.

"Good-night," she said, and smiled.

"Good-night," he answered, and gave back the smile. Then he went quickly
down the path and away.

Ten minutes afterward she put out the light in the front room, and stole
out of the door, leaving it open behind her. Still in the white gown of
the evening, but with a long, dark cloak flung over it, she went swiftly
back over the paths to the garden bench. Arrived there she sat down upon
it, where she had sat before, but not as she had been. Instead, she
turned and laid her arm along the low back of the bench, and her head
upon it, and remained motionless in that position for a long time. Her
eyes were wide, in the darkness, and her lips were pressed tight
together, and once, just once, a smothered, struggling breath escaped
her. But, finally, she sat up, threw up her head, lifted both arms above
it, the hands clenched tight.

"Charlotte Ruston," she whispered fiercely, "you have to be strong--and
strong--and stronger yet! You have to be! _You have to be!_"

Then she rose quickly to her feet, with a motion not unlike that with
which John Leaver had sprung to his an hour before. It was a movement
which meant that emotion must yield to action. She went swiftly back to
the house, in at the door, up the straight, high stairs to her room.

As she lighted her candle a voice spoke from Madam Chase's room, its door
open into her own.

"Charlotte?"

"Yes, Granny?"

The girl went in, taking the candle, which she set upon the
dressing-table. She bent over the bed, putting her lips close to
the old lady's ear.

"Can't you sleep, dear?" she asked.

"Not until you are in, child. Why are you so late?"

"It's not late, Granny. You know I went to Dr. Burns's to dinner."

"It's very late," repeated the delicate old voice, slightly querulous,
because of its owner's failure to hear the explanation. "Much too late
for a girl like you. You should have had your beauty sleep long ago."

Charlotte smiled, feeling as if her twenty-six years had added another
ten to themselves since morning. She patted the soft cheek on the pillow,
and tenderly adjusted the gossamer nightcap which, after the fashion of
its wearer's youth, kept the white locks snugly in order during the
sleeping hours.

"I'm here now, Granny. Please go to sleep right away. Or--would you like
a glass of milk first?"

"What say?"

"Milk, dear,--hot milk?"

"Yes, yes, it will put me to sleep. Quite hot, not lukewarm."

Charlotte went down the steep stairs again, heated the milk, and brought
it back. When it had been taken she kissed the small face, drew the linen
sheet smooth again, and went away with the candle. In her own room she
presently lay down upon her cot, rejoicing that the old lady could not
hear its creaking.

Toward morning she fell asleep.



CHAPTER XII

A CHALLENGE


"Miss Ruston!"

"Yes?" The answer came through the door of the dark-room. "I can't come
out for four minutes. Can you give me the message through a closed door?"

"Certainly," responded Amy Mathewson, standing outside. She was dressed
for motor travel and her eyes were full of anticipation. "Mr. Macauley
is taking some of us out to meet Dr. Burns at Sunny Farm. The Doctor has
telephoned from there that he would be very glad if you could come with
us, bring your camera, and take some photographs of a patient for him."

"Delighted--if I can arrange for Granny," Charlotte called back.

"Mrs. Burns's Cynthia will stay with her."

"How soon must we start?"

"As soon as you can be ready."

"Give me ten minutes, and I'll be there."

The big brown car was waiting outside the hedge gate when, nearly as good
as her word, Charlotte ran down the path. She had pulled a long linen
coat over her blue morning dress, and a veil floated over her arm.

"Dear me, you all look so correct in your bonnets and caps! Must I tie up
my head, or may I leave off the veil until my hair gets to looking wild?"

"It never looked wild yet that I can recall, so jump in and go as you
please. It's too hot for caps, and I'll keep you company," responded
Macauley, from the front seat. His wife, Martha, sat beside him, swathed
in brown from head to foot. Martha had acquired a motoring costume which
she considered matched the car and was particularly smart besides, and
she seldom left off any detail, no matter how warm the day. Martha looked
around as Charlotte took her place beside Miss Mathewson on the broad
rear seat. The two swinging seats which equipped the car to carry seven
passengers were occupied by Bobby Burns and young Tom Macauley.

"People who have hair like Miss Ruston can go bareheaded where the rest
of us have to tie ourselves together to keep from blowing away," observed
Martha.

Her husband laughed. "I never heard you own quite so frankly before that
parts of you were detachable," said he.

"They're not!" cried Martha, indignantly. "But Miss Ruston's hair is that
crisp, half curly sort that stays just where you put it, and mine is so
straight and fine that it gets stringy. It makes all the difference in
the world."

The car moved off. After a minute it turned a corner and came to a
standstill before a house. Macauley sounded a penetrating horn, and after
a minute the door opened and John Leaver came out.

"Come on, Doctor," called Macauley. "R.P. has been telephoning in, in the
usual fever of haste, to have us get out there. It seems the place is in
order and two patients have arrived. He wants a doctor, nurse, and
photographer on the job at once. Find a place on the back seat, there?"

Leaver came quickly down the walk. He looked like a well man now, whether
he felt like a well one or not. He had gained in weight, his face had
lost its worn look, his eyes were no longer encompassed by shadows. The
sun was in his eyes as he opened the rear door and prepared to take the
one seat left in the car, that beside Charlotte Ruston, who had moved to
one side as she saw what was about to happen. Her shoulder pressed close
against that of Miss Mathewson, she left so large a space for the
newcomer.

After the first exchange of small talk, it was a silent drive. Macauley
was making haste to obey the summons he had received, and the rush of air
past those in the car with him was not conducive to frequent speech. Soon
after they were off Charlotte drew her big white veil over her head and
face, and was lost to view beneath its protecting expanse. One of the
veil's fluttering ends persisted in blowing across Leaver's breast, quite
unnoticed by its owner, whose head did not often turn that way. The man
did not put it aside, but after a time he took hold of it and kept it in
his hand, secure from the domineering breeze.

"Here we are! Behold Sunny Farm, the dream of Doctor and Mrs. Red Pepper,
given tangible shape. Not a bad-looking old rambling place, is it?"

Macauley brought his car to rest beside the long green roadster already
there. Its occupants jumped out and strolled up the slope toward the
white farmhouse, across whose front and wing stretched long porches, on
one of which stood a steamer chair and a white iron bed, each holding a
small form. Upon the step sat Ellen Burns and a nurse in a white uniform;
by the bed stood Burns himself.

Miss Mathewson's observant eyes were taking veiled note of her recent
charge as he went up the steps and approached the bed. The little patient
upon it had not lifted his head, as had the child in the chair, to see
who was at hand.

"Oh, the little pitiful face!" breathed Charlotte Ruston in Amy's ear, as
she looked down into a pair of great black eyes, set in hollows so deep
that they seemed the chiseling of merciless pain.

"This is Jamie Ferguson," said Burns, with his hand on the boy's head.
"He is very happy to be here in the sunshine, so you are not to pity him.
Come here, Bob, and tell Jamie you will play with him when he is
stronger. He knows wonderful things, does Jamie. And this is Patsy Kelly,
in the chair."

There was a pleasant little scene now enacted upon the porch, in which
Bob and Tom were introduced to the small patients, and everybody looked
on while shy advances were made by the well children, to be received with
timid gravity by the sick ones. Through it all Red Pepper Burns was
furtively observing the demeanour of Dr. John Leaver.

He had hardly taken his eyes from Jamie Ferguson. Into his face had come
a look his friend had not seen there since he had been with him, the look
of the expert professional man who sees before him a case which interests
him. He stood and studied the child without speaking while Bob and Tom
remained, and when the small boys, too full of activity to stay
contentedly with other boys who could not play, were off to explore
the place, Leaver drew up a chair and sat down beside the bed.

Burns glanced at his wife, and gave a significant nod of his head toward
the interior of the house. Ellen rose.

"Come Martha, and Charlotte," said she, "and let me show you over the
rooms. I'm so proud of the progress we have made in the fortnight since
the house was vacated for us."

She led them inside. Amy Mathewson went over to the chair and Patsy
Kelly, turning her back upon the pair by the bed.

"When did you come, Patsy?" she asked.

"We come the morn," said Patsy, a pale little fellow of nine, with a
shock of hair so red that beside it that of Red Pepper Burns would have
looked a subdued chestnut. "In the ambilunce we come. I liked the ride,
but Jamie didn't. He was scared of bein' moved."

"Jamie is not so well as you. How fine it is that you can lie in this
chair and have your head up. You can see all about. Isn't it beautiful
here?"

"It is. I'm glad I come. He said I'd be glad, but I didn't believe him. I
didn't know," said Patsy Kelly, with a sigh of satisfaction. "I had mate
and pitaty for breakfast the morn," he added, and rapture shone out of
his eyes.

By the side of Jamie Ferguson Dr. John Leaver was telling a story. He was
apparently telling it to Dr. Burns, who listened with great interest, but
at the same time shy Jamie Ferguson was listening too. There were curious
points in the story when the narrator turned to the boy in the bed and
inquired, smiling: "Could you do that, Jamie?" to which questions Jamie
usually replied in the negative. They were mostly questions concerning
backs and legs and hips, and the boy in the story seemed to find
difficulty in using his, too, which made Jamie feel a strong interest in
him. Altogether it was a fascinating tale. When it was over the two men
walked away together down the slope, and between them passed other
questions and answers, of a sort which Jamie could not have understood.

Down by the gate Leaver came to a pause, nodding his head in a thoughtful
way. "You are quite right, I believe, both in your conclusions and in
your plan for operation. I should go ahead without further delay than is
necessary to get him into a bit better condition."

"I thought you would agree with me," Burns replied. "I'm gratified that
you do. But I'm not going to operate. I've got a better man: Leaver, of
Baltimore."

The other turned quickly. A strange look swept over his face.

"I told you my decision about that," he said.

"I know you did. But I told you some time ago about this case, and warned
you that it was your case. I haven't changed my mind."

Leaver shook his head. "I haven't changed mine, either. But I didn't know
this was the case you meant. If I had I shouldn't have gone to examining
it without an invitation."

"You had an invitation. That was what I got you out here this morning
for. I didn't bring you myself because I didn't want you steeling
yourself against looking into it, as you would if I had told you about it
on the way out. My plan worked all right. The minute you saw the child
your instincts and training got the better of your caution. That's what
they'll continue to do if you give them a chance. See here, you don't
mean to quit your profession and take to carpentry, do you?"

"I expect to practise medicine," Leaver said, and there was a queer
setting of his lips as he said it.

"Medicine! You? Jack, you couldn't do it."

"Couldn't I? I don't know that I could." He drew a half shuddering
breath. "But I can try, somewhere, if not in Baltimore."

"I'd like to thrash you!" cried Red Pepper Burns, and he looked it.
"Standing there the picture of a healthy man and telling me you're going
to take to doling out pills and writing prescriptions.... See here. We've
put in a little surgery up there in the north wing, it's a peach of a
place. Come and see it."

He led the way rapidly back up to the house, in at the door and up the
stairs. At the end of a long corridor he threw open the door of a small
room, whose whole northern side was of glass. Its equipment was as
complete as could be asked by the most exacting of operating surgeons.

"Good!" Leaver cried, quite forgetting himself for the moment. "I had no
idea you meant to carry things so far as this. Fine!"

"Isn't it? Could you have a better place to try your hand again? Nobody
looking on but Amy Mathewson, Miss Dodge--whom you met downstairs--and
Dr. Buller--for the anesthetic. Buller's the best anesthetizer in the
state and a splendid fellow besides. Also my humble self, ready to be
your right-hand man. I promise you this,--if the least thing goes
wrong--_and you ask it_--I'll take your place without a word. Jack, the
case is one that needs you. I've never done this operation: you have.
You've written a monograph on it. It's up to you, John Leaver. I don't
dare you to do it, _I dare you not to do it_!"

For the first time, in response to his arguments on this subject, Burns
got no answer but silence. But his friend's face was slowly flushing a
deep, angry red. At this sight Burns rejoiced. His theory had been that
if he could wake something in Leaver besides deep depression and sad
negation he had a chance to influence him. He believed thoroughly that if
he could force the distinguished young surgeon through one successful
operation confidence would return like an incoming tide. He had hoped
that the pathetic sight of the little malformed body of Jamie Ferguson
would arouse the passion for salvage which lies in the breast of every
man who practises the great profession; he saw that thus far his plan had
succeeded. Now to accomplish the rest.

"Suppose," said Leaver, turning slowly toward the other man, "I agree to
stand beside you and direct the operation?"

It was Burns's turn to colour angrily, his quick temper leaping to fire
in an instant.

"Not _much_! Let every tub stand on its own bottom! Either I do the
job or I don't do it; but I don't take the part of an apprentice. I'll
agree to play second fiddle to you, with you playing first. But I'll
be--condemned--if I'll play first, with a coach at my elbow. Take that
and be hanged to you!"

He walked over to the open window, threw back the screen and put his
head out, as if he needed air to breathe. Leaver was at his side in an
instant.

"I beg your pardon, my dear fellow, I do sincerely. It was an unworthy
suggestion, and I don't blame you for resenting it. Nobody needs help
less than you. You could do the operation brilliantly. That's why there's
no need in the world to force me into the situation--no need--"

Burns wheeled. "There _is_ need! There's need for you--to save your soul
alive. You've been no coward so far--your overworked nerves played you a
trick and you've had to recover. But you have recovered, you are fit to
work again. _If you don't do this thing you'll be a coward forever!_"

It bit deep, as he had known it would. If he had struck a knife into his
friend's heart he could not have caused so sharp a hurt. Leaver turned
white under this surgery of speech, and for an instant he looked as if he
would have sprung at Burns's throat. There followed sixty silent seconds
while both men stood like statues. But the merciless judgment had turned
the scale. With a control of himself which struck Burns, as he recalled
it afterward, as marvellous, Leaver answered evenly: "You shall not have
the chance to say that again. I will operate when you think best."

"Thank God!" said Red Pepper Burns, under his breath.

The two walked out of the little white room, with its austere and
absolute cleanliness, without another word concerning that which was to
come. Burns took his friend over the house, and Leaver looked into room
after room, approving, commending, even suggesting, quite as if nothing
had happened. And yet, after all, not quite as if nothing had happened.
He was not the same man who had come out to Sunny Farm an hour before.
Burns knew, as well as if he could have seen into Leaver's mind, the
conflict that was going on there. The thing was settled, he would not
retreat, yet there was still a fight to be fought--the biggest fight of
his life. On its issue was to depend the success or failure of the coming
test. Burns's warm heart would have led him to speak sympathetically and
encouragingly of the issue to be met; his understanding of the crisis it
precipitated kept him mute. Whatever help he was now to give his friend
must be given, not through speech but through silence, and by that
subtler means of communication between spirit and spirit which cannot be
analyzed or understood, but which may be more real than anything in life.

They went downstairs, presently, and rejoined the party. Miss Ruston and
Miss Mathewson, Mr. James Macauley and his son Tom, with Bobby Burns,
were engaged in a spirited game of "puss in a corner," for the benefit of
Patsy Kelly, who lay looking on from his chair with sparkling, excited
eyes. Beside Jamie Ferguson, who could not see, Mrs. Burns sat,
describing to him the game and interpreting the shouts of laughter which
reached his ears as he lay, too flat upon his back to see what was
happening twenty feet away.

Ellen looked up, as her husband approached, and something in his face
made her regard him intently. He smiled at her, his hazel eyes dark as
they often were when something had stirred him deeply, and she guessed
enough of the meaning of this aspect to keep her from looking at Dr.
Leaver until he had been for some time upon the porch.

When she did observe him, he was standing, leaning against a pillar
and looking at the wan little face below her, from a point at which
Jamie could not know of his scrutiny. His back was turned upon the
game upon the grass, though the others were watching it. When it ended
Burns called Charlotte Ruston to the taking of the photographs he
wanted--snapshots of the two little patients carried into the full
sunlight. This being quickly accomplished, he announced his own immediate
departure.

"Will you go back with me in the Imp, or at your leisure with the crowd
in the car?" Burns asked Leaver, in an undertone. "My wife will be glad
to go in either car; she suggested your taking your choice."

"If the Macauleys will not misunderstand, I should prefer to go with
you," Leaver replied.

"They won't. Two medicine-men are supposed always to wish for a chance to
hobnob, and we'll put it on that score. I really want to consult you
about Patsy's case."

"Not going with us? Willing to forsake three fair ladies for one
red-headed fiend, just because you know he's going to give us his dust?
I like that!" cried Macauley, who could be trusted never to make things
easy for his friends.

"Abuse him as you like. He's off with me at my request," called Burns,
pulling out into the road and turning with a sweep.

Martha Macauley looked after the Green Imp's rapidly lessening shape
through the dust-cloud which it left behind. "I never thought till to-day
that Dr. Leaver seemed the least bit like a noted surgeon," said she, as
they waited for Macauley to get his car underway. "I could never imagine
his acting like Red, and rushing enthusiastically from bedside to
operating-room, pushing everything out of his way to make time to cut
somebody to pieces and sew him up again, for his ultimate good. But
to-day somehow, he seemed more--what would you call it--professional?"

"That's the word," her husband agreed. "It's the word they juggle with.
If a thing's 'professional,' it's all right. If it's not, it may as well
be condemned to outer darkness at once."



CHAPTER XIII

A CRISIS


"Little wife?"

"Yes, Redfield Pepper--"

"I'm as nervous as a cat up a tree with a couple of dogs at the foot!"

"Why, Red, I never heard you talk of being nervous! What does it mean?"

"An operation to-morrow."

"But you never are 'nervous,' dear."

"I am now."

"Is it such a critical one?"

"The most critical I ever faced."

