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Grace S. Richmond.

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E-text prepared by Suzanne Shell, Irma Spehar, and the Project Gutenberg
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RED PEPPER'S PATIENTS

With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular

by

GRACE S. RICHMOND

Garden City New York
Doubleday, Page & Company

1918







[Illustration: FRONTISPIECE]



[Illustration: "Red Pepper" Burns, M.D.]




CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. AN INTELLIGENT PRESCRIPTION

II. LITTLE HUNGARY

III. ANNE LINTON'S TEMPERATURE

IV. TWO RED HEADS

V. SUSQUEHANNA

VI. HEAVY LOCAL MAILS

VII. WHITE LILACS

VIII. EXPERT DIAGNOSIS

IX. JORDAN IS A MAN

X. THE SURGICAL FIRING LINE

XI. THE ONLY SAFE PLACE

XII. THE TRUTH ABOUT SUSQUEHANNA

XIII. RED HEADED AGAIN

XIV. A STRANGE DAY

XV. CLEARED DECKS

XVI. WHITE LILACS AGAIN

XVII. RED'S DEAREST PATIENTS





CHAPTER I


AN INTELLIGENT PRESCRIPTION

The man in the silk-lined, London-made overcoat, holding his hat firmly
on his head lest the January wind send its expensive perfection into the
gutter, paused to ask his way of the man with no overcoat, his hands
shoved into his ragged pockets, his shapeless headgear crowded down over
his eyes, red and bleary with the piercing wind.

"Burns?" repeated the second man to the question of the first. "Doc
Burns? Sure! Next house beyond the corner - the brick one." He turned to
point. "Tell it by the rigs hitched. It's his office hours. You'll do
some waitin', tell ye that."

The questioner smiled - a slightly superior smile. "Thank you," he said,
and passed on. He arrived at the corner and paused briefly, considering
the row of vehicles in front of the old, low-lying brick house with its
comfortable, white-pillared porches. The row was indeed a formidable
one and suggested many waiting people within the house. But after an
instant's hesitation he turned up the gravel path toward the wing of the
house upon whose door could be seen the lettering of an inconspicuous
sign. As he came near he made out that the sign read "R.P. Burns, M.D.,"
and that the table of office hours below set forth that the present hour
was one of those designated.

"I'll get a line on your practice, Red," said the stranger to himself,
and laid hand upon the doorbell. "Incidentally, perhaps, I'll get a line
on why you stick to a small suburban town like this when you might be in
the thick of things. A fellow whom I've twice met in Vienna, too. I
can't understand it."

A fair-haired young woman in a white uniform and cap admitted the
newcomer and pointed him to the one chair left unoccupied in the large
and crowded waiting-room. It was a pleasant room, in a well-worn sort of
way, and the blazing wood fire in a sturdy fireplace, the rows of
dull-toned books cramming a solid phalanx of bookcases, and a number of
interesting old prints on the walls gave it, as the stranger, lifting
critical eyes, was obliged to admit to himself, a curious air of dignity
in spite of the mingled atmosphere of drugs and patients which assailed
his fastidious nostrils. As for the patients themselves, since they
were all about him, he could hardly do less than observe them, although
he helped himself to a late magazine from a well-filled table at his
side and mechanically turned its pages.

The first to claim his attention was a little girl at his elbow. She
could hardly fail to catch his eye, she was so conspicuous with
bandages. One eye, one cheek, the whole of her neck, and both her hands
were swathed in white, but the other cheek was rosy, and the uncovered
eye twinkled bravely as she smiled at the stranger. "I was burned," she
said proudly.

"I see," returned the stranger, speaking very low, for he was conscious
that the entire roomful of people was listening. "And you are getting
better?"

"Oh, yes!" exulted the child. "Doctor's making me have new skin. He gets
me more new skin every day. I didn't have any at all. It was all burned
off."

"That's very good of him," murmured the stranger.

"He's awful good," said the child, "when he isn't cross. He isn't ever
cross to me, Doctor isn't."

There was a general murmur of amusement in the room, and another child,
not far away, laughed aloud. The stranger furtively scrutinized the
other patients one by one, lifting apparently casual glances from
behind his magazine. Several, presumably the owners of the vehicles
outside, were of the typical village type, but there were others more
sophisticated, and several who were palpably persons of wealth. One late
comer was admitted who left a luxuriously appointed motor across the
street, and brought in with her an atmosphere of costly furs and violets
and fresh air.

