Red Pepper Burns by Grace S. Richmond
Chapter XII. In Which He Has His Own Way
Doc" - Joe Tressler followed Burns down the path, leaving his wife standing in the doorway, her eyes fixed, on the retreating figure of the man who had saved to her her one remaining child - "Doc, we ain't a-goin' to forget this!"
"Neither am I, Joe, for various reasons," replied Burns, watching Johnny Caruthers try the Green Imp's spark. He jumped in beside Johnny and looked back at Joe. "Remember, now, keep things going just as I leave them, and I shall expect to find Letty nearly as well as ever when I see her again. I shall be back in five days. Good-bye."
"I'll be around when you get back, with some money."
Burns looked the man in the eye. "Oh, come, Joe, don't say anything you don't mean."
"I mean it this time, Doe - I sure do. Me and the old woman - we - Letty - " The fellow choked.
"All right, Joe. I'm as glad as you are Letty's safe. Take care of her. Take care of your wife. Do a stroke of good, back-breaking work once in a while. It'll help that tired feeling of yours that's getting to be dangerously chronic. You've no idea, Joe, what a satisfaction it is, now and then, to feel that you've accomplished something. Try it. Good-bye."
He waved his hand at the woman in the door, who responded with a flutter of her dingy apron; which was immediately thereafter applied to her eyes. Within, by the window, a little pale-faced girl hugged a remarkable doll with yellow hair and a red silk frock.
"You'd ought to be pretty proud, Letty Tressler," said the woman, returning to the small convalescent, "to think Doc kissed you when he left. He's been awful good to you, Doc has, and him with that arm in a sling a-bothering him all the time. But I didn't think he'd do that."
"Maybe it's 'cause I'm so clean now," speculated the child weakly. "When he did it he whispered in my ear that he liked clean faces."
"Letty, you ain't goin' to have any kind o' face but a clean face after this, jest on account o' Doc Burns," vowed her mother emotionally, and the child, her doll pressed against her face, nodded.
Far down the road Burns was bidding Johnny Caruthers put on more speed. "We have to make time to-day, Johnny," he explained. "I'm going to get off on that ten-thirty to-night if I have to break my other arm to do it. I don't know that I'd be much more helpless than I am now if I did. Curious, Johnny, how many things there are a man can't do with one hand."
"I should say you could do more with that left hand of yours than most folks can with both," declared young Caruthers, honest admiration in his eye.
Burns laughed - a hearty, care-free laugh. He was in wild spirits, Johnny could see that, and wondered why the Doctor should be so happy over pulling a dead-beat family out of their troubles. Everybody knew Joe Tressler. And Johnny understood that the Doctor had given up going away on Joe's account ten days ago, when he took the case on the eve of his departure. Johnny had seen his employer in all stages of tension since that day, as he had driven him out, at first half-a-dozen times in the twenty-four hours, to this same little old wreck of a house. Johnny had driven him to other houses, also to one especially, in the city, where the lad had sat and speculated much on the extremes of experience in the life of a busy practitioner.
It was to this same house that Johnny took Burns next; a house reached by a long drive through wonderful grounds, to a palace of a home within which the man with his arm in the sling disappeared with precisely the same rather brusque and hurried bearing characteristic of him everywhere. But Johnny could not see within. If he had, his honest eyes might have opened still wider.
On his way upstairs Burns was intercepted by the master of the house.
"You've decided to go with us, Doctor Burns, I hope?" The question was put in the fashion of a person who expects but one answer. But the answer proved to be not that one expected.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do it, Mr. Walworth." Burns's left hand, in the cordial grip which expresses hearty liking, was retained while William Walworth, who was accustomed to be able to arrange all things to his pleasure by the simple expedient of paying whatever it might cost, stared into the bright hazel eyes which met his with their usual straightforward glance.
"Can't'! But you must, my dear Doctor, Pardon me, but I feel that no ordinary considerations can be allowed to stand in the way. My daughter needs your care on this journey. Her mother and I have agreed that her wish to have you with us must be fulfilled. It's an essential factor in her recovery."
"It's not essential at all, Mr. Walworth. Miss Evelyn is well started on the road to full health; she has only to keep on. My going with you would be a mere matter of pleasing her, and that's not in the least necessary."
His smile softened the words which struck upon the ear of the magnate with an unaccustomed sound. Mr. Walworth released Burns's hand, his manner stiffening slightly.
"I must differ with you, Doctor. I feel that at this stage Evelyn's pleasure is a thing to be planned for. She has taken this fancy to have you with us on the Mediterranean cruise. We'll agree to land you and send you home at the end of a couple of months if you positively feel that you can't neglect your practice longer. But let me remind you, Doctor, that your fee will be made to cover all possible income from your practice during that time, and - I shall not be contented to measure its size by that."
It was Burns's turn to stiffen within, if he did not let it show outwardly. He spoke positively and finally. Even William Walworth saw that it would be of no use to urge a man who said quite quietly:
"I've thought it over, as I promised you, and decided against it. I assure you I appreciate the honour you would do me, and I should immensely like the experience. But I know my going is not necessary to Miss Evelyn's recovery, and that's the only thing that could make me hesitate. I'll go up and see her at once, if you will forgive my haste. I have a busy day before me."