Ellen looked at her husband, or tried to look, for they were moving
slowly along the street, at a late hour, Burns having suggested a short
walk before bedtime. It was quite dark, and Ellen could judge only by her
husband's voice that he spoke with entire soberness.

"Can you tell me anything about it?" she suggested, knowing that relief
from tension sometimes comes with speech. Any confession of nervousness
from Red Pepper Burns seemed to her most extraordinary. She knew that he
often worked under tremendous tension, but he had never before admitted
shakiness of nerve.

"Not much, if anything at all. It's a particularly private affair, for
the present. It's a queer operation, too. I may not handle a knife, tie
an artery, or stitch up a wound--may do less than I ever did in my life
on such an occasion, yet--I'll be hanged if I'm not feeling as owly about
it as if it were the first time I ever expected to see blood."

Ellen put her hand on his arm, slipped it into the curve, and kept it
there, while he held it pressed close against him. "Red, have you been
working too hard lately?" she asked.

"Not a bit. I'm fit as a fiddler. Don't worry, love. I've no business
to talk riddles to you, of all people. But for a peculiar reason I'm
horribly anxious about the outcome of to-morrow's experiment, and had
to work it off somehow. Just promise me that when you say your prayers
to-night you'll ask the good God not to let me be mistaken in forcing a
situation I may not be able to control."

"I will," Ellen promised, with all her heart, for she saw that, whatever
the crisis might be, it was one to which her usually daring husband was
looking forward with most uncharacteristic dread.

She was conscious that Burns spent a restless night. At daybreak he was
up and out of the house. Before he went, however, he bent over her and
kissed her with great tenderness, murmuring, "A prayer or two more,
darling, won't hurt anything, when you are awake enough. I've particular
faith in your petitions."

She held him with both arms.

"Don't worry, Red. It isn't like you. You will succeed, if it is to be."

"It's got to be," he said between his teeth, as he left her.

He swallowed a cup of Cynthia's hot coffee--bespoken the night before,
as on many similar occasions--and ran out to his car just as the slow
September sunrise broke into the eastern sky. In two minutes more he
was off in the Imp, flying out the road to Sunny Farm.

Arrived there he astonished Miss Dodge, the nurse in charge, who was not
accustomed to Dr. Burns's ways. He had left the small patient, Jamie
Ferguson, the night before, entirely satisfied with his condition for
undergoing the operation set for nine o'clock this morning. He now went
once more painstakingly over every detail of the preparation he had
ordered, making sure for himself that nothing had been omitted.

Then he called for Miss Mathewson, who had spent the night at the Farm.
She was to assist Leaver as she was accustomed to assist Burns. He took
her off by herself and addressed her solemnly, more solemnly than he had
ever done.

"Amy, if you ever had your wits on call, have them this morning. In all
my life I never cared more how things went at a time like this. I care
so much I'd give about all I own to know this minute that the thing would
go through."

"Why, Dr. Burns," said she, in astonishment, "it should go through. It is
a critical operation, of course, but the boy seems in very fair shape for
it, and Dr. Leaver has done it before. Dr. Leaver is quite well now--"

"I know, I know. Feel of that!"

He touched her hand with his own, which was icy cold. She started, and
looked anxiously at him.

"Doctor, you can't be well! This isn't you--to be so--nervous! Why, think
of all the operations you've done, and never a sign of minding. And this
isn't even your responsibility--it's Dr. Leaver's."

"That's right, scold me," said he, trying to laugh. "It's what I need.
I'm showing the white feather, a hatful of them. But you're mistaken
about one thing. It _is_ my responsibility, every detail of it. Don't
forget that. If the case goes wrong, it's my fault, not Dr. Leaver's."

Then he walked away, leaving Miss Mathewson utterly dumbfounded. She
understood perfectly that Dr. John Leaver had suffered a severe breakdown
from overwork, and that this was his first test since his recovery. But
she knew nothing of the peculiar circumstances of his last appearance in
an operating-room, and could therefore have no possible notion of the
crisis this morning's work was to be to him. She did know enough,
however, to be deeply interested in the outcome, and she watched the
Green Imp flying down the road toward home with the sense that when it
returned it would bear two surgeons for whom she must do the best work
of support in her life.

"Ready, Jack?"

"Ready."

John Leaver took the seat beside Burns, giving the outstretched hand a
strong grip. He carried no hand-bag, there was no sign of his profession
about him. He had sent to Baltimore for his own instruments, but they
were waiting for him in the little operating-room at Sunny Farm, having
been through every rite practised by modern surgery.

The car set off.

"It's a magnificent morning," said Red Pepper Burns.

"Ideal."

"September's the best month in the year, to my fancy."

"A crisp October rivals it, to my notion."

"Not bad. There's a touch of frost in the air this morning."

"Quite a touch."

The car sped on. The men were silent. His one glance at his friend's face
had showed Burns that Leaver had, apparently, his old quiet command of
himself. But this, though reassuring, he knew could not be trusted as an
absolute indication of control within. For himself, he had never been
so profoundly excited in his life. He found himself wondering how he was
going to stand and look on, unemployed, yet ready, at a sign, to take the
helm. He felt as if that moment, if it should come, would find him as
unnerved as the man he must help. Yet, with all his heart and will, he
was silently assuring himself that all would go well--must go well. He
must not even fear failure, think failure, imagine failure. Strong
confidence on his own part, he fully believed, would be definite, if
intangible, assistance to his friend....

Rounding a curve in the road, the white outlines of Sunny Farm house
stood out clearly against the background of near green fields, and
distant purple hills.

"House gets the sun in great shape mornings," observed Burns.

"The location couldn't be better," responded Leaver's quiet voice.

The car swung into the yard. The two men got out, crossed the sward, and
stood upon the porch. Miss Mathewson met them at the door, her face
bright, her eyes clear, only a little flush on either cheek betraying
to Burns that she shared his tension.

"Jamie seems in the best of condition," said she.

"That's good--that's good," Burns answered, as if he had not made sure of
the fact for himself within the hour.

"I will go in and see him a minute," Leaver said, and disappeared into
Jamie Ferguson's room.

Outside Burns walked up and down the corridor, waiting, in a restlessness
upon which he suddenly laid a stern decree. He stopped short and forced
himself to stand still.

"You idiot," he savagely addressed himself, "you act like a fool medical
student detailed to give an anesthetic at a noted surgeon's clinic for
the first time. Cut it, and behave yourself."

After which he was guilty of no more outward perturbation, and,
naturally, of somewhat less inner turmoil.

"Satisfied?" he asked of Leaver, as the other came out of Jamie's room.

Leaver nodded. "Rather better than I had hoped. He's a plucky little
chap."

"You're right, he is."

The two went up to the dressing-room. Half an hour later, clad in
white from head to foot, arms bare and gleaming, hands gloved,
allowing assistants to open and close doors for them lest the slightest
contamination affect their rigid cleanliness, they came into the
operating-room. For the moment they were left alone there, while the
nurses went to summon the bearer of the little patient. It was the
moment Burns had dreaded, the stillness before action which most tries
the spirit at any crisis.

He could not help giving one quick glance at his friend before he turned
away to look out of the window with eyes which saw nothing outside it.
In that instant's glance he thought the old Leaver stood before him,
cool, collected, armed to the teeth, as it were, for the fight, and
looking forward to it with eagerness. There had been possibly a slight
pallor upon his face, as Miss Dodge had adjusted his mask of gauze, but,
as Burns recalled it, this was a common matter with many surgeons, and it
might easily have been characteristic of Leaver himself, even though
Burns had not remembered it. His own heart was thumping heavily in his
breast, as it had never thumped when he had been the chief actor in the
coming scene.

"Lord, make him go through all right," he was praying, almost
unconsciously, while he eyed the September landscape unseeingly, and
listened for the sound of the stretcher bearers....

As they came in at the door Burns turned, and saw, or thought he saw,
Leaver draw one deep, long breath. Then, in a minute or so, the fight was
on. He remembered, of old, that there was never much delay after the
distinguished surgeon saw his patient before him, had assured himself
that all was well with the working of the anesthetic, and had taken
up his first instrument....

Swift and sure moved Leaver's hands, obeying the swift, sure working of
his brain. There was not a moment's indecision. More than one moment of
deliberation there was, but Burns, watching, knew as well as if his
friend had been a part of himself that the brief pauses in his work were
a part of the work itself, and meant that as his task unfolded before him
he stopped to weigh feasible courses, choosing with unerring judgment the
better of two possible alternatives, and proceeding with the confidence
essential to the unfaltering touch. As Burns beheld the process pass the
point of greatest danger and approach conclusion, he felt somewhat as a
man may who, unable to help, watches a swimmer breasting tremendous seas,
and sees him win past the last smother of breakers and make his way into
calmer waters. He was conscious that he himself had been breathing
shallowly as he watched, and now drew several deep inspirations
of relief.

"By George, that was the gamest thing I ever saw," thought Burns,
exultingly. "He hasn't shown the slightest sign of flinching. And Amy
Mathewson--she's played up to every move like a little second brain of
his."

He looked at the small clock on a shelf of the surgery, and his head
swam. "He's outdone himself," he nearly cried aloud. "This will stand
beside anything he's ever done. If he'd been slower than usual it would
have been only natural, after this interval, but he's been faster. Oh,
but I'm glad--glad!"

The event was over. Both Leaver and Burns, no longer under the necessity
of avoiding contact with things unsterilized, felt the small patient's
pulse and nodded at each other. The assistants bore Jamie Ferguson's
little inert body away, Miss Dodge attending.

Dr. Leaver turned to Miss Mathewson. He drew off the masking gauze from
his head, showing a flushed, moist face and eyes a little bloodshot. But
his voice was as quiet as ever as he said:

"I've never had finer assistance from any one, Miss Mathewson. If you had
been trained to work opposite me you couldn't have done better."

"You work much like Dr. Burns," she said, modestly. "That made it easy."

Burns burst into a smothered laugh. "That's the biggest compliment I've
had for a good while," said he.

As they dressed, neither man said much. But when coats were on, and the
two were ready to go to Jamie's room, they turned each to the other.

"Well, old man?" Burns was smiling like the sunshine itself into his
friend's eyes. "I think I never was so happy in my life."

"I know you're happy," said the other man. "I don't believe I'll trust
myself yet to tell you what I am."

"Don't try. We won't talk it over just yet. But I've got to say this,
Jack: You never did a more masterly job in your life."

Leaver smiled--and shivered. "I'm glad it's over," said he.

They went down to Jamie's room, and there, on either side of the high
hospital cot, watched consciousness returning. With consciousness
presently came pain.

"I'm going to stay with him," Leaver announced, by and by. Jamie's
little, wasted hand was fast in his, Jamie's eyes, when they rested
anywhere with intelligence, rested on his face--a face tender and
pitiful.

"Good for you. I shall feel easier about him if you do," and Burns went
away with the feeling that this course would be as good for the surgeon
as for the patient.

He stopped in the lower hall to telephone Ellen.

"All safely over, dear," he said. "The patient doing well so far, and no
reason why he shouldn't continue, as far as we can see."

"Oh, I'm so glad, Red," came back the joyous reply, and Burns responded:

"That goes without saying, partner. I'll tell you a lot more about it,
now, when I get back."

The Green Imp went back at a furious pace. Half-way home, however, as it
neared a figure walking by the roadside, it suddenly slowed down.

"Will you ride home, Miss Photographer?" Burns called. "Or do you prefer
trudging all the way back with that camera and tripod?"

"I'm delighted to ride, Dr. Burns," replied Charlotte Ruston.
"Captivating roadside views enticed me much farther than I intended,
and the camera weighs twice what it did when I started."

"Jump in, then, and let me give you a piece of good news I'm bursting
with," and Burns held out his hand for the camera. "You're getting a
beautiful sunburn on that right cheek," he commented.

"I'll burn the left to match it, if you won't drive too fast. You'll have
to go a little slower while you talk. I've noticed you're always silent
when you're scorching along the road."

"So I am, I believe. Well, I'm not going to be silent now. I've just come
from seeing Jamie Ferguson put on the road to future health and
happiness, the good Lord willing--and I've a notion He is."

"Jamie--the little cripple who lies on his back?"

"The same. He'll lie on his back some time longer and then, I think,
he'll get up."

"You operated on him to-day? How glad I am!"

"No, I didn't operate. It took a better man than I. I've never done
this particular stunt, and Jamie was not a patient for experiment. Jack
Leaver did the trick, and a finished trick it was, too. I'm so full of
enthusiasm over his performance that I'm bursting with it, as I warned
you."

Charlotte Ruston had turned suddenly to face him. As he looked at her,
with this announcement, he had a view of lovely, startled eyes.

"What's the matter?" he asked, wondering. He had to look ahead at the
road, but he cut down on the Imp's speed, so that he could spare a glance
at his companion again. "You look as if I'd given you bad news instead of
good."

"Oh, no!--oh, no!" she said, in odd, short breaths. "It's
great--wonderful! Poor little fellow! I'm very glad. You said--Dr.
Leaver did it? I was simply--surprised."

"Did it brilliantly. But there's no occasion for surprise about that.
Having been in Baltimore as much as you have, you must know his position
there. There's nobody with a bigger reputation."

"But I thought he had been--ill?"

"Tired out. Small wonder, at the pace he was going--the working pace, I
mean. He never let up on himself. I got him here to rest up. He would
have been off long ago if I would have given him leave, but I had his
promise to keep away from work till he was thoroughly fit for it, so I've
made the most of my chance. I shall never get another. If I know him
he'll be back in his office before the week ends. Once give a chap like
him a taste of work after idleness, and there's no use trying to hold
him."

"You think him fully fit, now?"

"Never so fit in his life, if I'm any judge. I've seen him at work many
a time, and I never saw finer methods than his to-day, his own or any
man's--and I've watched some pretty smooth things. By the way, I
understand you had met Dr. Leaver before you met him here?"

"Yes, I had met him."

Burns was not possessed of more than the ordinary amount of curiosity
concerning other people's affairs, but he was accustomed to observe human
nature and note its signs, and it struck him now rather suddenly that
both John Leaver and Charlotte Ruston had seemed rather more than
necessarily non-committal concerning an acquaintance which both admitted.
He saw no reason why he should not ask a question or two. Asking
questions was a part of his profession.

"I hope you've managed to coax him before your camera. He's looking so
well now, I'd like a picture of him before he goes back and works himself
down again."

"You might suggest it to him," said Miss Ruston. She was looking straight
ahead. She wore a hat of white linen, of a picturesque shape, such as are
in vogue in the country in warm weather, and it drooped more or less
about her face. Burns could not see her eyes when she looked forward,
but he could see her mouth. It was an expressive mouth, and it looked
particularly expressive just now. The trouble was that he could not tell
just what it expressed.

"I'll do it, this afternoon, and keep it as a reminder of a patient of
whom I think a heap. No, I can't do it this afternoon, either, for he
won't leave Jamie till he can leave him comfortably over the first stage.
But by to-morrow afternoon, perhaps. We'll have to catch him on the fly,
for I'm confident he'll be off the minute the youngster is out of danger.
Well, I hope you know my friend well enough to appreciate that he's about
the finest there is anywhere?"

"I'm beginning to know _you_ well enough, Dr. Burns, to see that you care
more to have your friends appreciated than to win praise yourself."

"No, no--oh, Cesar, no! I've not reached such a sublime height of
altruism as that. To tell you the honest truth--which is supposed to be
good for the soul--I'm horribly envious of Jack Leaver for having done
that stunt this morning."

"Envious? Of course you are. At the same time would you have taken it
away from him and have done it yourself, if you had had the chance?"

"Trust a woman to confront a man with the unthinkable, and then expect
him to take credit for not having been guilty of it! Would I have
snatched a juicy bone away from a starving lion? That's what Leaver has
been all these months. It's what any man gets to be when his job is taken
away from him and he doesn't know when he will get another. No--at the
same time that I'm envious I'm genuinely happy that the lion got his
bone. He needed it. It's going to make a well lion of him; he is one now.
You're glad, too, aren't you?"

He gave her one of his quick, discerning glances.

"Of course I am." She spoke quite heartily enough to satisfy him.

"Good! Then, if I can wheedle him before the camera, you'll be interested
in making a picture of him that Ellen and I shall want to frame and look
at every day?"

"I will give you my amateur's best, certainly, Dr. Burns."

"Prunes and prisms!" he exclaimed, and broke into a laugh. "I didn't
expect that, from a girl like you. I should have expected you to--well,
never mind. I was on the verge of being impertinent, I'm afraid. Forgive
me, will you, for what I might have said? I'll bring him over at the
first opportunity."



CHAPTER XIV

BEFORE THE LENS


"Red, this is certainly the unkindest cut of all! I haven't minded your
other prescriptions, but to insist on giving a well man the worst dose
of his experience to take--"

"Stuff and nonsense! A bad prescription--to go across the street and let
the prettiest photographer in the United States take a sun picture of
you before you leave town? Besides, you owe it to us. I haven't the
smallest kind of a likeness of you. I want a nice big one, to use in my
advertisements. I only wish I had a picture of you 'as you were,' to
put beside the 'as you are.' It would be telling. 'The great Burns's
greatest cure. The celebrated Leaver of Baltimore as he was when Burns
finished with him.' I'll send you a dozen copies of the paper."

"Please, Dr. Leaver." Mrs. Red Pepper Burns added her plea. "Red really
wants it very much, and so do I. You admit you have no photograph to send
us, and we know quite well you won't go and have one made by Mr. Brant,
as you should. So please let Miss Ruston try her art. We think you owe it
to us."

Leaver looked at her, and his determined lips relaxed into a smile.
"I admit that argument tells, Mrs. Burns," he said. "I suppose it is
ungracious of me, but, to tell the truth, I've always preferred to be
able to say I had no portraits of myself."