"Certainly a mixed crowd," said the stranger to himself behind his
magazine; "but not so different, after all, from most doctors'
waiting-room crowds. I might send in a card, but, if I remember Red, it
wouldn't get me anything - and this is rather interesting anyhow. I'll
wait."

He waited, for he wished the waiting room to be clear when he should
approach that busy consulting room beyond. Meanwhile, people came and
went. The door into the inner room would swing open, a patient would
emerge, a curt but pleasant "Good-bye" in a deep voice following him or
her out, and the fair-haired nurse, who sat at a desk near the door or
came out of the consulting room with the patient, would summon the next.
The lady of the furs and violets sent in her card, but, as the stranger
had anticipated in his own case, it procured her no more than an
assurance from the nurse that Doctor Burns would see her in due course.
Since he wanted the coast clear the stranger, when at last his turn
arrived, politely waived his rights, sent the furs and violets in before
him, and sat alone with the nurse in the cleared waiting room.

A comparatively short period of time elapsed before the consulting-room
door opened once more. But it closed again - almost - and a few words
reached the outer room.

"Oh, but you're hard - hard, Doctor Burns! I simply can't do it," said a
plaintive voice.

"Then don't expect me to accomplish anything. It's up to
you - absolutely," replied a brusque voice, which then softened slightly
as it added: "Cheer up. You can, you know. Good-bye."

The patient came out, her lips set, her eyes lowered, and left the
office as if she wanted nothing so much as to get away. The nurse rose
and began to say that Doctor Burns would now see his one remaining
caller, but at that moment Doctor Burns himself appeared in the doorway,
glanced at the stranger, who had risen, smiling - and the need for an
intermediary between physician and patient vanished before the onslaught
of the physician himself.

"My word! Gardner Coolidge! Well, well - if this isn't the greatest thing
on earth. My dear fellow!"

The stranger, no longer a stranger, with his hand being wrung like
that, with his eyes being looked into by a pair of glowing hazel eyes
beneath a heavy thatch of well-remembered coppery hair, returned this
demonstration of affection with equal fervour.

"I've been sitting in your stuffy waiting room, Red, till the entire
population of this town should tell you its aches, just for the pleasure
of seeing you with the professional manner off."

Burns threw back his head and laughed, with a gesture as of flinging
something aside. "It's off then, Cooly - if I have one. I didn't know I
had. How are you? Man, but it's good to see you! Come along out of this
into a place that's not stuffy. Where's your bag? You didn't leave it
anywhere?"

"I can't stay, Red - really I can't. Not this time. I must go to-night.
And I came to consult you professionally - so let's get that over first."

"Of course. Just let me speak a word to the authorities. You'll at least
be here for dinner? Step into the next room, Cooly. On your way let me
present you to my assistant, Miss Mathewson, whom I couldn't do without.
Mr. Coolidge, Miss Mathewson."

Gardner Coolidge bowed to the office nurse, whom he had already
classified as a very attractively superior person and well worth a good
salary; then went on into the consulting room, where an open window had
freshened the small place beyond any possibility of its being called
stuffy. As he closed the window with a shiver and looked about him,
glancing into the white-tiled surgery beyond; he recognized the fact
that, though he might be in the workshop of a village practitioner, it
was a workshop which did not lack the tools of the workman thoroughly
abreast of the times.

Burns came back, his face bright with pleasure in the unexpected
appearance of his friend. He stood looking across the small room at
Coolidge, as if he could get a better view of the whole man at a little
distance. The two men were a decided contrast to each other. Redfield
Pepper Burns, known to all his intimates, and to many more who would not
have ventured to call him by that title, as "Red Pepper Burns," on
account of the combination of red head, quick temper, and wit which were
his most distinguishing characteristics of body and mind, was a stalwart
fellow whose weight was effectually kept down by his activity. His white
linen office jacket was filled by powerful shoulders, and the perfectly
kept hands of the surgeon gave evidence, as such hands do, of their
delicacy of touch, in the very way in which Burns closed the door behind
him.