William Walworth looked after him as he ran up the stately staircase, and his thoughts were somewhat as Johnny Caruthers's had been. "He's more of a man, crippled like that, than any I know. I wonder why he won't go. I wonder. But he won't, that's settled. Now to appease Evelyn. He'll not find that so easy."
Burns did not find it easy. He sat down beside the convalescent, a patient who had everything on her side with which to win her chosen physician's consent to stay by her till she should be in the possession once more of the blooming beauty which had made her one of the envied of the earth. He told her, in the direct manner he had used with her father, that he could not fall in with their plans.
When he came away he was tingling all over. It had been so plain. She had tried to disguise it, but she was where she could not run to cover, and he had seen it all. It gave him no pleasure: he was not that sort. He was sorry for the girl, but he was not in the least anxious about her. She would get over it; it was not his fault - he was conscience-clear on that. If ever he had been coolly - however kindly - professional in his bearing it had been in this home of great wealth, where it would have gone against his inmost grain to have seemed to court liking. If anything, his orders had been more curt, his concessions fewer, his whole treatment of the case on simpler lines than it might have been in almost any less pretentious home with which he was familiar.
He ran down the stone steps in eager haste to be gone, his vision still engaged with the reproachful look Evelyn's mother had given him when she heard of his incredible refusal to accompany the Walworths on the luxuriously-equipped expedition in search of recuperation and enjoyment for the idolized only daughter. "This settles me with them to the end of time, I suppose," he said to himself. As the car ran down the drive, he straightened his shoulders with a sense of thankfulness that his practice was not often in the homes of the comparatively few people who can afford to buy even that most precious of commodities, the time of others, when that time has been consecrated to certain uses.
"Not going to stop for lunch, Doctor?" inquired young Caruthers anxiously, as the round of calls went on and one o'clock passed, with the Imp in a portion of the city remote from the hotel at which
Burns was accustomed to refresh himself and Johnny when home was out of the question.
"We'll go to the hospital next, and I shall be there a couple of hours. You can go and fill up then. I must be back at the office by four - for engagements."
So the day went. The busy physician who goes out of town for even a five days' vacation must plan for it and do much arranging in various ways. In spite of the fact that it would still be many weeks before Burns could attempt surgery again, he was having plenty to do. Only the determination to get away this time without fail made it possible for him to go. But there would be never a time when he could better be spared, and he meant to let nothing hinder his purpose.
"The arm's coming on well," was Doctor Buller's verdict late that afternoon as he gave the healing member its usual manipulation and massage. "It takes patience to wait, though, doesn't it, Burns? Never tried a broken arm myself, but I should say that hand must be itching to be at work in the operating-room again."
"Itching! It's burning, blistering, scarifying! I never knew how I liked that part of my work till I had to come down to an exclusive practice in pills and plasters. Grayson's doing a stunt to-day that would have driven me mad with envy if I could have stopped to look on. Doing it cleverly, too, by the report I had from Van Horn just now. When Van takes the trouble to praise another man it means something."
"Means it's been forced from him," commented Buller. "Besides, Van enjoys praising Grayson to you. He's enjoyed your smashed arm, too, the old fraud. Was he ever so decent to you before?"
Burns laughed. "You can't strike fire that way today," he declared. "Hold on! You're not going to put that arm back into the splints?"
"Of course I am. It lacks two days yet off the shortest modern regulation period. Come on here."
"Leave 'em off. I'll take the consequences."
"Don't be foolish, man. If I had my way I'd keep the thing put up another full week. I'm not an advocate of this hurry business."
"I am. The arm's well enough to come out. I'll wear it in a sling, but I want my coat sleeve on, and I'm going to have it on. Fix me up, will you? I'm in a hurry."
"You're going on a journey?"
"Yes. Get busy."
"That's the very reason why you should keep that arm out of danger till you get back. Jostling round in a crowd "
"Is this my arm or yours?" thundered Burns.
Buller laughed. "Don't knock me down with it, Pepper-pot. It may be your arm, but you're my patient, and I - "
"Don't you fool yourself. If you won't fix me up I'll go out with it hanging, I can judge my own condition. Will you dress me and put any arm in this sling here, or must I send for Grayson? He's none of your idiotic conservatives."
"Keep quiet, and I'll make you look pretty, little boy. I see - these are new clothes just home from the tailor, and they're an elegant fit. Bully fresh scarf, peach of a pin, brand-new black silk sling - Oh, I say!"
For with his good left arm Burns was threatening his professional friend in a way that looked ominous. But a laugh was in his eye, now that he had got his way, and the altercation ended in a fire of jokes. Then Burns stood up.
"You're a jewel, Buller boy," said he. "You've brought me through in great shape. It was a nasty fracture, and you've given me an arm that'll be as good as new. I'm grateful - you know that. Now, if you'll look over that list I gave you of cases here in the city, and go out once to take a look at Letty Tressler, I'll be ever faithfully yours. Griggs'll see to my village practice. Now I'm off."