"Oh, I see," Burns broke in. "We're not considering, Ellen, the urgent
demands for a popular bachelor surgeon's photograph. It's precisely like
Jack not to hand them out to the ladies, or to the newspaper men. All
right, old chap. Give us what we want and we'll have the plate smashed.
Now will you be good? Come, let's go over. If you really mean to leave
to-night this is our last chance."

The two men crossed the street, in the mellow September sunshine. Burns
preceded Leaver and knocked at the door.

"Will you take a shot at my friend before he goes?" Burns asked
Charlotte. "He hates standing up to be shot at, but I have him primed
for the ordeal."

"Must it be a shot, or may I make a portrait?" asked the photographer, in
her professional manner.

"I want a portrait," replied Burns, promptly. "Your best indoor
work--Brant and the Misses Kendall put on their mettle to rival it."

While Charlotte was absent, making ready her plates, her visitors waited
in the little living-room and looked about it. Its walls were now
possessed of many interesting photographs of people in the village,
among them several of Burns himself, at which he gazed with a quizzical
expression.

"She certainly succeeds in making a hero of me, doesn't she?" he
observed. "Red hair turns dusky before the camera, luckily for me. I look
as if there wasn't much of anything I couldn't do, including playing
leading man in a melodrama--eh?"

"She has caught the personality, cleverly enough," Leaver commented,
looking over Burns's shoulder.

"I rather think, though," mused Burns, "that I don't look so much as if
there wasn't anything I couldn't do as that I thought there wasn't.
There's a difference, Jack,--eh? Do I really seem as ready to bounce out
of my chair and tackle somebody as that picture makes me look? If I do I
need to have a tourniquet applied somewhere about my neck to stop the
flow of blood to my bumptious head."

Smiling, Leaver studied the photograph in question. "It's the best I ever
saw of you. It's precisely that air of being all there and ready for
action which is your most endearing characteristic. It is the quality
which made me willing to put myself in your hands last April."

"Much obliged. But you didn't put yourself in my hands. I laid hands
on you and tied you down. I couldn't do it now, though," and Burns
turned to survey his friend with satisfaction. "You are in elegant trim,
if I do say it who shouldn't, and that's why I want a picture of my
handiwork--and Nature's. It's just possible that Nature deserves some
credit, not to mention Amy Mathewson. By the way, she's another who must
have this portrait of you, my boy."

"She certainly shall, if she cares for it," admitted Leaver, gravely.
"I'm very willing to remind her how much I owe her, in that and better
ways."

Charlotte appeared. As she set about her work Bob came racing over the
lawn and in at the open door.

"Uncle Red, somebody wants you right away quick!" he announced.

"Just my luck! I wanted to help pose the picture," grumbled Burns, but
went off, the boy on his shoulder shouting with delight.

The photographer, in the plain dress of dull blue, which, artist-wise,
she had chosen as her professional garb, and in which she herself made a
picture to be observed with enjoyment, moved deftly about the room
arranging her lights and shadows. This done, she turned to her sitter.
When she came in he had been standing before a set of prints upon the
wall, studying them critically, but from the moment of her entrance he
had been watching her, though he held a photograph in his hand with which
he might have seemed to be engaged.

"Ready?" she asked, smiling. "Or, rather, as ready as you ever will be?"

"Does my reluctance show as plainly as that? But I am quite ready now to
do your bidding."

"Sit down in that chair, please. But first--I really can't wait longer to
ask you--how is Jamie Ferguson?"

"Doing finely." His face lighted with pleasure at the thought.

"Will he have the full use of his poor little legs?"

"It is too soon to say positively. We hope quite confidently for that
result. He shows better powers of recuperation than we dared expect."

"Yesterday," said Charlotte, her hand on a certain bulb out of sight,
"Miss Mathewson told me something Jamie had said. It was the most
extraordinary thing--"

She related the incident, in which the lad had shyly praised both
Leaver and Burns as seeming to him like big brothers. She told it with
animation, her watchful eyes on her sitter's face. At a certain point,
just before the climax of the story, she gave the bulb a long, slow
pressure; then, ending, she remarked:

"Now, if you are ready, Dr. Leaver."

His face immediately grew grave, lost its expression of interested
attention, and set in lines of resignation. She went through a number of
motions and announced that the sitting was over.

"It wasn't so bad, was it?" she questioned, gayly, as she removed the
plate she had used. "I'm not even going to try again. I've discovered
that it's not always best to repeat an attempt, and when you are pretty
sure you have what you want, it doesn't pay."

"Thank you for making the operation so nearly painless. I haven't had
a photograph taken since I was a medical student, and I wasn't prepared
for so short a trial. But, even so, I felt the desperateness of the
situation. Doubtless that will show plainly in the final result."

"Mine is a discreet camera, and doesn't tell all it sees, so it is
possible it may keep your reluctance disguised."

She took away the plate, left him for a few minutes alone among the
photographs, and returned.

"It is quite all right, I think, Dr. Leaver," she said, "and the agony is
over. You are leaving town to-day?"

He rose. "I go to-night. I should have come to say good-bye, in any case,
but, as I go out to Sunny Farm for one more look at the boy, I must be
off. So--I'll make this the good-bye."

"I hope you'll have the busiest, happiest sort of winter," she said, in
the charming, friendly way which was naturally her own. "So busy and so
happy you'll forget this long, trying time of waiting to be well. Surely,
the rest--and Dr. Burns--have done the work. When you see the portrait
I hope it will show you, better than looking at yourself in any mirror,
what good has been done."

"Thank you. I know a great change has been wrought, somehow, thanks to a
man who insisted on having his own way when I didn't want to let him. You
expect to stay in this cottage all winter?"

"All winter, and all spring. Imagine us by a splendid fire in this good
fireplace."

"I hope it won't smoke on windy days." Leaver looked doubtfully at it.
"It strikes me as better photographic material than as practical defence
against the cold."

"I shall demonstrate that it is entirely practical. And Granny's little
feet will seldom touch the floor. I have a beautiful foot-warmer for her,
which will keep her snug as comfort."

"I know you have a strong courage, and will face any discomfort bravely."

His eyes were dwelling upon her face, noting each outline, as if he meant
to take the memory of it with him.

"All the courage in the world. What would life be without it? With it,
one can do anything."

"I believe you." He was silent for a moment, still looking at her
intently. "I wonder," he said then, "if you would be willing to give me
something I very much want. I have no right to ask it, and yet, for the
sake of many pleasant hours we have spent together--that's a tame phrase
for me to use of them, from my standpoint--for their sake would you be
willing to let me have--a picture of yourself? I promise you it shall be
seen by no one but myself. It would mean a good deal to me. Yet, if you
are not entirely willing, I won't ask it."

He spoke in the quietest, grave way. After a moment's hesitation she
answered him as quietly.

"I don't know why I should mind, Dr. Leaver, and yet, somehow, I find
I do. Will you believe it's not because I don't want to please you?"

His face showed, in spite of him, that the denial hurt him. He held out
his hand.

"You are quite right to be frank. Shall we say good-bye? All kinds of
success to you this winter--and always."

"Thank you, Dr. Leaver. I give you back the wish."

They shook hands, the two faces smiling at each other. Then he went
quickly away. Looking after him she saw that he carried his hat in his
hand until he had reached the gate in the hedge. He closed the gate
without a backward glance, and in a minute more was out of sight.

She went into her dark-room and examined again the plate she had just
developed. Holding it in a certain light, against darkness, she was able
to obtain a faint view of the picture as it would be in the print.
Unquestionably she had made a lifelike and extraordinarily attractive
portrait of a man of distinguished features, caught at a moment when he
had had no notion that the thing was happening. She studied it long and
attentively.

"It would have been better if I hadn't made it," she said slowly to
herself. "For now I shall have it to look at, and I shall have to look at
it. I'm not strong enough--not strong enough--I don't _want_ to be strong
enough--to forego that!"

       *       *       *       *       *

After nightfall, on that September evening, Leaver took his departure.
Burns was to convey him in the Imp to the city station, because his
train did not stop in the suburban village. For a half-hour before his
going Burns's porch was full, the Macauleys and the Chesters having come
over to do Dr. Leaver honour. They found less chance for talking with him
than they might have done if he had not gone off with Miss Mathewson for
a short walk.

"Something in it, possibly, do you think?" James Macauley asked, in an
aside, of Mrs. Burns. "Miss Mathewson certainly has developed a lot of
good looks this summer that I, for one, never suspected her of before.
Whether she could interest a man like him I don't know and can't guess.
He's no ordinary man. I didn't like him much at first, but as he's
improved in health he's shown up for what he is, and I can understand
Red's interest in getting him on his feet again. He's certainly on 'em
now. That was a great stunt he did for the little chap, according to Red.
Looks a bit suggestive of interest, his going off with Miss Amy for a
walk, at the last minute, don't you think? Still, I can't imagine any
man's looking in that direction when there's what there is across the
street. He hasn't shown any signs of life, there, has he?"

"Jimmy, you're a sad gossip. If I knew all these people's affairs, or if
I knew none of them, I shouldn't discuss them with you. But I'm quite
willing to agree with you that both Amy and Charlotte are delightful,
each in her way."

"Never did get any satisfaction out of you," grumbled James Macauley,
good humouredly. "I didn't suppose women had such a fine sense of honour
when it came to talking over other women."

"Then it's time you found it out."

"What's this? Ellen giving you hot shot?" Burns came up, watch in
hand. "It's time those people were back. They've probably fallen into
a discussion of surgical methods, and forgotten the time."

The missing pair presently appeared. James Macauley looked curiously at
them, but could detect no sign of sentiment about them. Indeed, as they
came up the walk Leaver's voice was heard saying in a most matter-of-fact
way:

"I'll send you a reprint on that subject. You'll find the German notion
has completely changed--completely. Nothing has happened in a long time
that so marks advance in research along those lines."

"He's safe," the observer whispered to Mrs. Burns. "No fun to be had out
of that. Unless--he was clever enough to change his line when he came
within earshot. It has been done, you know. I've done it myself, though I
never jumped to German reprints as a safety station. But, you can usually
tell by the woman. She looks as if she had merely been out for a nice
walk. Not a hair out of place, no high colour, no--"

Ellen moved away from him. She was conscious that she, too, had been
noting signs, but she would not join him further in discussing them.

"I am not good at farewell speeches," said John Leaver, holding Ellen's
hand in both his own, when he had taken leave of every one else. "I only
hope I can show you, somehow, how I feel about what you and your husband
have done for me. I tried to tell Miss Mathewson something of the same
thing, but she wouldn't have it, which was fortunate, for the words stuck
in my throat."

Burns took him away. "If they hadn't, you'd have missed your train. We've
got to make time, now."

As he took his place in the Green Imp Leaver looked across the street at
the cottage back among the trees. Its windows were quite dark, although
the hour was barely ten o'clock. Burns looked over, too.

"By the way," he said, as they moved away, "why wasn't Miss Ruston among
the crowd assembled to see you off? As an acquaintance of yours in
Baltimore she ought to join in the send-off back to that town."

"She gave me her good wishes this afternoon, after taking the photograph.
Red, speaking of Baltimore, when are you coming down?"

"When I get a card saying you are holding a clinic on a subject I'm
anxious to see demonstrated."

"Do you expect me to go to holding clinics?"

"Surest thing in the world. You can't keep out of them."

"Do you suppose the men who saw my breakdown will be eager to welcome me
back?"

"No question of it. Good Lord, man, you're not the first nor the
ten-thousandth man who has broken down from overwork. Because my axe
becomes dull I'm not going to refuse to use it when it comes back from
the grindstone with a brighter edge than ever on it, am I? Wait till you
see your reception. Some of those fellows have been making a lot of
mistakes in your absence--have been trying to do things too big for them.
They'll be only too glad to turn some of their stunts over to you. And
the big ones, who are your friends, will rejoice at sight of you. Of
course you have rivals; you don't expect them to welcome you with open
arms. They'll be sorry to see you back. Let them be sorry, and be hanged
to them! Go in and show them that they're the ones who need a rest now,
and that you'll take care of their work in their absence."

Leaver laughed. "Red, there's nobody just like you," he said.

"That's lucky. Too many explosives aren't safe to have around. I know,
and have known all along, Jack, that it's been like a cat lecturing a
king, my advice to you. A better simile would be the old one of the mouse
gnawing the lion out of the net. If I've done anything for you, that's
what I've done."

Leaver turned in his seat. "Red," said he--and his voice had a deep ring
in it as he spoke--"you're about the biggest sized mouse I ever saw. I
want to tell you this: Since I've been watching your work up here I've
conceived a tremendous admiration for your standards. There are none
finer, anywhere. I've come to feel that you couldn't do anything bigger
or better in the largest place you could find. Indeed, this, for you, is
the largest place, for you fill it as another man couldn't."

"The frog, in the marsh, where he lived, was king," Burns quoted, in an
effort at lightness, for he was deeply touched.

"That's not the sort of king you are. You would be king anywhere. But
you're willing to rule over a kingdom that may look small to some, but
looks big as an empire to me, now that I understand. I've reached this
point: I am almost--and sometime I expect to be entirely--glad that the
thing happened to me which brought me here to you. You have done more for
me than any man ever did. And there's one thing I think I owe to you to
tell you. The greatest thing I've learned from you, though you haven't
said much about it, is faith in the God above us. I'd about let go of
that when I came here. Thanks to you, I've got hold of it again, and I
mean never to let go. No man can afford to let go of that--permanently."

Burns was silent for a moment, in answer to this most unexpected tribute,
silent because he could find no words. When he did speak there was a
trace of huskiness in his voice. "I'm mighty glad to know that, Jack," he
said simply.

Then, presently, for they had flown fast over the smooth road, they
were entering the city limits, traversing a crowded thoroughfare, and
approaching the great station on whose tower the illuminated face of the
clock warned them there was little time to spare. Arrived there, every
moment was consumed in a rush for tickets and in checking baggage.
Leaver secured his sleeper reservation with some difficulty, owing to a
misunderstanding in the telegram engaging it, and at the last the two men
had to run for the train. At the gate there was only space for a hasty
grip of two warm hands, a smile of understanding and affection, and an
exchange of arm-wavings at a distance as Leaver reached his car, already
on the verge of moving out.

As Burns drove away he was feeling a sense of loneliness as unpleasant as
it was unexpected, and found himself longing to get back to a certain
pair of arms whose hold was a panacea for every ache.

"He thinks he owes it all to me," he was saying by and by, when this
desirable condition had been fulfilled. "But maybe I don't owe something
to him. If the sight of a plucky fight for self-control is a bracing
tonic to any man I've had one in watching him. I never saw a finer
display of will against heavy odds. Another man in the shape he was in
last spring would have gone under."

"It would be pretty difficult, I think, dear," said his wife, softly
touching his thick locks, as his head lay on her lap, "for any man to go
under with you pulling him out."

"I didn't pull him out. No man in creation can pull another out, no
matter how strong his effort. The chap that's in the current has got to
do every last ounce of the pulling himself. I don't say God can't help,
for I'm positive He can, but I don't think a man can do much. And it's my
belief that even God helps chiefly through making the man realize that he
can help himself."

"For which office he sometimes appoints a man as his human instrument,
doesn't he?"

Burns turned his head and touched his lips to the hand which had laid
itself against his cheek.

"Perhaps, when he can't find a woman. As a power conductor she is the
only, original, copper wire!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The curiosity which James Macauley had freely expressed as to the
probable degree of friendship between Leaver and Amy Mathewson, developed
by months of close association, was, with him and with others, not
unnatural. But, in Ellen's case, the desire to know just how much the
situation had meant to Amy herself, was a result of her increasingly
warm affection for a young woman of character and personal
attractiveness, mingled with a sense of her own and her husband's
responsibility in bringing together two people who might be expected
to emerge from the encounter not a little affected by it.

On the morning after John Leaver's departure, Ellen, standing at a
window, found herself watching with more than ordinary intentness the
face of Amy as she came up the walk to the house. Lest Leaver should
realize to what an extent his presence had disturbed the regular routine
of Burns's office, Amy had not been allowed to resume her position
according to the old régime, but had spent only a portion of her time
there, more as a guest of the house might assume certain duties than as a
regularly hired assistant would attend to them. This was, therefore, the
first time, since Leaver had left the confinement in his room, that Amy
Mathewson had appeared in the office in her old rôle, announced by the
donning of her uniform.

"I certainly don't see any unhappiness there," said Ellen to herself,
watching Amy as she stooped to pick up an early fallen scarlet leaf upon
the lawn. She fastened it upon the severe whiteness of her attire, then
came on to the house with an alert step, as if she approached work she
looked forward to with zest. Her colour was more vivid than it had been
last June, when first she began to live the outdoor life with her
patient, her eyes were brighter, her whole personality seemed somehow
more significant. Ellen had noted in her these signs of enriched life
many times before during these weeks; but the fact that Amy's aspect, on
the day after the departure of her comrade of the summer, seemed to have
suffered no change, but that her whole air, as she came to her old task,
was that of one who hastens to a congenial appointment, gave to Ellen a
distinct sense of relief from an anxiety she had suffered from time to
time throughout the whole experience.

Burns had gone away early, summoned by an insistent call, and the office
was empty. Knowing this, Ellen went in to greet her friend. There could
be no other term, now, for the whole-hearted bond between the two.

"Isn't it glorious, this touch of frost in the air?" Amy came in smiling,
her cheeks bright with the sting of the early October morning. "And
to-day--to-day, at last, I am free to go to work as I like. I don't
believe Dr. Burns has sent out a bill for three months. He would go
bankrupt before he would tell a man what he owed him."