Gardner Coolidge was of a different type altogether. As tall as Burns,
he looked taller because of his slender figure and the distinctive
outlines of his careful dress. His face was dark and rather thin,
showing sensitive lines about the eyes and mouth, and a tendency to
melancholy in the eyes themselves, even when lighted by a smile, as now.
He was manifestly the man of worldly experience, with fastidious tastes,
and presumably one who did not accept the rest of mankind as comrades
until proved and chosen.

"So it's my services you want?" questioned Burns. "If that's the case,
then it's here you sit."

"Face to the light, of course," objected Coolidge with a grimace. "I
wonder if you doctors know what a moral advantage as well as a physical
one that gives you."

"Of course. The moral advantage is the one we need most. Anybody can see
when a skin is jaundiced; but only by virtue of that moral standpoint
can we detect the soul out of order. And that's the matter with you,
Cooly."

"What!" Coolidge looked startled. "I knew you were a man who jumped to
conclusions in the old days - "

"And acted on them, too," admitted Burns. "I should say I did. And got
myself into many a scrape thereby, of course. Well, I jump to
conclusions now, in just the same way, only perhaps with a bit more
understanding of the ground I jump on. However, tell me your symptoms
in orthodox style, please, then we'll have them out of the way."

Coolidge related them somewhat reluctantly because, as he went on, he
was conscious that they did not appear to be of as great importance as
this visit to a physician seemed to indicate he thought them. The most
impressive was the fact that he was unable to get a thoroughly good
night's sleep except when physically exhausted, which in his present
manner of life he seldom was. When he had finished and looked around - he
had been gazing out of the window - he found himself, as he had known he
should, under the intent scrutiny of the eyes he was facing.

"What did the last man give you for this insomnia?" was the abrupt
question.

"How do you know I have been to a succession of men?" demanded Coolidge
with a touch of evident irritation.

"Because you come to me. We don't look up old friends in the profession
until the strangers fail us," was the quick reply.

"More hasty conclusions. Still, I'll have to admit that I let our family
physician look me over, and that he suggested my seeing a nerve
man - Allbright. He has rather a name, I believe?"

"Sure thing. What did he recommend?"

"A long sea voyage. I took it - having nothing else to do - and slept a
bit better while I was away. The minute I got back it was the old
story."

"Nothing on your mind, I suppose?" suggested Burns.

"I supposed you'd ask me that stock question. Why shouldn't there be
something on my mind? Is there anybody whose mind is free from a weight
of some sort?" demanded Gardner Coolidge. His thin face flushed a
little.

"Nobody," admitted Burns promptly. "The question is whether the weight
on yours is one that's got to stay there or whether you may be rid of
it. Would you care to tell me anything about it? I'm a pretty old
friend, you know."

Coolidge was silent for a full minute, then he spoke with evident
reluctance: "It won't do a particle of good to tell, but I suppose, if I
consult you, you have a right to know the facts. My wife - has gone back
to her father."

"On a visit?" Burns inquired.

Coolidge stared at him. "That's like you, Red," he said, irritation in
his voice again. "What's the use of being brutal?"

"Has she been gone long enough for people to think it's anything more
than a visit?"

"I suppose not. She's been gone two months. Her home is in California."

"Then she can be gone three without anybody's thinking trouble. By the
end of that third month you can bring her home," said Burns comfortably.
He leaned back in his swivel-chair, and stared hard at the ceiling.

Coolidge made an exclamation of displeasure and got to his feet. "If you
don't care to take me seriously - " he began.

"I don't take any man seriously who I know cared as much for his wife
when he married her as you did for Miss Carrington - and whose wife was
as much in love with him as she was with you - when he comes to me and
talks about her having gone on a visit to her father. Visits are good
things; they make people appreciate each other."

"You don't - or won't - understand." Coolidge evidently strove hard to
keep himself quiet. "We have come to a definite understanding that we
can't - get on together. She's not coming back. And I don't want her to."

Burns lowered his gaze from the ceiling to his friend's face, and the
glance he now gave him was piercing. "Say that last again," he demanded.

"I have some pride," replied the other haughtily, but his eyes would not
meet Burns's.