"Hope you enjoy your trip. Must be a concentrated pleasure, to be crammed into five days and still make you look like a schoolboy just let out," observed Buller as Burns turned, with his band on the door-knob.
"A dose doesn't have to be big to be powerful," rejoined Burns, opening the door.
"Nitro-glycerin, eh?" Buller called after the departing bulk of his friend. "Don't let it carry you too far up. You might come down with a thud!"
"He's right enough there," was what Burns murmured to himself as he caught the elevator in the great building in which Buller's office was a crowded corner. "I may come down in just that style. But better that than any more of this dead level of suspense. I don't think I could stand that one more day."
He and Johnny Caruthers whirled home in the Imp to find Burns's village office as crowded as Buller's city one. It was late before he could get his dinner, and after it he was kept busy turning calls over to other men. It was the usual experience to have work pile up during the last hours, as if Fate were against his breaking his chains and meant to tie him hand and foot.
'I'm going to get out of this right now," he announced suddenly to Miss Mathewson an hour before train time, as he turned away from a siege over the telephone with one hysterical lady who felt that her life depended upon his remaining to see her through an attack of indigestion. "If I don't, something will come in that will pull hard to keep me home, and I'm not going to be kept. I'll trust you not to look me up for the next hour, for I'll not tell you where I'm going, and you can't guess, you know. Good-bye. Be a good girl."
He wrung her hand, looking at her with that warmth of friendliness which he was accustomed, when in the mood, to bestow on her, recognizing how invaluable she was to him, and never once recking what it meant to her to be so closely associated with him. She answered in her usual quiet way, wishing him a safe journey and bidding him be very careful of the arm, no longer protected except by the silken sign that injury had been done.
"In a crowd, you know, they won't notice the sling," she warned him.
"Won't they? Well, if my trusty left can't protect my battered right I've forgotten my boxing tricks. Don't be anxious about that, little friend. See that Amy Mathewson has a good time in my absence, will you? She's looking just a bit worn, to me."
She smiled, but her eyes did not meet his: she dared not let them. With all his kindness to her he did not often speak with the real affection which was in his voice now. She understood that he was, for some reason, keyed high over his prospective journey even higher than he had been ten days before when on the point of leaving. And she knew well enough where he was going, though he had not told her. It would have taken thirty-six hours to go to Washington, spend a brief time there and return. It was going to take five days to go to South Carolina, remain long enough to transact his business - was it business? - and come back. And there had been no more attempts to write letters by way of an amanuensis. The affection for his assistant in his manner to her was genuine, she did not doubt that, but it did not deceive her for a moment. So, she did not let her eyes meet his. They rested, instead, on the scarfpin which Buller had termed a "peach," but they did not see it. She could not remember when it had been so hard to maintain that quiet control of herself which had long since made her employer cease to reckon with the possibilities of fire beneath.
R. P. Burns stole away with Johnny and the Imp, without so much as letting his neighbours know of his intentions. He had made sure that they were all well; that no incipient scarlet fever or invading measles was threatening them. He smiled to himself as the car went past the Chester house, to think how interested they would be to know where he was going. But he got safely off and nobody opened a door at sound of the Imp to call to him to come in a minute because somebody seemed not quite well.
And then, after all, he ran upon Arthur Chester - and at the city station, to which he had taken the precaution to go, although the ten-thirty stopped for a half-minute at the village. It must be admitted that he tried to dodge his best friend, but he did not succeed. His shoulders were too conspicuous: he could not get away.
"Going to see an out-of-town patient at this hour of night?" queried Chester, coming up warmly interested, as best friends have a trick of being, in spite of all that can be done to avert their curiosity.
"Where else would I be going?"
"I don't know where else, but I doubt if it's to see a patient. There's an air about you that's not professional. You - er - you can't be going to Washington? There's nobody there now."
"No, only a few Government officials and some odds and ends of hangers-on. To be sure, Congress is in session, but there's nobody there. My train's been called, Ches; so long."
"Let me carry your bag." Chester reached for it. "I say, this isn't a tool-kit - this is a stunner of a regulation travelling bag. See here, Red," he was rushing along on the other's side, fairly running to keep up with Burns's strides - "how long are you going to be gone?"
"Long enough to get a change of air. The atmosphere's heavy here with inquisitive people who call themselves your friends. See here, Ches, you're not looking well. You need rest and sleep. Go home and go to bed."
"You're always telling me to go home and go to bed. Not till I see which train you take," panted Chester, his eyes sparkling. "Ha! Going to turn in at Number Four gate, are you? Sorry I can't take your bag inside. Well, possibly I can guess your destination. Got your section clear through to South Carolina? I say, keep your head, old man, keep your head!"
Burns turned about, shook his fist at Arthur Chester, seized his bag, rushed through the gateway and boarded the last of the long string of Pullmans. On the platform he pulled off his hat and waved it at his friend. He could forgive anybody for anything tonight.