"Do you like sending out bills so well as that?" Ellen asked,
incredulous.

"I like anything that means being at work again, without having to play
that I'm a lady of leisure at any moment that anybody wants my company.
I like to have things methodical and systematic. I don't even mind
sending out bills, when I know they should be sent."

She stirred about the office, getting out her typewriter and oiling it,
while the two talked of various things. Her whole manner was consistent
with her words: she seemed to be full of the very joy of living. It
occurred to Ellen once to wonder if, by any possibility, this could be
the result of expectation of future continuance of her friendship with
Leaver. But something happened presently which, though but a simple
incident enough, and all in the day's routine, made any such supposition
seem most unlikely.

The telephone bell rang. Ellen saw Amy's face change at the first sound
of her questioner's voice, with that subtle change which sometimes tells
more than the person engaged in this form of communication realizes.

"Yes, Dr. Burns," she said. "Yes ... Yes ... Yes ... Yes, I can
have everything ready in an hour ... I will ... I won't forget one
thing.... Yes ... Good-bye!"

Not an illuminating set of replies, given at long intervals which
evidently spelled instructions from the other end of the wire. But Amy's
voice was eager, her concise replies by no means veiled that fact, and
Ellen could read, as plainly as if Amy had said it, that the voice which
spoke to her was the one of all voices, as it had been for so long, which
could give the commands she loved to obey.

She turned from the desk and looked at Ellen with the same animated
expression of face. But even as she explained, she was taking instruments
from their cases, setting out certain hand-bags, and preparing to fill
them.

"It is an emergency case--operation--out in the country. Impossible to
take the patient to the hospital; everything must be made ready on the
spot. Dr. Burns is to come for me in an hour. He will let me stay with
the case. It's work, Mrs. Burns; real work again, at last!"

"You extraordinary girl! A débutante, going to a party again, after
enforced confinement at home, couldn't be gayer about it. I knew you
loved your work, but I didn't know you loved it like that!"

"Didn't you?" Her hands moving swiftly, she seemed not to stop and think
what was going to be wanted, she went from one preparation to another
with swift, sure knowledge. "I'm not sure I did, myself, until I had to
stop and take what was really just a long vacation, with hardly a thing
to do. Vacations are very pleasant--for a while--but they may last too
long."

"Evidently Dr. Leaver thought so, too. He seemed ready enough for work
again."

"Of course he was. And work--and only work--will put him quite back where
he was before the breakdown. I fully believe, Mrs. Burns, that labour is
a condition of healthy life. And of the two evils, too much labour or too
much idleness, the latter is the greater."

"You make me feel a drone," Ellen declared.

Amy gave her a quick, understanding glance.

"You? Oh, no, Mrs. Burns. You do the prettiest work in the world, and the
most necessary."

"But yours is fine--wonderful."

"Not fine, nor wonderful. Dr. Burns's work is that. Mine is
just--supplementary."

"But absolutely essential. How many times has he told me what he has owed
you all these years for perfection of detail. He says he doubts if he
himself could secure such perfection if it all depended upon his care."

Amy Mathewson bent suddenly over a strange looking instrument, whose
parts she had been examining before putting them into the bag. Her fair
cheek flushed richly. "I am glad to give him the best I can do," she
said, quietly, yet Ellen could detect an odd little thrill in her voice.

Within herself Ellen understood the truth, which she had long ago
guessed. And with it came a fresh revelation. This was the reason why Amy
Mathewson could see, unmoved, the departure of Leaver, who had been so
closely thrown with her all that strange summer. With the deep loyalty of
a few rare natures, having once given her love, even though she received
nothing but friendship in return, she could care for no future which did
not include that friendship, dearer than the love of other men.

Ellen was still in the office, held there by a curious fascination of
interest in Amy's rapid, skillful preparations. It meant so much, this
operating at a country house, she explained to Ellen. It meant the
working out of all manner of difficult details, that the final conditions
might as closely as possible resemble those which were to be had, ready
to hand, in the operating-room of any hospital.

"It's a serious handicap to a surgeon's best work," she asserted, "when
he has to do it at a home. With all my precautions, I can never feel so
sure of giving him perfect cleanliness of surroundings."

"You can, if any one can," Ellen said, feeling for the first time as she
spoke, a curious little twinge of envy of the one whom her husband had
long called, with affectionate familiarity, his "right-hand man."

Often as she had seen the two drive away together it seemed to her to-day
that she looked at them with new eyes. Just as Amy set out the closed
hand-bags, with a box and a bundle beside them, and donned hat and
driving-coat, the Green Imp came rushing up the road and stopped in front
of the house. Burns ran in, fired half a dozen rapid questions at Amy,
nodding his head with approval at her answers, said, "All right, we're
off," and picked up the hand-bags. Then he dropped them, snatched off his
cap and strode over to his wife.

"We're in a mess of a hurry," he apologized, and kissed her as if he were
thinking of something else, as he undoubtedly was. Then he seized the
bags, Amy the box and bundle, and the two hurried out. A moment later
Ellen saw the car start, getting under headway in twice its own length,
and disappearing down the road in a cloud of dust.

"She would rather stay where she can help him than go away to a home of
her own with any other man," Ellen said to herself; and the little twinge
of envy became almost a pang. She stood staring out of the window, her
dark eyes heavy with her thoughts, her lips taking on a little twist of
pain. Then, presently, she lifted her head. "She will never, never let
him know. He will never discover it for himself. But if she can find
happiness in being of use to him, and he can reward her by being her good
friend, why should I mind? Can't I be generous enough for that, when I
know I have his heart? Her love for him won't hurt him. She can't take it
back, but she will never let it show so that he can feel more of it than
is good for him. It is so little for me to spare her--so much for her to
have. I will be glad, I _will_ be glad!"

She smiled at Bobby Burns, running up the walk, but, being a woman, she
smiled through tears.

The little lad ran in. "Oh, Auntie Ellen," he cried, "do you care 'cause
I gave my new ball away? It was a new boy came to school, all patched.
He'd never had a ball in his life. Uncle Red said I had to be good to
other boys, 'cause I've got so much more'n some of them. I sort o' wanted
to keep the ball, too," he added, regretfully. "It was a dandy ball."

"But it was nice to give it away, too, wasn't it, Bob?"

He nodded, looking curiously up at her. "You're cryin', Auntie Ellen," he
said, anxiously. "Does sumpin' hurt you?"

"Nothing that ought to hurt, dear. It's too bad that being generous does
hurt sometimes. But it ought not to hurt, when we have so much more than
some of the others, ought it, Bob?"



CHAPTER XV

FLASHLIGHTS


"Please tilt your parasol back the least bit more, Miss Austin. That's
it! Now walk toward me, up this path, till you reach the rosebush."

Miss Austin, a tall, thin young woman clad in white muslin and wearing
also a prim expression with which her photographer had been struggling
for some time in vain, obeyed these directions to the letter. Her lips
in lines of order and discretion, her skirts hanging in perfect folds,
she advanced up the straggling path, the picture of maidenly composure.
The nearer she drew to the rosebush the more fixed became the look of
meeting a serious obstacle and overcoming it by sheer force of will.

Charlotte Ruston, standing by her camera focussed on the spot of path
beside the rosebush, drew a stifled, impatient breath. "I'm going to
scream at her in a minute," she thought, "or fall in a faint. I wonder
which would startle her out of herself most."

"Do you mind," she said aloud, "if I tell you how perfectly charming you
look?"

Miss Austin's lips tightened into a little set smile, more artificial
than ever. But just as she reached the rosebush a motor car rushed up the
street and came to a standstill before the gate in Charlotte's hedge. Out
of the car--a conspicuous affair of a strong yellow colour, and hitherto
unseen in the town--descended a figure in a dust-coat, a figure upon
which Miss Edith Austin had never set eyes before. Pausing by the
rosebush she looked toward the scene at the gate, and her face relaxed
into an expression of alert interest.

The camera clicked unnoticed. Quicker than a flash Charlotte had gone
through a series of motions and had made a second exposure, smiling
delightedly to herself.

"It's a gentleman to see you," called Miss Austin, softly, as the heavily
built figure in the dust-coat opened the gate and advanced up the path.

Miss Ruston made all secure about her camera, and turned to meet the full
and smiling gaze of the newcomer, standing, cap in hand, just behind
her. He was a man who might have been thirty or forty--it would not have
been easy for a stranger to tell which at first glance, for his fair hair
was thick upon his head, his face fresh and unwrinkled, and his eyes
bright. Yet about him was an air of having been encountering men and
things for a long time, and of understanding them pretty well.

"Mr. Brant!" Charlotte's tone was that of complete surprise.

"You were not expecting me?" He shook hands, gazing at her in undisguised
pleasure. He was not much taller than she, and the afternoon sun was at
his back, so he had the advantage.

"I certainly was not. How does it happen? A business journey?"

"A most luckily opportune one--for me. It brought me within a hundred
miles, and my descriptions to my friend of an interesting region did
the rest."

His eyes swerved to the figure of Miss Edith Austin, standing tensely by
the rosebush, an observer whose whole aspect denoted eager absorption in
the meeting before her. Charlotte presented him. Miss Austin expressed
herself as assured of his being a stranger to the town the moment her
eyes fell upon him.

"And a very dusty and disreputable one, I'm afraid," Mr. Brant declared.
"I should have stopped at some hotel and made myself presentable," he
explained to Charlotte, "if I had not been afraid I should lose a minute
out of the short time Van Schoonhoven agrees to leave me here."

Charlotte took him to the house and left him politely trying to converse
with her grandmother--at tremendous odds, for he was not a rival of Red
Pepper Burns in his fondness for old ladies, not to mention deaf ones.
The photographer returned to her sitter.

"I have several pictures of you now, Miss Austin," she said, "and I think
among them we shall find one you will like."

"But aren't you going to have one of this last pose?" Miss Austin
inquired, anxiously. "Of course, I know you have company now--"

"That doesn't matter. But I have two exposures, by the rosebush, and I
think they are both good. I have kept you standing for quite a long time,
and I want you to see proofs of these before we try any more."

"I haven't once known when you were taking me. I can't help feeling that
if you just let me know when you were going to take the picture I could
be better prepared."

"One can be a bit too much prepared. The best one I ever had made of me
was done an instant after I had carelessly taken a seat where the
operator requested. I looked up and asked, 'How do you want me to sit?'
He answered, 'Just as pleases you. I have already taken the picture.'"

"Dear me! How methods change! Our best photographer here is always so
careful about every line of drapery, and just how you hold your chin
I don't see how you can just snap a person and be sure of an artistic
result."

"You can't. And perhaps you won't like these at all. But I will show you
proofs to-morrow. And if they are not right we'll try again, if you are
willing."

Miss Austin went away, parasol held stiffly above her head, though the
sun was behind her. She was wondering, as she went, who the man was who
had come to see Miss Ruston, and she arrived without much difficulty at
the conclusion that he was probably going to marry her. His speech about
being in such haste to reach her that he couldn't take time to go to a
hotel and make himself neat seemed to her sure evidence that the two were
upon a footing more intimate than that of mere friendship.

"If you are not too proud," said Miss Ruston to Mr. Eugene Brant, "you
may come into the kitchen and wash your hands and face. Afterward you may
stroll about my garden while I get supper."

"I am not too proud to wash my face in your kitchen," responded Mr.
Brant, following her with alacrity, "but I shall not be willing to stroll
about your garden while you get supper. After supper, if you like, we
will explore it to its mystic end down by the currant bushes I see from
the window here."

He accepted the basin of water Charlotte gave him, as gracefully as she
presented it, dried his face upon the little towel she handed him, and
declared himself much refreshed. She did not apologize for the lack of a
guest-room where he might remove the signs of dusty travel, nor did she
allude to the absence within the house of most of the appliances
considered necessary in these days for creature comfort. But she
dismissed him to the garden with a finality against which his pleadings
to be allowed to be of use to her proved of no avail, and only when,
after a half-hour, she appeared in the doorway with a pail, and
approached the old well nearby, did he discover a chance to show his
devotion.

"If you knew what fun I should consider it to be carrying plates and
things around for you in there," said he, as he drew the water for her,
"you wouldn't keep me out here. What do you imagine I came a hundred
miles out of my way for--to study the possibilities of landscape
gardening as applied to miniature estates like these of yours?"

"You might do much worse," she responded promptly. "I have spent not a
little thought on just how much trimming to give my old shrubbery and how
much to leave in a wild tangle. Will you come in now and have supper? We
will take it with Granny in the front room."

Mr. Brant was hungry, after his long drive, and he eyed with satisfaction
the small table by the door, set out with fine old china and linen. He
consumed two juicy hot chops with keen relish, accompanied as they were
by well-cooked rice. A simple salad followed, and gave way to a dish of
choice peaches, upon which his hostess poured plenty of rich cream. She
gave him also two cups of extremely good coffee, and he rose from the
repast feeling content, though the fact that he had made a heartier meal
than either of the ladies had not escaped him.

By and by he had his way, and took Charlotte out to the garden. Little
Madam Chase had been put to bed at what she called "early candle-light,"
because such an hour best suited her.

"Well, are you going to do me the honour of telling me all about it?" Mr.
Brant asked, as he settled himself upon the old bench by Charlotte's
side. He scanned her closely once more in the waning light.

"What do you want me to tell you?"

"Just what I ask--all about your coming here. How you get on. What it
means to you. Your hopes--your fears, if you have any. I realize, better
than you do, perhaps, that this is not a small venture for you to make.
I am interested--you understand how interested--to know just the
situation."

His tone was that of a brother, warm and kind. She responded to it.

"I am doing as well as I could expect. Almost every day I have a
sitter--sometimes two. My friends are very good; they bring me every one
who will come. People seem to like the things I do--some of them."

"Almost every day you have a sitter!" he repeated. "Do you call that
doing well? How long have you been here?"

"Just seven weeks. Yes, I do call that doing well. It takes time to
become established, of course. Now that I have made pictures of many
of the prominent people others will follow, I'm confident. You know this
isn't the portrait season--too many have cameras of their own and are
taking snapshots of outdoor scenes, with themselves in the foreground."

"You don't find yourself wishing you had stayed in the city, as I
advised?"

"Not a bit. I want more experience first. I want to be able to do work
I needn't apologize for when I really begin with a city studio."

"You are doing finished work, in my opinion."

"Not in mine."

He laughed. "There is nothing weak about your will," said he.

"I hope not. I need a strong one."

"Granted, if you mean to persist in making your own way. But I live in
hope that when you have demonstrated to your own satisfaction that you
are perfectly competent to hew out that way for yourself, you will be
willing to let some stouter pair of arms take a turn with the axe."

His tone had meaning in it, but she turned it aside.

"Could anybody take your studio away from you? Even though you don't do
it for a living, but only because you adore it, could you be induced to
give it up?"

"I'm not trying to induce you to give yours up. I'll build a separate one
for you right beside mine, any time you say the word, and you shall
pursue your avocation in perfect freedom. All I object to is your making
the thing your vocation. I know of a better one for you."

She shook her head. "We went over all this ground--over and over
it--before I came away. Why do you come out here and begin it all over
again? I don't want to talk about it."

"I came because I had to see for myself what sort of a place you were
in. I had a notion that it wasn't good enough. It isn't. You can't be
comfortable in it, through the most of the year. Neither can Madam
Chase."

"We can be perfectly comfortable." She spoke quickly and decidedly. "You
know absolutely that I wouldn't sacrifice what is dearest to me in the
world for the sake of having my own way. The little house is primitive,
but Granny can be made as snug in it as in any stone mansion."

"The thing may tumble down about your ears in the first high wind."

"It will not. Dr. Burns went over it thoroughly, and says it is much more
substantial than it looks."

"Dr. Burns! May I ask who the gentleman is?"

"My neighbour across the street. He is devoted to Granny, and had as many
fears as you could have before he tested the house."

"Is he married?"

"Certainly." It was impossible to help laughing a little at his tone,
which was that of a jealous boy.

"Thank heaven for that! I'm suspicious of men who are devoted to your
grandmother, charming old lady though she is. But, in spite of Dr.
Burns's invaluable opinion, I must beg to differ with him. You can't be
comfortable in that chicken-coop through the winter."

"I don't know," Charlotte said slowly, sitting up very straight in the
twilight, and looking steadily in front of her, "that you have any right
to care whether we are comfortable or not."

"No right to care? Not the right of an old friend? Charlotte, you
wouldn't deny me that? Why, child, I saw you grow up. I was your father's
trusted friend, in spite of being much younger than he. And I'm not so
much older than you, after all--only fifteen years. You might at least
let me play at being elder brother to you."

"I did let you play that for a long, long time. It was only when--"

She paused. He took her up.

"Only when I began to intimate that the relation wasn't fully satisfying
that you began to give me the cold shoulder. You haven't even written to
me since you've been here. Are you aware of that?"

She nodded. "There was nothing to write. And I've been very busy."

He drew in his breath, held it for a minute, and let it go again
explosively.

"Charlotte," said he, presently, "it seems to me I've lost ground with
you. I wish I knew why. You know perfectly well that I won't bother you
with my suit if you won't listen to it,--at least, I won't bother you
with it all the time. I don't promise to give up hope. But what I can't
bear is to have you treat me as if you wouldn't have even my friendship
any longer. It hurts to hear you say I have no right to care whether you
live in a comfortable home or not."

She turned impulsively. "Then I take it back. You have a certain right,
it's true. You have been a good friend, and I owe you much. It's because
I'm foolishly sensitive about this little cottage. I can see, of course,
that it looks like a poor place to a man who lives in one of the finest
houses in the State of Maryland, but I can't let that influence me. If
you happened to be the sort of man who loves to go off into the woods and
live in a log shack for a whole hunting-season you'd understand its charm
for me. I don't in the least mind washing my face in a tin basin. You do
mind."