"So I see. Pride is a good thing. So is love. Tell me you don't love her
and I'll - No, don't tell me that. I don't want to hear you perjure
yourself. And I shouldn't believe you. You may as well own up" - his
voice was gentle now - "that you're suffering - and not only with hurt
pride." There was silence for a little. Then Burns began again, in a
very low and quiet tone: "Have you anything against her, Cooly?"

The man before him, who was still standing, turned upon him. "How can
you ask me such a question?" he said fiercely.

"It's a question that has to be asked, just to get it out of the way.
Has she anything against you?"

"For heaven's sake - no! You know us both."

"I thought I did. Diagnosis, you know, is a series of eliminations. And
now I can eliminate pretty nearly everything from this case except a
certain phrase you used a few minutes ago. I'm inclined to think it's
the cause of the trouble." Coolidge looked his inquiry. "'_Having
nothing else to do._'"

Coolidge shook his head. "You're mistaken there. I have plenty to do."

"But nothing you couldn't be spared from - unless things have changed
since the days when we all envied you. You're still writing your name on
the backs of dividend drafts, I suppose?"

"Red, you are something of a brute," said Coolidge, biting his lip. But
he had taken the chair again.

"I know," admitted Red Pepper Burns. "I don't really mean to be, but the
only way I can find out the things I need to know is to ask straight
questions. I never could stand circumlocution. If you want that, Cooly;
if you want what are called 'tactful' methods, you'll have to go to some
other man. What I mean by asking you that one is to prove to you that
though you may have something to do, you have no job to work at. As it
happens you haven't even what most other rich men have, the trouble of
looking after your income - and as long as your father lives you won't
have it. I understand that; he won't let you. But there's a man with a
job - your father. And he likes it so well he won't share it with you. It
isn't the money he values, it's the job. And collecting books or curios
or coins can never be made to take the place of good, downright hard
work."

"That may be all true," acknowledged Coolidge, "but it has nothing to do
with my present trouble. My leisure was not what - " He paused, as if he
could not bear to discuss the subject of his marital unhappiness.

The telephone bell in the outer office rang sharply. An instant later
Miss Mathewson knocked, and gave a message to Burns. He read it,
nodded, said "Right away," and turned back to his friend.

"I have to leave you for a bit," he said. "Come in and meet my wife and
one of the kiddies. The other's away just now. I'll be back in time for
dinner. Meanwhile, we'll let the finish of this talk wait over for an
hour or two. I want to think about it."

He exchanged his white linen office-jacket for a street coat, splashing
about with soap and water just out of sight for a little while before he
did so, and reappeared looking as if he had washed away the fatigue of
his afternoon's work with the physical process. He led Gardner Coolidge
out of the offices into a wide separating hall, and the moment the door
closed behind him the visitor felt as if he had entered a different
world.

Could this part of the house, he thought, as Burns ushered him into the
living room on the other side of the hall and left him there while he
went to seek his wife, possibly be contained within the old brick walls
of the exterior? He had not dreamed of finding such refinement of beauty
and charm in connection with the office of the village doctor. In half a
dozen glances to right and left Gardner Coolidge, experienced in
appraising the belongings of the rich and travelled of superior taste
and breeding, admitted to himself that the genius of the place must be
such a woman as he would not have imagined Redfield Pepper Burns able
to marry.

He had not long to wait for the confirmation of his insight. Burns
shortly returned, a two-year-old boy on his shoulder, his wife
following, drawn along by the child's hand. Coolidge looked, and liked
that which he saw. And he understood, with one glance into the dark eyes
which met his, one look at the firm sweetness of the lovely mouth, that
the heart of the husband must safely trust in this woman.

Burns went away at once, leaving Coolidge in the company of Ellen, and
the guest, eager though he was for the professional advice he had come
to seek, could not regret the necessity which gave him this hour with a
woman who seemed to him very unusual. Charm she possessed in full
measure, beauty in no less, but neither of these terms nor both together
could wholly describe Ellen Burns. There was something about her which
seemed to glow, so that he soon felt that her presence in the quietly
rich and restful living room completed its furnishing, and that once
having seen her there the place could never be quite at its best without
her.

