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   Chapter 18 THE COUNTRY SURGEON

Mrs. Red Pepper By Grace S. Richmond Characters: 26481

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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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