"Not when you offer it. But it's not the tin basin I object to. That
is--"

"It _is_ the tin basin. You don't like to see a woman live in such a
plain way. But I tell you this, Mr. Brant: she can be just as much a
woman of refinement--"

"My dear girl--"

"Yes, I lost my temper for a minute," she admitted. "I shouldn't have
said that. I shouldn't offend you by implying that you don't know it.
What I mean is that the luxuries you consider essential are not
essential. I was brought up among them. I loved them as you do. It is
good for me to do without them--I am conscious of it every day. I shall
be a stronger woman and a better woman if I can learn not to care."

"But you haven't wholly learned yet." He said it with satisfaction.

"_I have learned!_" She flung it at him. "I don't mind living in
this simple way, except when a man like you comes along and tries,
deliberately tries, to make me conscious of it."

He leaned toward her with a sudden, passionate gesture. "Charlotte,
forgive me! It is because I long so to take you away from it, to give
you the sort of home you have known in the old days. It fits you so
well--that sort of home. You were a princess in the old home; you would
be a queen in a new one."

"Oh, don't!"

"All right, I won't."

There was silence between them for some time after this. Brant sat with
his hands clenched and resting upon his knees, his head bent a little.
Charlotte had turned and laid one bended arm upon the high back of the
old bench--her head rested against it. She was the first to speak, in the
light tone with which her sex is accustomed to let a situation down from
the heights of strong emotion to a more normal level.

"What do you do with a sitter who won't let you bring out her best
points, but insists on making herself into the stiffest sort of a lay
figure?"

"Chloroform her and relax the tension." Brant's tone was grim. Then,
suddenly, he looked up. "Will you let me go in and make a flashlight of
you by a new method I've worked out? I promise you you'll find it a trick
worth knowing."

"I shall be delighted. You've taught me half I know, and I'm more
grateful than I seem."

"I hope that's true," he said, still in the grim tone, as they went up
the garden path toward the house.

Inside the house he became the exponent of the art of which he was past
master. His study was to him only a diversion, but he had become
distinguished in it as an amateur who played at being a professional
for the interest of it, and who possessed a collection of photographic
portraits of half the celebrities in the world. With eager interest
Charlotte watched him manipulate improvised screens and devices for
casting light and shadow, and when he posed her understood the result
he meant to produce.

"Oh, that will give a new effect!" she said, delightedly. "I should never
have thought of it in the world."

"It will almost absolutely overcome the flatness of the flashlight, as
you will see when we develop it--if you will let me stay so long. Now--"

The flash flared and died. Brant smiled with gratification. If he knew
what he was doing he had a new portrait of Charlotte Ruston which would
surpass anything he had yet made of her. It seemed to him that during
these last weeks she had grown even more desirable than he had ever known
her. There had always been a spirit and enchantment about her personality
which had been his undoing, but there was now a quality in it which was
well nigh his despair--the quality born of self-sacrifice and endeavour,
those invisible but potent agencies in the creating of the highest type
of womanly charm.

The pair went into the dark-room together. Here, at least, Mr. Brant
was able to give sincere approval. Although the place was cramped
no necessary detail was lacking. Charlotte had not spared expense
in transporting material or in fitting the spot with the requisite
conveniences for swift and sure work. In a very few minutes Brant was
showing his pupil the negative, which her trained eye was fully able
to appreciate.

"Oh, that will make a perfect print," she exclaimed, everything else
forgotten in the joy of the artist over the overcoming of difficulties.
"You certainly have conquered almost the last obstacle to the making of
flashlight portraits. That will be soft as daylight. I will make the
print to-morrow and let you know."

"You don't mean to send me merely a report of its appearance, I hope."

She laughed. "Of course I'll make a print for you, if you want it.
Perhaps you'll admit, when you see the setting, that the old room isn't
such an inartistic choice for a photographer."

"The old room is delightful--as a background. But when your feet are
freezing on its cold floor, in the dead of next winter--Never mind, we
won't go back to that. I admit it's a September night, and there's no use
in my borrowing trouble. Besides, I suppose I must be off in half an
hour. Let's make the most of it."

They sat in the room in question and talked of developers and
fixing-baths, of processes and results, and Charlotte found such interest
in these technical topics that she glowed and sparkled as another woman
might have done at talk of quite different things. She knew well enough
that nobody could give her greater aid or inspiration in her work than
Eugene Brant, whose signature upon any portrait meant approval in the
large world where he was known.

In spite of his over-heaviness of outline he was not an uninteresting
figure as he sat there. His face had not taken on superfluous flesh as
his body had acquired weight, and its lines were good to the eye of the
artist. His eye was clear, his smile full and not lacking in a certain
winning quality which spoke of sympathy and understanding. One who had
never before seen him would not doubt that here was a man worth
acquaintance, in spite of the fact that his only labour was in the
pursuit of a fancy rather than in the making of a living.

The hour came for his reluctant departure. Standing on Charlotte's shaky
little porch he looked up at her as she stood on the threshold above him.
Against the light in the room behind her the outlines of her lithe young
figure were to him adorable. He took her hand and held it for a minute
with a strong pressure which spoke for him of his longing to keep it in
his permanent possession.

"Will you send me off with the assurance that at least my friendship is
still something to you?" he asked her. "You can be as independent as you
like, but you need friends. Or, if that has small weight with you, let me
appeal to your generosity. I need your friendship even more than you need
mine."

"Unhappy Mr. Brant." She was smiling. "So few friends, so few pleasures,
he needs poor Charlotte Ruston's support!"

"Poor Charlotte Ruston is a greater inspiration to Eugene Brant's good
work than any dozen of his fashionable patrons."

"I am honoured--truly. And, of course, we are friends, the best of
friends. I will send you the print soon. Thank you for coming. You have
helped me very much."

With which he was obliged to be content.



CHAPTER XVI

IN FEBRUARY


One cold December morning Charlotte Ruston, sweeping up her hearth after
making her fire for the day, preparatory to bringing little Madam Chase
downstairs, heard the knock upon her door which heralded Mrs. Redfield
Pepper Burns. It was a peculiar knock, reminiscent of the days at
boarding-school when certain signals conveyed deep meaning. This
particular triple tattoo meant "I have something to tell you."

Charlotte opened the door, smiling at sight of her friend. "You are worth
looking at, in those beautiful furs, with the frost on your cheeks," she
said, drawing Ellen in to the fire, and passing a caressing hand over the
rich softness of her sleeve. "Furry hat and furry gloves--and furry
boots, too, probably--let me see? I thought so," as she examined Ellen's
footgear. "You could start on a trip to Greenland, this minute, and not
freeze so much as the tip of your nose, behind that wonderful muff."

"It will be Greenland on the Atlantic liner next week," said Ellen,
drawing off the enveloping coat at Charlotte's motion, and seating
herself in Granny's winged chair. "The trip to Germany is on foot, at
last. Red has had to put it off so many times I began to think we
shouldn't get away this year at all. But he's taken our passage now, and
vows that nothing shall hinder. So I'm packing in rather a hurry, for we
mean to be off on Saturday, though we shall not sail until Tuesday. One
can always use a day or two in New York."

"Lucky mortals. I wish I were going with you." Charlotte said it gayly,
but her eyes were suddenly wistful. "How long shall you stay? I shall
miss you horribly."

"I wish you were going, dear. Nothing could make me happier. We should be
a great party then, for Dr. Leaver goes with us. It's a sudden decision
on his part. Red wrote him of certain work he wanted to do in the clinics
and urged him to go along, thinking it would be just the thing for him
now, after plunging into work again with such a will. You know they spent
a year there together, ten years ago, and Dr. Leaver wrote that the
thought of going over the old scenes with Red tempted him beyond
resistance. He's been across twice since, but only for a special purpose
of study. Of course both will do more or less observing in clinics now,
but I imagine they will get in a bit of merrymaking together. If I only
had you to go about with me while they were busy I should ask nothing
better."

"Shall you be gone all winter?"

"Oh, no; only two months in all. Neither Red nor 'Jack'--as he always
calls him--feel that they can spare longer than that, this time. So by
the first of March you will see us returning to our own fireside, and
probably glad enough to get back to it. German fires, as I remember them,
are by no means as hot as American ones. And that brings me to my plan
for you and Granny. I want you to come over and live in the house in our
absence. There'll be only Cynthia there, for Bob is to stay with Martha.
He will be happier over there with her boys than with Cynthia. So you
will have the whole house to yourselves and can be as snug as possible
all through the heaviest part of the winter."

She smiled confidently at Charlotte, seeing no possible reason why her
friend should object to a plan so obviously for the comfort of all
concerned. But to her surprise Charlotte slowly shook her head.

"It's a beautiful, kind plan, and exactly like you, but I couldn't think
of accepting it."

"My dearest girl, will you tell me why? You would be doing me all kinds
of a favour."

"No favour at all. Cynthia doesn't need us to help her take care of the
house. We shall be perfectly comfortable here, and--my business is here."

"Charlotte, I'm afraid you won't be perfectly comfortable. This room
isn't really warm this morning, and it's not an extremely cold morning.
Through midwinter we're likely to have very heavy weather, as you don't
know, not having spent a winter here."

"Have you? Isn't this your first winter North? You're just as much of a
Southerner as I am. You don't a bit know about Northern winters. You just
imagine they must be dreadful."

"I've heard about the snowdrifts over the fences, the terrific winds,
and the intense cold. The storms will beat upon this little old house,
and I shall think about it away off in Germany--and be anxious. Please,
Charlotte, don't be unreasonable. Why in the world shouldn't you do me
a favour like this? Red wants it just as much as I do, particularly on
the grandmother's account. Think how comfortable she would be in my
living-room, and in my guest-room. And I should so love to have her
there."

"I suppose I'm an ungrateful person, but I truly don't want to do it,
Len. Of course you know I wouldn't persist in a course that I thought
would do Granny harm, but I don't see how this can. She stays in bed in
the morning, as warm as toast, until I bring her down here, and I don't
bring her until the room is thoroughly warm. I give her her breakfast
here, and keep her perfectly comfortable all day, as she can tell you. At
night I take her up to a nest as cosy as a kitten's, and she has her hot
milk the last thing to send her off. Not a breath of discomfort touches
her beloved head."

The two looked at each other, Charlotte's expression proudly sweet,
Ellen's charmingly beseeching.

"I can see it's of no use," admitted Mrs. Burns, disappointedly, "but I'm
very sorry. Will you promise me this? If at any time it seems to you that
my plan is, after all, a better one for you than your own, you'll be good
and come straight over?"

"I promise you that I'll take proper care of both of us, and love you for
a devoted friend. That ought to satisfy you. Do you know that as you sit
there, with that furry hat on your head and your cheeks glowing, you're
the prettiest thing north of Mason-and-Dixon's line?"

"I know you're a flatterer, as you always were. If I can rival you in
that blue cotton--Charlotte, do you think you ought to wear cotton in
December?"

"You wear gauze and low-cut gowns in the evening in January, don't
you?--and would in Labrador, if you went out to dinner. What's the
difference between silver tissue in the evening and blue cotton in the
morning?"

"Considerable difference, as you very well know. But you're impossible to
argue with this morning, and I must run back to my packing. Red won't
hear of my taking more than a certain quite inadequate amount of luggage,
and I have to plan pretty closely accordingly."

"That's good for you. You don't know the first thing about curtailing
your desires, and he means to teach you. Perhaps he won't limit you as to
how much you bring home."

"I hope not. We shall stop for a week in Paris before we sail, and I mean
to bring you the loveliest evening frock you've had in a long time. It's
no use forbidding me, for I shall do it just the same."

"I'm not going to forbid you," laughed Charlotte Ruston, with her cheek
against the furry hat. "I know when not to forbid people to do things
I want them to do. Only make it blue, my blue, and have a touch of silver
on it, and I'll wear it and think of you with adoration."

"It's a bargain," and Ellen went away smiling, with the image of
Charlotte in the sort of blue-and-silver gown she meant to bring her,
effacing for the moment the other image of Charlotte in a blue cotton
house-dress on a freezing winter morning, in a chilly house.

A few days later the travellers were off. When Red Pepper Burns and Ellen
came in to say good-bye in the early evening they found the little house
as warm as even the most solicitous person could desire, and both the
elder and the younger inmate looking so rosy and happy that doubts of
their continued welfare seemed unreasonable. Charlotte, expecting them,
was wearing a picturesque, if old and oft-rejuvenated, trailing frock of
dull-rose silk, whose effect was to heighten the already splendid colour
in her face. It gave her also a certain air of grand lady which seemed
hers by right, whether in the dignified old drawing-room Ellen remembered
in the Ruston house, or in this small apartment, illumined by fire and
candle-light, and graced by a little old lady in cap and kerchief of fine
lace. There were flowers on the table under the candles, and a tray with
delicate glasses and a plate of little cakes. Altogether, the whole
atmosphere of the room was so comfortably hospitable, and the charm of
Charlotte's gay manner so convincing, that both her guests went away with
the pleasant sense that they left real home happiness under the patched
shingles of the roof, and contentment greater than that found beside most
hearths.

"Remember that James Macauley has promised to be a brother to you in
my absence, and will see you through any difficulty that may arise,"
declared Burns, shaking hands. "Arthur Chester claims the same privilege
and both will be only too happy to be called on. The small boys will vie
with each other to keep your paths shovelled, and Bob wishes to be
considered guard-in-chief."

"Cynthia will be flattered to be asked to help you in any way, dear,"
Ellen urged. "She will be lonely with no one to cook for,--do make her
happy by letting her do things for you."

"You dear people," Charlotte responded, "be assured that Granny and I
will remember all these counsels. Don't have us on your minds, but come
back to us with the first crocuses, and know that we shall be wild with
delight at seeing you."

Burns stooped over Madam Chase's chair, and took both her small hands in
his. "What shall I bring you from Germany, dear lady?" he asked.

She always heard him better than she heard most people, and laughed like
a pleased child at the question. "I spent a winter in Berlin, when I was
a young woman," said she. "I remember it clearly enough. There was a
little shop in one of the streets--I forget just which--where they sold
pictures of the emperor, in little carved frames. William the First, it
was then, grandfather of the present Emperor. I should like such another
little picture of the present Kaiser--and thank you!"

"You shall have it--and something else, of my own choosing, if I may.
Good-bye, dear lady. May I kiss you good-bye?"

She permitted the privilege, beaming with pleasure under the reverent
touch of her fair cheek. Then she gave Burns a parting admonition.

"Take good care of that wife of yours; she is well worth it," she said.

"I realize that more every day, Madam Chase. I'll take care of her--with
my life," he said, soberly, close to her ear. Then he bore Ellen away,
both looking back with friendly eyes at the pair they left in the
cottage, and wishing them well with all their warm hearts.

They had barely sailed when the first heavy snowfall of the season
covered the world with a blanket of white, and this was the forerunner of
almost continuous genuine winter weather. No severe storms such as Ellen
had prophesied assailed the region until the first of February, but then
came such a one as deserved no other name than the modern term of
blizzard, a happening of which Madam Ruston and Charlotte had heard,
but had never genuinely experienced.

"We're going to show you the real article this time," declared James
Macauley, stamping his way in out of the snow one evening, when the storm
had been in progress for twenty-four hours without intermission. "I came
over to assure you that if in the morning your roof has disappeared under
a drift you may rest easy in the knowledge that you will surely be
shovelled out before noon. My wife sent me over to find out if you had
plenty of supplies on hand."

"We weren't provided for quite so long a siege, but I was coming over to
telephone from your house this morning. It's a great storm, isn't it? I
think it's fun, for it's my first experience. Do tell your boys to come
over and make a snow fort or something in my front yard."

"They'll be delighted, when the storm stops. There's no use making forts
now, you know."

"No, I didn't know. I was prepared to go out this morning and play with
them."

Macauley looked at her. "Not in that dress, I hope," he observed,
bluntly. "It beats me, the way women wear their thinnest clothes in the
coldest weather. I wonder how I'd feel with the kind of rig you're
wearing. And it's none too warm here, it strikes me, if you don't mind my
saying it, in spite of that good-looking fire."

"The room warms rather slowly in this extreme weather," Charlotte
admitted. She was standing close to the fire, in the unquestionably
summerlike dress of the blue cotton she chose for all her working frocks.
With its low rolling collar and short sleeves it certainly did not
suggest comfort. If Macauley had suspected that beneath it was no
compensating protection, he would have been considerably more concerned
than he was. His wife was accustomed to explain to him, when he
criticised the inadequacy of her attire, that she fully made up for it by
some extra, hidden warmth of clothing. And when he complained that anyhow
she didn't look warm she invariably replied that nothing could be more
deceiving than looks.

He walked over to the windows. They were rattling stormily with each gust
of the tempest raging outside, and as he held his hand at their edges he
could feel all the winds of heaven raging in.

"Jupiter!" he exclaimed. "No wonder you're cold. That stage fire of yours
can't warm all outdoors. I'll send for some window strips and nail you
up."

"Please don't bother, Mr. Macauley. I am going to stuff them with cotton
myself, and that will do quite well. If you will be so kind as to
telephone this order to the grocery for me I shall be grateful, though
I hardly see how the delivery wagons can get about."

He took the paper she handed him, and absently, after the manner of the
householder, his eyes scanned it.

"Why, you want to order in larger lots than these!" he exclaimed. Then,
as he looked up and saw her smiling without reply, he reddened and
stammered hastily: "I beg your pardon; I looked without thinking. But,
if you don't mind my advising you, I'd say double each of these items,
at least; it's economy in the end. And--where's the meat order? Have you
forgotten?"