Burns came back, and the three went out to dinner. The small boy, a
handsome, auburn-haired, brown-eyed composite of his parents, had been
sent away, the embraces of both father and mother consoling him for his
banishment to the arms of a coloured mammy. Coolidge thoroughly enjoyed
the simple but appetizing dinner, of the sort he had known he should
have as soon as he had met the mistress of the house. And after it he
was borne away by Burns to the office.

"I have to go out again at once," the physician announced. "I'm going to
take you with me. I suppose you have a distaste for the sight of
illness, but that doesn't matter seriously. I want you to see this
patient of mine."

"Thank you, but I don't believe that's necessary," responded Coolidge
with a frown. "If Mrs. Burns is too busy to keep me company I'll sit
here and read while you're out."

"No, you won't. If you consult a man you're bound to take his
prescriptions. I'm telling you frankly, for you'd see through me if I
pretended to take you out for a walk and then pulled you into a house.
Be a sport, Cooly."

"Very well," replied the other man, suppressing his irritation. He was
almost, but not quite, wishing he had not yielded to the unexplainable
impulse which had brought him here to see a man who, as he should have
known from past experience in college days, was as sure to be eccentric
in his methods of practising his profession as he had been in the
conduct of his life as a student.

The two went out into the winter night together, Coolidge remarking that
the call must be a brief one, for his train would leave in a little more
than an hour.

"It'll be brief," Burns promised. "It's practically a friendly call
only, for there's nothing more I can do for the patient - except to see
him on his way."

Coolidge looked more than ever reluctant. "I hope he's not just leaving
the world?"

"What if he were - would that frighten you? Don't be worried; he'll not
go to-night."

Something in Burns's tone closed his companion's lips. Coolidge resented
it, and at the same time he felt constrained to let the other have his
way. And after all there proved to be nothing in the sight he presently
found himself witnessing to shock the most delicate sensibilities.

It was a little house to which Burns conducted his friend and latest
patient; it was a low-ceiled, homely room, warm with lamplight and
comfortable with the accumulations of a lifetime carefully preserved. In
the worn, old, red-cushioned armchair by a glowing stove sat an aged
figure of a certain dignity and attractiveness in spite of the lines and
hues plainly showing serious illness. The man was a man of education
and experience, as was evident from his first words in response to
Burns's greeting.

"It was kind of you to come again to-night, Doctor. I suspect you know
how it shortens the nights to have this visit from you in the evening."

"Of course I know," Burns responded, his hand resting gently on the
frail shoulder, his voice as tender as that of a son's to a father whom
he knows he is not long to see.

There was a woman in the room, an old woman with a pathetic face and
eyes like a mourning dog's as they rested on her husband. But her voice
was cheerful and full of quiet courage as she answered Burns's
questions. The pair received Gardner Coolidge as simply as if they were
accustomed to meet strangers every day, spoke with him a little, and
showed him the courtesy of genuine interest when he tried to entertain
them with a brief account of an incident which had happened on his train
that day. Altogether, there was nothing about the visit which he could
have characterized as painful from the point of view of the layman who
accompanies the physician to a room where it is clear that the great
transition is soon to take place. And yet there was everything about it
to make it painful - acutely painful - to any man whose discernment was
naturally as keen as Coolidge's.

That the parting so near at hand was to be one between lovers of long
standing could be read in every word and glance the two gave each other.
That they were making the most of these last days was equally apparent,
though not a word was said to suggest it. And that the man who was
conducting them through the fast-diminishing time was dear to them as a
son could have been read by the very blind.

"It's so good of you - so good of you, Doctor," they said again as Burns
rose to go, and when he responded: "It's good to myself I am, my dears,
when I come to look at you," the smiles they gave him and each other
were very eloquent.

Outside there was silence between the two men for a little as they
walked briskly along, then Coolidge said reluctantly: "Of course I
should have a heart of stone if I were not touched by that scene - as you
knew I would be."

"Yes, I knew," said Burns simply; and Coolidge saw him lift his hand and
dash away a tear. "It gets me, twice a day regularly, just as if I
hadn't seen it before. And when I go back and look at the woman I love I
say to myself that I'll never let anything but the last enemy come
between us if I have to crawl on my knees before her."

Suddenly Coolidge's throat contracted. His resentment against his friend
was gone. Surely it was a wise physician who had given him that


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