"There are eggs on the grocery list," said Charlotte, a little flame of
colour rising in her own cheek. "Granny prefers those. But you may double
each item, if you wish. Probably you don't realize that I'm not ordering
for a family like yours, and things spoil quickly when kept in the
kitchen, as we keep ours."

"Of course you know your own affairs," mumbled Macauley, in some
embarrassment. "But, if you'd heard R.P. Burns charging me to look after
you as if you belonged to me, you'd pardon my impertinence."

"I appreciate your interest," Charlotte assured him, lightly. "But I'm
really enjoying the new experience of this storm and don't mind a bit how
long it lasts. Granny is warm as can be upstairs with her little stove,
and as she can't hear the wind howl her spirits aren't in the least
depressed. I admit I don't just love to hear the wind howl. If it would
be still about it I should like to see the snow bury my whole front lawn
three feet deep."

"I'm glad you take it that way. Martha insists that such storms are very
depressing,--principally, I believe, because they keep her from running
in to see her neighbours. Well, I must be off. I'll send the youngsters
over to shovel a path to your front door; I had to wallow through
myself."

He went away, and the storm raged on. The boys did not come over; their
labours would have been of small avail if they had worked never so
valiantly, for the drifts formed faster than they could have been
shovelled away. Night fell with Nature still unappeased, and the wind,
contrary to the prediction of the grocer's boy, when in the late
afternoon he fought his way in with his basket of supplies, did not
go down with the sun.

In the middle of the night, Charlotte, waking from an uneasy sleep, felt
the house rocking so violently with the tempest that she became alarmed.
She wondered if the shaky frame could withstand the continued shocks. The
air of the room felt very cold to her cheek, although she had, out of
consideration for the unusual conditions, refrained from opening wide her
window. The rush of cold seemed to be coming from the door which opened
into her grandmother's room, and with a sudden fear she flew out of bed
and ran to investigate. With the first step inside Madam Chase's door her
bare foot encountered the icy touch of snow, and she realized that a
window was undoubtedly open to the full force of the storm.

Without a thought of herself she rushed across the room, understanding
what must have happened: the shaky little old window frame had blown in,
for the tempest came straight from that direction. Yes, she stumbled upon
it, lying on the floor. She picked it up and tried to replace it, but an
instant's struggle convinced her that this was impossible. With a cry she
ran to the bed, herself chilled through, her heart beating fast with
fear. How long had Granny been lying there in the onslaught of wind and
cold?

She seized upon the small figure huddled under the blankets, lifted it,
blankets and all, and bore it into her own room. She laid it on her own
cot, covered it with a mountain of clothing, and crushed into place the
door between the two rooms. Then, shaking with chill, her teeth
chattering, she dressed, answering the old lady's one shivering
complaint:

"I thought I was very cold, in my dreams, Charlotte. What has happened?"

"It's all right, Granny,--you are safe in my room. I'll get you warm in a
minute."

She ran down to the kitchen, heated water over a spirit-lamp, and made a
stiff little hot drink, which she carried upstairs, with a hot-water
bottle. The bag at Granny's feet, the stimulating posset drunk, Charlotte
felt easier about her charge and went next at the task of making her
comfortable for the remainder of the night. She ran down again and made
up the fire in the fireplace, convinced that she must get the old lady
downstairs, now that with each blast the terrible wind was filling one
room with the storm and battling at the little old door to make an
entrance into the other. Then she put on a coat, and went up to wrestle
with Granny's bed, while the wind swept round her, and the snow flew
across the room and stung her cheeks. It was a hard task, getting the bed
apart and down the stairs, but she accomplished it, and set it up in the
living-room, far from the windows and with one side to the fire. Then she
brought down springs and mattress, warmed the latter thoroughly at the
blaze, and put it in place.

"Now, dear," she said presently, bending over the cot, "I'm going to take
you down by the fire. It's too cold for you up here, and you'll be
perfectly comfortable there."

Granny, wrapped in many blankets, was not quite so light a load as usual,
but Charlotte staggered down with her, and soon had her at ease in her
bed, freshly made up and warm with surrounding blankets. The room itself
could not be so quickly warmed, but Granny knew no discomfort nor
realized that her niece, with all her exertions, was still shaking now
and then with chill and excitement. She had small notion of the anxiety
Charlotte was suffering concerning her frail self.

"You must get the window replaced at once, my dear," she remarked,
sleepily, from among her pillows. "It must be really quite a storm.
I could feel the bed shake. Down here it seems quieter."

"Yes, Granny, much quieter. Go to sleep now, and make up for lost time."

Her charge forgot to ask her what she meant to do herself, and presently
dropped comfortably off into a deep slumber. Charlotte piled on wood,
making a rousing fire, and sat beside it for the rest of the night,
wrapped in a blanket in the winged chair. She shivered away the hours,
unable to become warm no matter how close to the fire she crouched, and
in the morning was conscious that she had taken a severe cold, quite as
might have been expected. But, as her chief anxiety was relieved by
finding that Madam Chase awoke apparently in as good condition as ever
and not in the least the worse for her exposure, Charlotte made light to
herself of her own ill feelings.

She struggled across the street in the morning to telephone a carpenter,
and as it was the dull season for workmen of his craft obtained one
immediately. He proved a conscientious person, who shook his head over
the ancient window frame and advised putting in a new one with a tightly
fitting sash. By night the room was secure from the weather, and Madam
Chase insisted on returning to it, in spite of Charlotte's entreaties
that she remain downstairs until the storm should be over.

"Nonsense, child," she said firmly, "this is no place for me and my
bed. Any of our friends are likely to come in at any time, and it is
impossible to keep the room looking properly under such conditions.
Besides, I much prefer my own room."

So at her bedtime Charlotte moved her back to her quarters, having heated
them to a summer temperature with the small oil-stove.

"Poof!" said the little old lady, as she was brought into the room. "How
unnecessarily warm it is here! Just because a storm rages outside, dear,
why should it be necessary to heat this room so stuffily? The stove
consumes the air. When I'm in bed you must open the window and give me
something to breathe."

"I was so frightened last night," Charlotte explained hoarsely in Madam
Chase's ear, "I feel like doing you up in cotton wool, lest such another
icy wind blow on you."

"Why, what a cold you have, child!" cried her grandmother, recognizing
this undoubted fact more fully than she had yet done. "You must make
yourself some hot ginger tea, or some hot lemonade, and get to bed at
once. Promise me you will do it, my dear."

Charlotte nodded, smiling in the candle-light. Then she tucked her charge
in with more than ordinary care, and spent some time in arranging the
ventilation of the room to her satisfaction. The storm outside was still
heavy, but the wind was less violent, and it had changed its quarter.

She went downstairs again, finding it too early for her own bedtime,
weary though she was. Martha Macauley presently sent over a maid who was
commissioned to send Charlotte across for an evening with the family, the
maid herself to remain with Madam Chase. "If you have the courage to come
out in the storm," the note read.

"I'm afraid I haven't, thank you," Charlotte wrote back, and dismissed
the maid with a word of sympathy for her necessary breasting of the
drift-blown passage across the street.

"Oh, it's awful out," the girl said. "I don't think Mrs. Macauley knows
how bad it is, not being out herself to-day, and Mr. Macauley away."

Charlotte made up her fire afresh, and pulling the winged chair close sat
down before it. She was cold and weary, and her head felt very heavy. She
had put on a loose gown of a thin Japanese silk--dull red in hue, a relic
of other days. Her hair was loosely braided and hung down her back in a
long, dark plait. Upon her feet were slippers, about her shoulders a
white shawl of Granny's.

All the gay and gallant aspect of her, as her friends knew her, was gone
from her to-night, as she sat there staring into the fire. She still
shivered, now and then, in the too-thin red silk robe, and drew the shawl
closer. Her heart was as heavy as her head, her mind busy with retrospect
and forecast, neither enlivening. The courage which had sustained her
through almost four years of endeavour was at a singularly low ebb
to-night. It had ebbed low at other times, but usually she had been able
to summon it again by a mere act of the will, by a determination to be
resolute, not to be downcast, never to allow herself so much as to
imagine ultimate failure. To-night, although she told herself that her
depression was the result of physical fatigue, and fought with all her
strength to conquer the hopelessness of the mood, she found herself in
the end prostrate under the weight of thoughts heavier than the spirit
could bear.

She sat there for an hour; then, still shivering, prepared to rake the
ashes over the remains of the fire and go to bed. It occurred to her
suddenly that before closing things up below she would see if Madam Chase
were asleep, or if she might need something hot to drink again, as
sometimes happened. She went wearily upstairs, her candle flickering in
the narrow passageway. It seemed, somehow, as if the whole house were
full of small conflicting winds pressing into it through every loose
window-frame and under each sunken threshold.

She stooped over the bed, the candle-light falling on the small, white
face. White--how white! With all its delicate fairness, had it ever
looked like this before? With a sudden fear clutching at her heart she
held the little flame lower....

She groped her way half-blindly down the stairs, the candle left behind.
As she reached the foot a stamping sounded upon the porch outside the
living-room door. She ran toward it,--never had sound of human approach
been so madly welcome. Before she could reach the door a knock fell upon
it.

She wrenched at the latch, finding the door frozen into place, as it had
been all through this weather. She tugged in vain for a moment, then a
voice called from the other side:

"Look out! I'm going to push!"

With a catch in her throat, her heart pounding even more wildly than it
had done before, she stood aside. What voice was that? It couldn't be
possible, of course, but it had sounded like one she knew in its every
inflection, one which did not belong to any of her nearby friends. It
could not be possible--it could not--but--

The door crashed open, and a mound of snow fell in with it. Striding in
over the snow came a tall figure in an enveloping great coat, covered
with white from head to foot, the face ruddy and smiling.



CHAPTER XVII

FROM THE BEGINNING


John Leaver turned and tried to close the door, but the mound of snow
prevented. The wind was sweeping in with fury. "Go away from it," he
commanded. "I'll see to it."

He kicked the snow out with his foot, crowded the door into place, and
turned about again. He stood still, looking at the figure before him,
with its startled face, wide eyes staring at him, breath coming short.
Charlotte's hands were pressed over her heart, she seemed unable to
speak.

"Did I frighten you, rushing in upon you at this time of night?" The
smile upon his face died, he looked as if she had put out a hand to hold
him off. Then, as he regarded her more closely, he saw that which alarmed
him.

"Is something wrong? Has something happened?" he asked hurriedly.

She nodded, still staring with a strange, wild look. Then, in a breath,
she found speech and action.

"Oh, come!" she gasped. "Granny is--something has happened to Granny!"
and ran to him and caught at his hand, like a child, pulling him.

"Just a minute," he said, quickly, releasing himself, and pulled off his
snow-covered overcoat and frozen gloves, and threw them to one side. Then
he put out his hand to her.

"Now!" he said, and they ran together to the stairs, and up them. At the
top Charlotte paused.

"In there!" she whispered, and let him take the lead.

Her hand held very tight in his he crossed the room. He took up the
candle from the dressing-table, approached the bed, and gave the candle
to Charlotte. Letting go her hand then, he bent and looked closely into
the still, peaceful old face ... made a brief, quiet examination....

He led her down the stairs again. She was fully blind now, seeing
nothing, conscious of but two things--the sense of a great blow having
fallen stunningly, and the sense of being held firmly by a warm, strong
hand. She clung to that hand as if it were all that lay between sea and
shore.

In the living-room, before the fire, she felt the hand draw itself gently
away. But then she found herself clasped in two warm arms, her head
pressed gently down upon a strong shoulder. A voice spoke with a
throbbing tenderness which seemed to envelop her:

"Don't question anything, just let me take you to my heart--where you
belong. God sent me to you at this hour, I'm sure of it. I felt it all
the way--that you needed me. I am yours, body and soul. Let me serve you
and take care of you as if it had all been settled long ago. Be big
enough for that, dear."

She listened, and let him have his way. Whatever might come after, there
seemed nothing else to do now. The Presence in the room above seemed to
have changed everything. One could not speak or act as might have been
possible an hour ago. Only the great realities counted now. Here were
two of them confronting her at once--Death and Love. How could she be
less primitively honest in the face of one than of the other?

He put her in the winged chair, drew the white shawl closely about her
shoulders, dropped upon one knee by her side, and, taking possession once
more of her hand, spoke low and decidedly:

"I will go over to the Macauleys and send Mrs. Macauley to you. Then Mr.
Macauley and I will take everything in charge--with your permission?"

He waited for her assent. She gave it with closed eyes, her head tilted
back against the wing of the chair, her lips pressed tight together that
they might not tremble.

"You will want to take her to Washington, or on to South Carolina?"

"South Carolina--where she was born."

"We shall not be able to start till the storm is over. There is no train
or trolley service out from the city to-night, and there will not be
until the wind and drifting stops. My train was ten hours late. I should
have been here this morning. Meanwhile, I will stay just where you want
me. You and Mrs. Macauley can settle that. I wish for your sake Mrs.
Burns were here--and Red."

"They are not here? Then--how did you come to--"

"Come home before them? I couldn't stay away contentedly as long as they.
I had had an all-summer's vacation, and wanted to be at work. But I came
from the ship straight up here, to satisfy myself that all was well with
you. I found you--needing me. Can I help being thankful that I came?"

"Dr. Leaver--?"

"Yes?"

Charlotte sat up suddenly, opening her eyes, pressing her free hand again
over her heart with that unconscious gesture as old as suffering.

"If I had not insisted on keeping Granny here she would not have--would
not have--"

She sank back, covering her face.

"What had her being here to do with it? You took every care of her. She
was old--ripe--ready to go. The wonder is that she has lived so long,
with such a frail hold on life."

"But--she had an exposure. This dreadful weather--night before last--her
window blew in--she was chilled--"

Her voice broke. With difficulty she told him the story of the
experience. He lifted her hand to his lips and held it there. After
a minute he spoke very gently:

"I doubt if that had anything to do with it. It was probably the crash of
the window blowing in that woke you, although you did not know it; she
may not have lain there but a moment. You overcame the slight chill, if
there was one, with your prompt measures. You brought her downstairs,
and carried her back. There was no strain whatever upon her, it was all
upon you. Dr. Burns has told me that her heart-action was the weakest and
most irregular he had encountered; that, at any hour, without seeming
provocation, it might stop. Why should you mourn? It was a happy way to
go--merely to stop breathing, as her attitude and expression show she
did. Her hour had come--you had nothing to do with it. Take that to your
heart, and don't blame yourself for one moment more."

She lay back in the chair again, relaxing a little under the firm words.

"Shall I go now and send Mrs. Macauley? It is nearly ten o'clock, time we
were letting them know. But before I go let me tell you one thing, then I
will say no more to-night. There is no more now to come between us than
there was a year ago when--listen, Charlotte--we knew--we both knew--that
we belonged to each other, and nothing waited but the spoken word. I dare
to say this to you, for I am sure, in my inmost soul, that you know as
well as I do where we stood at that time. And--the thing is gone which
came between us afterward."

He stood up, put on his coat, said quietly: "You shall be alone but a
very short time," and went out.

Left alone Charlotte laid both arms suddenly down upon the arm of the
chair--Granny's chair--and broke into a passion of weeping. It lasted
only for a little while, then she raised herself suddenly, threw back her
head, lifted both arms high--it was an old gesture of hers when she was
commanding her own self-control--gripping the clenched fists tight. Then,
as steps and the sound of voices were heard outside, she stood up,
holding herself quietly.

When Mrs. Macauley came in, excitedly sympathetic and eager to comfort,
she found a quiet mourner ready to talk with her more composedly than she
herself was able to do. Martha, shocked though she was by the sudden
call, was full of curiosity as to the return of John Leaver, and only
Charlotte's reticent dignity of manner kept back a torrent of eager
questions.

"It's certainly very fortunate he's here," she admitted. "He can take
charge of the journey South, knowing trains and routes much better than
Jim or I do. Of course we will go with you, dear. I judge from what Dr.
Leaver says he will go all the way--which will certainly be a comfort. He
seems so strong and capable--so changed from the way he acted when he
first came here, languid and indifferent. Oh, how sorry Red and Ellen
will be not to be here! Red was so fond of dear Madam Chase."

Martha proved not unpleasant company for that first night, for her
practical nature was always getting the better of her notion that she
must speak only of things pertaining to the occasion. She went out into
Charlotte's kitchen and stirred about there, returning with a tray of
light, hot food. She had been astonished at the meagreness of the
supplies she found, but made no comment.

"You must keep up your strength, my dear girl," she urged, when Charlotte
faltered over the food. "It's a long way between now and the time when
it will be all over. We may be delayed a day or two in getting off, and
delayed all the way down. I hear this storm is raging all over the
country."

Her words proved true. It was two days before the little party could be
off. During that time Charlotte was overwhelmed with attention from her
neighbours. The Macauleys and Chesters could not do enough. Either
Winifred or Martha was constantly with her, and their presence was not
ungrateful. John Leaver came and went upon errands, never seeing
Charlotte alone, but making no effort to do so, conveying to her by his
look or the grasp of his hand the comradeship which she felt more
convincingly with every passing hour. His personality seemed somehow as
vital and stirring as the course of a clear stream in a desert place.

At the short, private service which preceded the departure of the party
for the train, he came and took his place beside her in a quiet way which
had in it the quality of a right. Although he did not touch or speak to
her the sense of his near presence was to her like a strong supporting
arm. When the moment came to leave the room she heard his whisper in her
ear and felt his hand upon her arm:

"Courage! You are not going alone, you know."

It went to her heart. On the threshold she suddenly looked up at him
through her veil, and met in return such a look as a woman may lean upon.
Her heart throbbed wildly in response, throbbed as only a sad heart may
when it realizes that there is to be balm for its wounds.

All through the long journey Charlotte felt Leaver's constant support,
although he made no further effort to define the relation between them,
even when for a short space, now and then, the two were alone together.
Instead he talked of his hurried trip abroad with the Burnses, and once,
when they were pacing up and down a platform, at a long stop, he told her
of his visit to a certain noted specialist in Berlin.

"I had had a breakdown in my work last spring," he said, in a quite
simple way, as if he were speaking of something unimportant. "I had made
up my mind that I could never hope fully to recover from its effects. Dr.
Z---- told me that I was perfectly recovered, that I was as sound,
mentally and physically, as I had ever been, and that, if I used ordinary
common sense in the future about vacations at reasonable intervals, there
was no reason why the experience should ever be repeated. This assurance
was what sent me home. I found I couldn't stay in Germany and go
sightseeing with my friends after that. I wanted to be at work again."

"I wonder that Dr. Burns didn't want to rush home with you," Charlotte
observed--though it was not of Red Pepper she was thinking. This simple
statement, she knew, was the explanation he was giving her of the thing
he had said to her last August under her apple-tree. It made clear to her
that which she had suspected before--it somehow seemed, also, to take
away the last barrier between them.

"Burns needed the change--he hasn't had a vacation except his honeymoon
for years. By the way, he's having a second honeymoon over there."

"I'm very glad," Charlotte responded.

Then the summons came for the return to the train, and Mr. and Mrs.
Macauley, waving to them from the other end of the platform, met them at
the step.

On the morning of the third day the party reached their destination. They
were met at the small station by a staid but comfortable equipage, driven
by an old family coachman with grizzled, kinky hair and a black face full
of solemnity. They were taken to the hospitable home of the owner of the
dignified old carriage and the fat, well-kept horses which had brought
them to her door, and were there welcomed as only Southern hostesses can
welcome. Mrs. Catesby's mother had been a friend of Madam Chase's youth,
and for her sake the daughter had thrown open her house to do honour to
the ashes of one whom she had never seen.

"How glad I am," Charlotte said, soon after her arrival, standing by a
window with kind Mrs. Catesby, "to come down here where it is spring. I
could never have borne it--to put Granny away under the snow. She didn't
like the snow, though she never said so. Are those camellias down by the
hedge? Oh, may I go out and pick some--for Granny?"

"I thought you might like them--and might want to pick them yourself, or
I should have had them ready. I sent for no other flowers. I remember my
mother telling me how Madam Chase loved them--as she herself did."

From an upper window, in the room to which he had been assigned, Leaver
saw Charlotte go down the garden path to the hedge, there to fill a small
basket with the snowy blooms. When she turned to go back to the house she
found him beside her.

"I see now why you wanted no other flowers," he said, as he took the
basket. "These are like her--fair and pure and fragile."

"She was fond of them. She wore them in her hair when she was a girl.
They have no fragrance; that is why I want them for her now. How people
can bear strong, sweet flowers around their dead I can never understand."

"I have always wondered at that, too," Leaver admitted. "My mother had
the same feeling." He looked closely at Charlotte's face, as the bright
sunlight of the Southern spring morning fell upon it. "You are very
tired," he said, and his voice was like a caress. "Not in body, but in
mind--and heart. I wish, by some magic, I could secure for you two full
hours' sleep before--the hour."

"I couldn't sleep. But I am strong, I shall not break down."

"No, you will not break down; that wouldn't be like you. And
to-night--you shall sleep. I promise you that."

"I wish you could," Charlotte said, and her lips trembled ever so
slightly. "But I shall not."

"You shall. Trust me that you shall. I know a way to make you sleep."

However that might be, she thought, his presence was now, as all through
this ordeal, the thing which stood between her and utter desolation. A
few hours later, when he stood beside her at the place which was to
receive that which they had brought to it, she felt as if she could not
have borne the knowledge that she was laying away her only remaining
kinswoman, if it had not been for the sense of protection which, even at
the supreme moment, he managed to convey to her. Her hand, as it lay
upon his arm, was taken and held in a close clasp, which tightened
possessively upon it, minute by minute, until it was as if the two were
one in the deep emotion of the hour.

All the beauty of spring at her tenderest was in the air, as the little
party turned slowly away, in the light of the late afternoon sun.
Somewhere in the distance a bird was softly calling to its mate.

Behind Charlotte and Leaver, the kindly old clergyman who had been Madam
Chase's life-long friend was gently murmuring:

  "'Dust is dust, to dust returneth,
  Was not written of the soul.'"

Upon the evening of that day, spent as such evenings are, in subdued
conversation at a hearthside, Leaver came across the room and spoke to
Charlotte.

"I am wondering," he said, "if a short walk in the night air won't make
you fitter for sleep than you look now. It is mild and fine outside. Will
you come?"

"It will do you good, Miss Ruston," urged her hostess, who had taken a
strong liking to Dr. Leaver. The Macauleys seconded the suggestion also,
and Charlotte, somewhat reluctantly as to outward manner, but, in spite
of sorrow and physical fatigue, with a strong leap of the heart, made
ready.

As her companion closed the door behind them Charlotte understood that
she was alone with him at last, as she had not been alone with him in all
these days, even when no person was present. She had small time in which
to recognize what was coming, for, almost instantly, it was at hand.
There was a small park opposite the house, and to the deserted walk which
circled it she found herself led.

"Dear," Leaver's voice began, in its tenderest inflection, "I have a
curious feeling that no words can make it any clearer between us than it
already is. Last winter we knew how it was with us--didn't we? Won't you
tell me that you knew? It is my dearest belief that you did."

"Yes, I knew," Charlotte answered, very low.

"To me it was the most beautiful thing I had ever dreamed of, that two
people could so understand and belong to each other before a word was
said. When the time came to speak, and--the thing had happened that made
it impossible, I can never tell you what it meant to me. When I found
you there in the North it seemed as if the last ounce had been added to
the burden I was bearing. I couldn't ask for your friendship; I couldn't
have taken it if you had given it to me. I had to have all or nothing.
Can you understand that?"

She nodded. She put up one hand and lifted the thin black veil she was
wearing, and turned her face upward to the stars. They were very bright,
that February night, down in South Carolina.

"But now," he went on, after a moment, "it is all plain before us.
Charlotte, am I a strangely presumptuous lover to take so much for
granted? I don't even ask if you have changed. Knowing you, that doesn't
seem possible to me. I have never wooed you, I have simply--recognized
you! You belonged to me. I was sure that you so recognized me. It has
been as I dreamed it would be, when I was a boy, dreaming my first dreams
about such things. I have known many women--have had a few of them for my
very good friends. I never cared to play at love with any one; it didn't
interest me. But when I saw you I loved you. I won't say 'fell in love;'
that's not the phrase. I loved you. The love has grown with every day I
have known you--grown even when I thought it was to be denied."

"I know," Charlotte said again, and now she was smiling through tears at
the friendly stars above her.

"Yes, you know," he answered, happily. "That's the wonderful thing to
me--that you should know."

A little path wound through the park, as deserted as the street. He led
her into this, and, pausing where a group of high-grown shrubs screened
them from all possible passers-by, he spoke with all the passion he had
hitherto restrained.

"Charlotte, are you my wife? Tell me so--_in this_!"

He laid one arm about her shoulders, his hand lifted her face as he
stooped to meet it with his own. When he raised his head again it was to
look, as she had looked, toward the stars.

"That was worth," he said tensely, "all the pain I have ever known." Then
as he led her on he spoke again with an odd wistfulness.

"Dearest, I have talked about our love not needing words, and yet, I find
I want to hear your voice after all. Will you tell me, in words, how it
is with you? I want to hear!"

After a moment she answered him, softly, yet with a vibrant sweetness
in her tone. "John Leaver, it is as you say. I have known, from the
first, that I--must love you. You made me, in spite of myself. I
couldn't--couldn't help it!"

He bent his head, with a low murmur of happiness. Then: "And I thought I
could do without words!" he said.

For the first time in many days Charlotte's lips curved suddenly into the
little provoking, arch smile which was one of her greatest charms.

"I never thought I could!" she said.

He laughed. "You shall not! And now I'm going to speak some very definite
words to which I want a very definite answer. Charlotte, you are--I can't
bear to remind you--as far as kinspeople go, quite alone in the world.
There is no reason why that should be true. The nearest of all relations
can be yours to-morrow. Will you marry me to-morrow, before we go North?
Then we shall be quite free to stop in Baltimore or to go on as you
prefer. I can go with you, at once, to close up the little house, if you
wish. Is there any reason why we should stay apart a day longer?"

"I don't know of any that would appeal to you. But there is one."

"May I know it?"

She hesitated. "I'm--very shabby," she said, reluctantly; "much shabbier
than you can guess."

"We'll go by the way of New York, and you can buy all you need. That's an
objection which turns into an argument for the other side, for I want
very much to see a certain old friend in New York, who was out of town
when I landed last week. I can do it while you shop. Doesn't that
convince you?"

"I can let it--if you really think it is best to be in such haste."

"Why not? Why should we waste another day apart that we could spend
together? At its longest life is too short for love."

"Yes," she murmured.

"I'm thankful, very thankful, that you are too womanly to insist on any
prolonging of what has certainly been separation enough. I felt that you
wouldn't. Oh, all through, it has been your womanliness I have counted
on, dear,--an inexhaustible, rich mine of sense and sweetness."

"You rate me too high," Charlotte protested, softly. "I'm only a
working-woman, now, you know. All the old traditions of the family have
been set aside by me."

"You have lived up to their traditions of nobility understood in just a
little different way. It is these years of effort which have made you
what you are. If I had known you in the days before trouble came to you
I might have admired your beauty, but I shouldn't have loved your soul."

"Then"--she looked up into his face--"I'm glad for everything I've
suffered."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sunlight was pouring in again, next morning, when Charlotte awoke.
She lay, for a little, looking out into the treetops, holding the coming
day against her heart.

"I can't believe it; oh, I can't believe it," she whispered to herself.
"A week ago so heavy and forlorn and poor--to-day, in spite of losing
Granny, so rich, rich. I'm to be--his wife--this day--his wife! O God!
make me fit for him; make me fit to take his love!"

When she went downstairs she found him waiting at the foot, looking up at
her with his heart in his eyes, though his manner was as quiet and
composed as ever. At his side stood Martha Macauley, excited and eager.
The moment that Leaver's hand had released Charlotte's Martha had her in
her arms.

"You dear girl!" she cried. "Of all the romantic things I ever heard of!
I'm so upset I don't know what to do or say, except that I think you're
doing just exactly right. It's as Dr. Leaver says; there isn't a thing in
the way. Why shouldn't you go back together? Only I wish Ellen and Red
were here; they're certain to feel cheated."

"We'll try to make it up to them," Leaver said, smiling.

"It's all right," declared James Macauley, joining them. "I like the idea
of getting these things over quietly, without any fuss over trunkfuls of
clothes. If a lady always looks like a picture, whatever she wears, why
should she need fairly to jump out of her frame because she's getting
married?"

Upstairs, a little later, Martha, coming in upon Charlotte, as she bent
over a tiny trunk, put a solicitous question:

"My dear, if there's anything in the world I can lend you, will you let
me do it? I have a few quite pretty things with me, and I'd love to give
them to you."

Lifting a flushed, smiling face Charlotte answered: "That's dear of you,
but I think I have enough--of the things that really matter. I've only
this one travelling dress, but as we shall go straight to New York I can
soon have the frock or two I need. It's so fortunate I brought a trunk at
all. When I came away I was so uncertain just what would happen next, or
how long I might want to stop on the way back, that I put in all the
white things I had there."

"And beautiful white things they are, too, if that is a sample," said
Martha, noting with feminine interest a dainty garment in Charlotte's
hands. "You're lucky to have them."

"My mother left stores and stores of such things, and I've been making
them into modern ones ever since. They are my one luxury," and Charlotte
laid the delicate article of embroidered linen and lace in its place with
a loving little pat, as if she were touching the mother to whom it had
belonged. "Otherwise I'm pretty shabby. Yet, I can't seem to mind much."

"You don't look shabby. You look much trimmer and prettier in that suit
and hat than I in mine, though mine were new this fall. If you knew how
I envy you that look you would be quite satisfied with your old clothes,"
said Martha, generously. "And as for the husband you are getting--well--I
suppose you know you're in the greatest sort of good fortune. All the way
down here I've been watching him--Jim says I haven't done anything
else--and I certainly never saw a man who seemed so always to know how
and when to do the right thing. If ever there was a gentleman, born and
bred, Dr. Leaver is certainly that one. And he's a man, too--a splendid
one."

"I'm so glad you recognize that," said Charlotte, a joyous ring in her
voice.

Ten o'clock, the hour set for the marriage, came on flying feet. Before
Charlotte could fairly realize it she was walking down the street of the
small Southern village to the little old church which Mrs. Rodney
Rutherford Chase had attended as a girl. The old rector who met them
there had been a life-long friend of the Chase family. Then, in a sort
of strange dream, Charlotte found herself standing by John Leaver's side,
listening to the familiar yet quite new and strange words of the marriage
service. She heard his voice, gravely repeating the solemn vows, her own,
following them with the vows which correspond, then the old rector's deep
tones announcing that they two were one in the sight of God and man.

She felt her husband's kiss upon her lips, and, turning, lifted her
tear-wet, shining eyes to his. At that moment they two might have been
alone in the world for all their consciousness of any other presence.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE COUNTRY SURGEON


Redfield Pepper Burns and Mrs. Burns returned from their stay in Germany
just three months later than they had intended. The opportunities for
extended study and observation had proved so tempting to the surgeon who
had taken only a fortnight's vacation in several years that he had
decided to make the most of them. The pair had been kept fully informed
of the progress of events, had wept tears of gentle grief over the news
of Granny's sudden passing, and had smiled with satisfaction over that
which shortly followed it--the news of the marriage which had immediately
taken place.

Charlotte had written to her friend a brief description, which--Ellen
reading it aloud to her husband--had called forth his sparkling-eyed
comment:

"It's rather refreshing to find a woman who doesn't make clothes the most
important part of the ceremony, isn't it? No doubt at all but Jack's
found the right woman, eh?"

"No doubt in the world," and Ellen's eyes silently went over the few
paragraphs again, reading between the lines, as a woman will, and as
Charlotte had known she would.

"I thought I couldn't possibly sleep that night, when it had all been
arranged,"--the letter ran--"though I was so tired with all I had been
through. But in an hour I had gone straight off, and slept like a child,
my head on such a soft, soft pillow of confidence and rest. O Len,--to
lie on a pillow like that, after months of laying my unhappy head on
stones!

"At ten next morning we went to the little stone church, all overgrown
with ivy, where Granny was a communicant so many years, and there we were
married, with Mrs. Catesby, Mr. Macauley and Martha for witnesses, and
Dr. Markham, the dear old rector, to give us his blessing. After that
John and I walked over to the place where we had laid dear Granny the day
before.

"It wasn't sad, Len; how could it be? The flowers were still fresh
over her, and that blessed sunshine was so bright,--as it is in South
Carolina, I think, when all the rest of the world is dark. When we came
away I felt as I often have when I have put that little frail body to bed
and tucked her in and blown out her candle--as if she must surely sleep
well till morning. I am sure she will--sure!

"Our whole party came North together as far as Harrisburg, then John and
I said good-bye to them and came over to New York, where I am writing to
you, now. I am buying a few simple clothes, just enough to begin to live
with in my new home. In a few days we go to Baltimore, where we shall
settle down in the house, which is just as it was left when John's mother
died, five years ago. He says I may change anything I wish, but from all
I know of his mother and himself I imagine that I shall not care to make
many changes in so fine an old place. He has his offices in a wing--I'm
so glad of that. She wanted him at home, and so shall I.

"Len, you will want to know if I am happy. Do I need to tell you? All my
old readiness of speech fails me when I come to this. In spite of the way
talk bubbles from me, on ordinary subjects, you know I have never said
much of the big things of my life. I didn't tell you a word of all there
was between your guest of last summer and me. Neither can I talk about it
now.

"Just this, to satisfy you, dear. Every time I look at his beautifully
strong, sweet, grave face, at his splendid quiet confidence of manner,
as he leaves me to go away to do some of the wonderful work he does, or
comes back to me after having done that work, I realize what it means to
be the wife of such a man. Oh, yes, I am happy, Len, so gloriously happy
I can't tell you another word about it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When Burns and Ellen landed in New York in late May they were met by a
telegram. Burns read it hurriedly, re-read it with a laugh, and handed
it to his wife.

"Seems peremptory," he commented. "Shall we let Jack dictate? It will
mean only a short delay, and though I'm anxious to get home I'd like
mighty well to see them, shouldn't you?"

The despatch read:

"Important clinic on Thursday should like your assistance my wife urges
the necessity of seeing Mrs. Burns without further delay please take
first train for Baltimore.

"Leaver."

"Yes, I want to see them," Ellen agreed. "I'm quite willing to delay if
you will send Bob a telegram, all to himself, explaining and telling him
to tell the rest."

"That will please him enough to make up for our failure to arrive on
the promised day. We'll run down for twenty-four hours with them, at
least.... I confess I'm eager to see Jack do one of his big stunts again.
And I'll wager I can show him one trick that even he doesn't know--the
last thing I got at Vienna, under W----"

He sent off the message to Bobby Burns without delay, and despatched
another to Leaver, announcing their arrival that evening. In two hours
more they were on their way, and at six o'clock they were met in the
Baltimore station by Leaver himself.

"See the old chap grin!" said Burns in his wife's ear, when they descried
the tall figure in the distance, coming toward them with smiling face and
alert step. "Can that be the desperately down person who came to us last
June? He looks as if--in a perfectly quiet way--he owned the city of
Baltimore!"

"How well, how splendidly well, he looks!" Ellen agreed.

Then they were shaking hands with Dr. John Leaver and listening to his
hearty greeting:

"This is great of you two--great. We certainly appreciate it. Come, I'll
have you at home before you know it. Charlotte is waiting with the
warmest welcome you will find on this side of the Atlantic!"

He hurried them away, but not so fast that Red Pepper Burns did not find
time to chuckle: "The power of association is beginning to tell already,
Jack. That was the most impetuous speech I ever heard from your lips. I
don't call such language really restrained--not from you."

Leaver turned, laughing, to Ellen. "One would think I had been the most
solemn fellow known to history," said he.

In two minutes he had bestowed his guests in a small but luxuriously
appointed closed car, had given the word to his chauffeur, and had taken
his place facing them. Burns examined the landau's interior with
interest.

"The evidence of a slight but unmistakable odour tells me that this
is the jewel-box in which Baltimore's gem of a surgeon keeps his
appointments," said he. "Well, the Green Imp's beginning to show traces
of her age, but her successor will be no aristocrat of this type. I'd
rather drive myself and freeze my face to a granite image than be
transported in cotton-wool, like this."

Leaver and Ellen laughed at his expression.

"Of course you would," Leaver agreed. "And equally of course every friend
and patient of yours would grieve to see you shut up behind glass windows
with another hand on the steering-wheel. It's unthinkable and out of the
question for you, but for me--it's rather practical."

Burns nodded. "Saves time--and carries prestige. I understand. You city
fellows have to play to the galleries a bit, particularly when you've
reached the top-notch and people demand that you live up to it. It's all
right. But I should feel smothered. And as for letting any young man in
a livery manage my spark and throttle,--well, not for mine, as I have
already remarked."

Leaver looked at him as one man looks at another when he loves him better
than a brother. Then he put a question to Red Pepper's wife: "Can any one
wonder that there seems something missing in America when he spends the
winter in Germany?"

She shook her head. "I never mean to find out what America is like when
he is out of it," said she.

Burns regarded them both. "And I suppose you think you and Mrs. John
Leaver are just such another pair?" he said then, to his friend.

"Just such another," was the decided answer.

The car came to a standstill before a stately stone house, its walls
heavy with English ivy. In another minute the entrance doors were open,
and the party were inside. A radiant figure in white was clasping Ellen
Burns in eager arms, while a blithe voice cried:

"Oh, my dear, this is so good, so good of you! We couldn't be entirely
satisfied until we had seen you here!"

"Seeing _you_ here," declared Burns, shaking hands vigorously, when his
turn came, and regarding Charlotte with approving eyes, "reminds me of
one of Jack Leaver's favourite old maxims, which he used unsparingly
while he was chumming with me: 'A place for everything and everything in
its place.' The demonstration of that, raised to the nth power, is
certainly what I now see before me!"

Charlotte's glowing eyes met her husband's fixed upon her. She gave him
back his smile before she answered Burns:

"Thank you, Dr. Red Pepper. Your approval was all that was lacking."

"Didn't I cable my approval with a reckless disregard of expense?"

"Indeed you did. But you couldn't cable the italics that are in your
face--and it was the italics that we wanted!"

Upstairs in the rooms of old-time elegance and comfort to which Charlotte
assigned them, Burns demanded to know how such quarters looked to his
wife.

"You could put our whole house into that great living-room of theirs," he
asserted. "As for these two rooms, they would take in our whole upper
story. Don't you suppose stopping here will make you feel cramped at
home?"

Ellen, arranging her hair before a low dressing-table of priceless old
mahogany, shook her head at him in the mirror.

"Not a bit," she denied.

"You used to live in a home like this one."

"Not nearly so fine. Dr. Leaver is a rich man by inheritance, entirely
apart from his practice. Between the two he must have a very large yearly
income. My family was not a rich one, only--"

"Only old and distinguished. Leaver has both--family and money. Not to
mention power. Your friend Charlotte ought to be a happy woman."

"She surely ought, and is. But not happier than the woman you see before
you."

Burns came close, lifted a strand of silky dark hair and drew it through
his fingers. Then he stooped and put it to his lips.

"You stand by the country doctor, do you?" he murmured.

"Always and forever, dear."

"And yet you are a city woman, born and bred."

"What has that to do with it? I should rather drive in the Green Imp over
the country hills with you than ride in the most superb limousine in
Baltimore--with any one else."

He gathered her close in his arms for a minute. "Begone, dull envy,"
said he. "From this moment I'll rejoice with Jack over every worldly
possession and envy him nothing, not even the power to give his wife
everything the world counts riches."

They went down to such a dinner as such homes are famous for. The
candle-light from the fine old family candelabra fell upon four faces
brilliant with the mature youthfulness which marks the years about the
early thirties, the richest years of all yet lived. The splendid colour
of the crimson roses in the centre of the table was not richer in its
bloom than that in Charlotte's cheeks, nor the sparkle of the lights more
attractive than that in Ellen's dark eyes. As for the two men--all the
possible achievement of forceful manhood seemed written in their faces,
so different in feature and colouring, so alike in the look of dominant
purpose and the power born of will and untiring labour.

During dinner a telephone call summoned Leaver to a consultation.
Immediately at its close he went away, carrying Burns with him.

"You can't take me to a consultation, Jack," Burns had objected, with,
however, a betraying light of eagerness in his eye. He had been four
months away from work--he was hungry for it as a starving man for food.

"Can't I?" Leaver answered, coolly. "Come along and see. It's a chance
to give the patient the opinion of an eminent specialist just back from
Berlin."

"I'm no specialist."

"Aren't you? I think you are. Specialist in human nature, which, if the
reports of this case are true, is the particular sort of diagnosis called
for. Trust me, Red, and--put on your gloves!"

Burns had grinned over this suggestion. He hated gloves and seldom
wore them, but out of consideration for his friend--and Baltimore--he
extracted a pair of irreproachable ones, fresh from Berlin, and donned
them, with only a derisive word for the uselessness of externals as
practised by city professionals.

Left alone with Charlotte, in a pleasant corner of a stately library, by
an open window through which she had watched the departure of the two men
in the landau, Ellen turned to her.

"I can't tell you," she said, "how happy it makes me to see your
happiness. John Leaver is so exactly the man, out of all the world, who
is the husband for you. From all I know of you both, it seems to me
I never saw a pair more perfectly mated."

"I'm glad it looks so from the outside," breathed Charlotte, softly. She
too had watched the departing pair; waving her hand as her husband, under
the electric light at the entrance, had turned to lift his hat and signal
farewell. She still stood by the window, through which the soft air of
the May night touched her warm cheek and stirred the lace about her white
shoulders. "From the inside--O Len,--I can't tell you how it looks! I
didn't know there was such glory in the world!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you think this fellow has done?" cried Red Pepper Burns,
returning with his host at midnight. He towered in the doorway, looking
in at his wife and Charlotte. From over his shoulder Leaver looked in
also, smiling. "He's arranged for me to operate on one of his most
critical cases to-morrow morning at his clinic. The country surgeon! Did
you ever hear of such effrontery? I may be ridden out of town on a rail
by to-morrow noon!"

"Hear the man! He looks like a country surgeon, doesn't he?" challenged
Leaver, advancing. "London-made clothes, Bond-street neckwear, scarfpin
from Rome, general air of confidence and calm. I assure you I was
nowhere, when the family of my patient saw the lately arrived specialist
from Berlin."

"It's not on that patient I'm to do violence," Burns explained, at
Ellen's look of astonishment. "He's just mixing things up on purpose.
It's a charity case for mine--but none the less honour, on that account.
I have a chance to try out a certain new method, adapted from one I saw
used for the first time abroad. If it doesn't work I'll--drop several
pegs in my own estimation, and in self-confidence."

"It will work," said Leaver, "in your hands. The country surgeon is going
to surprise one or two of my colleagues to-morrow."

The morrow came. Charlotte and Ellen drove with the two men to the
hospital, and watched them disappear within its bare but kindly walls.

"How they can do it!" observed Charlotte, as the car went on. "I'm
proud of them that they can, but the eagerness with which they approach
such work, the quiet and coolness, and the way they bear the suspense
afterward when the result is still doubtful,--oh, isn't it a wonderful
profession?"

At noon they returned in the car to the hospital. It was some time before
Leaver and Burns emerged, but when they did it was easy for the two who
awaited them to infer that all had gone well.

"It's a pity to bring this suggestive odour out to you untainted ones,"
said Burns, as he took his place opposite Charlotte, "but it can't be
helped. And as we bring also the news that Jack Leaver has brought down
the hospital roof with applause this morning, you won't mind."

"What did he do?" Charlotte asked, eagerly.

Burns briefly described the case--without describing it at all--after the
manner of the profession when enlightening the laity. He brought out
clearly, however, the fact that Leaver had attacked with great skill and
success several exceedingly difficult problems, and that his fellow
surgeons had been generous enough to concede to him all the honour which
was his due.

"And now--what about your case?" Charlotte asked, realizing suddenly what
the morning's experience was to have been to Burns himself.

"Died on the table," said Burns, with entire coolness. His face had
sobered at the question, but his expression was by no means crestfallen.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Charlotte began, earnestly.

But her husband interrupted her. "No condolences are due, dear. He gave a
dying man the most merciful sort of euthanasia, and at the same time
demonstrated a new method as daring as it was triumphant. With a case
taken a month earlier it would have saved a life. The demonstration is a
contribution to science. If he received no applause it was because we
don't applaud in the presence of death, but there was not a man there
who didn't realize that in certain lines the country surgeon could give
them a long handicap and still win."

Burns looked out of the window without speaking. His sea-tanned face
showed a deeper shade under Leaver's praise. Leaver himself smiled at the
averted profile of his friend, and went on, while Ellen looked at him as
if he had given her something which money could not buy.

"I wish," said John Leaver, laying a firm-knit hand on Burns's knee,
"you'd come to Baltimore, Red. Between us we'd do some things pretty well
worth doing. Without undue conceit I think I could promise you a backing
to start on that would give you a place in a twelvemonth that couldn't be
taken away from you in a decade. Why not? It's a beautiful city to live
in. Your wife is a Southerner, born and bred; it would be home to her
among our people. My wife and I care more for your friendship than for
that of any other people on earth. What is friendship for, if not to make
the most of?"

Burns turned and looked at him, then at his wife, then back at Leaver.
There was a strange expression in his hazel eyes; they seemed suddenly on
fire beneath the heavy dark eyebrows. He took off his hat and ran his
hand through his coppery thick locks. Then:

"Are you serious, Jack?" he questioned. "Or are you trying the biggest
kind of a bluff?"

"Absolutely serious. How should I be anything else? You taught me certain
values up at your home last summer--you and Mrs. Burns. One was, as I
have said, the worth of a big, true friendship. I've been thinking of
this thing a long time. It's not the result of your performance this
morning. If you had failed entirely in that particular attempt my faith
in you would not have been shaken a particle, nor my desire to have you
associated with me here. But there's no denying that what you did this
morning would easily make an entering wedge for you. Why not take
advantage of it? Will you think it over?"

Burns looked again at his wife. Her eyes held an expression as beautiful
as it was inscrutable. He could not read it.

He turned back to Leaver. "Yes, we'll think it over," he said briefly.
Then he looked out of the window again. "What's the name of this park?"
he asked.

The conversation veered to follow his lead. It was not resumed during the
drive home, nor again that day, between the four. It cannot be denied
that the subject was discussed by John Leaver and Charlotte through
varying degrees of hopefulness and enthusiasm. As for Burns and Ellen--

In their own quarters that night Burns threw a plump silk couch-pillow
upon the floor at Ellen's feet, and himself upon it, by her knee, as
she sat in a big chair by the open window. She was still wearing the
Parisian-made gown of the evening, with which she had delighted the eyes
of them all. It was the one such gown she had allowed herself to bring
home, treating herself to its beauty for its own sake, rather than
because she could find much use for it in her quiet home.

Burns put up one hand and gently smoothed the silken fabric upon Ellen's
knee.

"This is a beauty of a frock," said he. "I can't tell you what you look
like in it; I've been trying to find a simile all the evening. Yet it's
not the clothes that become you; you become the clothes."

"Thank you. That's a dear compliment--from a husband."

"It's sincere. You've worn such clothes a lot, in your life, before I
knew you. You are used to them--at home in them. If we came to Baltimore,
and I made good, you would have plenty of use for dresses like this. You
would queen it, here."

She smiled, shaking her head. "Taking one's place in society in any
Southern city isn't quite such a foregone conclusion, dear," she said.
"Not for strangers from the North."

"With the Leavers to vouch for us, and your own personality, I don't
imagine it would be a matter of tremendous difficulty. Even the country
surgeon could get along without smashing many usages, under your tuition.
Besides, you have the acquaintance of some of the--what do they call
them?--'best people,' was the term, I believe, Jack used to me. It's a
curious phrase, by the way, isn't it? Doesn't mean at all what it says!"

"Not quite--always."

He looked at her. "Would you like to come?" he asked, bluntly.

"What about you?"

"I would rather you answered first."

"I decline to answer first. The offer is made to you, not me. You are the
head of the house, the breadwinner. It is for you to decide."

"I can't decide without reference to you."

"You needn't. When you tell me what you want I will tell you what I
want."

He was silent for a little. Then suddenly he got to his feet, walked up
and down the room a few times, and came back to stand before her.

"My little wife," he said, "if I thought you would be happier--"

"I shouldn't."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. If you wanted very much to come it would influence me, of
course. But doubting that--"

"Why do you doubt it? Shouldn't I be lacking in ambition if I failed to
take advantage of such a chance? It is a chance, Ellen,--the chance of a
lifetime. Jack means precisely what he says, and he could give me such a
backing as would insure me a tremendous start."

"Just the same, Red, you don't want to come!"

"No, I don't," he owned, bluntly. "But why don't I? Is something wrong
with me?"

"Not at all. You have made a large place for yourself at home; you do all
any man could do anywhere. And you are happy there. You wouldn't be happy
here, because you would have to alter your simple way of living. And if
you were not happy, neither should I be. Why should we change conditions
in which we are both entirely content, and in which you are accomplishing
just as much benefit to humanity as you could anywhere?"

"Ah, but that's the question. Couldn't I accomplish more here?"

"Is human life more valuable here than there?"

"Not a whit."

"Could you save more of it?"

"I doubt it."

"We should have to leave Sunny Farm." She looked up at him with a smile.

"We should." He shook his head. "You would be sorry to do that?"

"So sorry that I can't possibly think of it. Dear,--make your decision!"

"I will. We will stay where we are."

He gathered her close and kissed her tenderly.

"A place for everything, and everything in its place," he quoted once
more. "The place for Jack and Charlotte is here--unquestionably. The
place for Ellen and Red is there. I believe it. Jack's offer didn't shake
my belief for a minute, as far as I am concerned. It did put into my mind
the question whether I ought not to make the change for your sake."

"I don't believe," she said slowly, "that a man is often called upon to
leave the place where he can be most useful, on account of his wife's
tastes or preferences--providing nothing more serious is involved. And,
when her tastes and preferences are on his side of the question, there
can be no doubt at all. You may be at rest, Red, for I'm sure I'm
happiest to live your life with you, just as it is best for you to live
it. And I love my country surgeon so well I don't want him made over into
anything else. I can't believe he'd be so satisfactory in any other
shape!"

Red Pepper Burns gently released himself from his wife's arms, walked
over to the window, and stood there looking out into the thick branches
of a magnolia tree, the ends of which came so close he could almost put
out a hand into the night and touch them. There was suddenly upon him a
deep realization of just how much her words meant. He felt unworthy of a
love like that, even though he knew that all there was of him to give was
wholly hers.

She stood, motionless, looking after him, her eyes touched with a lovely
light, but she did not move. And, presently, when he had conquered the
curious stricture which had unexpectedly attacked his throat, he turned
and saw her there, an exquisite figure in the French gown which she could
seldom have occasion to wear where she had chosen to live out her life
with him. Both understood that the decision they had made was made for
a lifetime, as such decisions are.

"I believe I could take it better," said he, somewhat unsteadily, "if you
weren't wearing that confounded dress. It makes me feel like what Jim
Macauley dubbed me once--a Turk. Who am I, that I should keep you hidden
away in my little old brick house?"

She turned and caught up a long gauzy scarf of white silk with heavy
fringed ends. She drew it lightly about her shoulders, veiling the
delicate flesh from his sight. Then she flung one end of the scarf up
over her head and face, and came toward him, her dark eyes showing
mistily through the drapery, her lips smiling.

"I'm not sure I don't like being guarded by my Turk, Red," she said.
"And--about the frock." She came closer still, standing before him with
downbent head, and speaking low, through the veiling, silken gauze.
"Please don't mind about that. I'm going to leave it behind with
Charlotte. I shall not care to wear it. When next May comes I hope I
shall be wearing only simple frocks that--little hands can't spoil!"

With a low ejaculation he tore off the scarf, seizing her head in both
his hands and gently forcing her face upward that he might look into it.
For a minute his eyes questioned hers, then--

"And you're happy about it?" he asked of her breathlessly.

"I was never so happy in my life.... O Red--are you so glad as that?"

"I think I've been waiting for that all my life," confessed Red Pepper
Burns.


THE END

       *       *       *       *       *


OTHER BOOKS BY GRACE S. RICHMOND

Red Pepper Burns

Strawberry Acres

Brotherly House

A Court of Inquiry

On Christmas Day in the Morning

On Christmas Day in the Evening

Round the Corner in Gay Street

With Juliet in England

The Indifference of Juliet

The Second Violin





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