Grace S. Richmond.

Red Pepper's Patients With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular online

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the end of this unexpected and absorbing adventure. So far none of his
attempts to pave the way for other meetings, in other towns to which she
might be going in the course of her book selling, had resulted in
anything satisfactory. And even now Anne Linton was shaking her head.

"I think I must ask you to take me back now," she said. "I want to come
into the house where I am staying not later than I usually do."

So he had to leave the pleasant, vine-clad porch and take his place
beside her in the car again. It did not seem to him that he was having a
fair chance. But he thought of a plan and proceeded to put it into
execution. He drove steadily and in silence until the lights of the
nearing city were beginning to show faintly in the twilight, with the
sky still rich with colour in the west. Then, at a certain curve in the
road far above the rest of the countryside, he brought the car to a

"I can't bear to go on and end this day," he said in a low voice of
regret. "How can I tell when I shall see you again? Do you realize that
every time I have said a word about our meeting in the future you've
somehow turned me aside? Do you want me to understand that you would
rather never see me again?"

Her face was toward the distant lights, and she did not answer for a
minute. Then she said slowly: "I should like very much to see you again,
Mr. King. But you surely understand that I couldn't make appointments
with you to meet me in other towns. This has happened and it has been
very pleasant, but it wouldn't do to make it keep happening. Even though
I travel about with a book to sell, I - shall never lose the sense
of - being under the protection of a home such as other girls have."

"I wouldn't have you lose it - good heavens, no! I only - well - " And now
he stopped, set his teeth for an instant, and then plunged ahead. "But
there's something I can't lose either, and it's - you!"

She looked at him then, evidently startled. "Mr. King, will you drive
on, please?" she said very quietly, but he felt something in her tone
which for an instant he did not understand. In the next instant he
thought he did understand it.

He spoke hurriedly: "You don't know me very well yet, do you? But I
thought you knew me well enough to know that I wouldn't say a thing like
that unless I meant all that goes with it - and follows it. You see - I
love you. If - if you are not afraid of a man in a plaster jacket - it'll
come off some day, you know - I ask you to marry me."

There was a long silence then, in which King felt his heart pumping
away for dear life. He had taken the bit between his teeth now,
certainly, and offered this girl, of whom he knew less than of any human
being in whom he had the slightest interest, all that he had to give.
Yet - he was so sure he knew her that, the words once out, he realized
that he was glad he had spoken them.

At last she turned toward him. "You are a very brave man," she said,
"and a very chivalrous man."

He laughed rather huskily. "It doesn't take much of either bravery or
chivalry for a man to offer himself to you."

"It must take plenty of both. You are - what you are, in the big world
you live in. And you dare to trust an absolute stranger, whom you have
no means of knowing better, with that name of yours. Think, Mr. Jordan
King, what that name means to you - and to your mother."

"I have thought. And I offer it to you. And I do know what you are. You
can't disguise yourself - any more than the Princess in the fairy tale.
Do you think all those notes I had from you at the hospital didn't tell
the story? I don't know why you are selling books from door to door - and
I don't want to know. What I do understand is - that you are the first of
your family to do it!"

"Mr. King," she said gravely, "women are very clever at one
thing - cleverer than men. With a little study, a little training, a
little education, they can make a brave showing. I have known a shopgirl
who, after six months of living with a very charming society woman,
could play that woman's part without mistake. And when it came to
talking with men of brains, she could even use a few clever phrases and
leave the rest of the conversation to them, and they were convinced of
her brilliant mind."

"You have not been a shopgirl," he said steadily. "You belong in a home
like mine. If you have lost it by some accident, that is only the
fortune of life. But you can't disguise yourself as a commonplace
person, for you're not. And - I can't let you go out of my life - I

Again silence, while the sunset skies slowly faded into the dusky blue
of night, and the lights over the distant city grew brighter and
brighter. A light wind, warmly smoky with the pleasant fragrance of
burning bonfires, touched the faces of the two in the car and blew small
curly strands of hair about Anne Linton's ears.

Presently she spoke. "I am going to promise to write to you now and
then," she said, "and give you each time an address where you may
answer, if you will promise not to come to me. I am going to tell you
frankly that I want your letters."

"You want my letters - but not me?"

"You put more of yourself into your letters than any one else I know. So
in admitting that I want your letters I admit that I want yourself - as a
good friend."

"No more than that?"

"That's quite enough, isn't it, for people who know each other only as
we do?"

"It's not enough for me. If it's enough for you, then - well, it's as I

"What did you think?"

He hesitated, then spoke boldly: "No woman really wants - a mangled human
being for her own."

Impulsively she laid her hand on his. Instantly he grasped it. "Please,"
she said, "will you never say - or think - that, again?"

He gazed eagerly into her face, still duskily visible to his scrutiny.
"I won't," he answered, "if you'll tell me you care for me. Oh, don't
you? - don't you? - not one bit? Just give me a show of a chance and I'll
make you care. I've _got_ to make you care. Why, I've thought of nothing
but you for months - dreamed of you, sleeping and waking. I can't stop;
it's too late. Don't ask me to stop - Anne - dear!"

No woman in her senses could have doubted the sincerity of this young
man. That he was no adept at love making was apparent in the way he
stumbled over his phrases; in the way his voice caught in his throat;
in the way it grew husky toward the last of this impassioned pleading of

He still held her hand close. "Tell me you care - a little," he begged of
her silence.

"No girl can be alone as I am now and not be touched by such words," she
said very gently after a moment's hesitation. "But - promising to marry
you is a different matter. I can't let you rashly offer me so much when
I know what it would mean to you to bring home a - book agent to your

He uttered a low exclamation. "My life is my own, to do with as I
please. If I'm satisfied, that's enough. You are what I want - all I
want. As for my mother - when she knows you - But we'll not talk of that
just yet. What I must know is - do you - can you - care for me - enough to
marry me?" His hand tightened on hers, his voice whispered in her ear:
"Anne, darling - can't you love me? I want you so - oh - I want you so! Let
me kiss you - just once, dear. That will tell you - "

But she drew her hand gently but efficiently away; she spoke firmly,
though very low: "No - no! Listen - Jordan King. Sometime - by next spring
perhaps, I shall be in the place I call home. When that time comes I
will let you know. If you still care to, you may come and see me there.
Now - won't you drive on, please?"

"Yes, if you'll let me - just once - _once_ to live on all those months!
Anne - "

But, when he would have made action and follow close upon the heels of
pleading he found himself gently but firmly prevented by an uplifted
small hand which did not quite touch his nearing face. "Ah, don't spoil
that chivalry of yours," said her mellow, low voice. "Let me go on
thinking you are what I have believed you are all along. Be patient, and
prove whether this is real, instead of snatching at what might dull your

"It wouldn't dull it - only confirm it. And - I want to make you remember

"You have provided that already," she admitted, at which he gave an
ejaculation as of relief - and of longing - and possibly of recognition of
her handling of the whole - from her point of view - rather difficult
situation. At the back of his mind, in spite of his disappointment at
being kept at arm's length when he wanted something much more definite,
was the recognition that here was precisely the show of spirit and
dignity which his judgment approved and admired.

"I'll let you go, if I must; but I'll come to you - if you live in a
hovel - if you live in a cave - if you live - Oh, I know how you live!"

"How do I live?" she asked, laughing a little unsteadily, and as if
there were tears in her eyes, though of this he could not be sure.

"You live in a plain little house, with just a few of the things you
used to have about you; rows of books, a picture or two, and some old
china. Things may be a bit shabby, but everything is beautifully neat,
and there are garden flowers on the table, perhaps white lilacs!"

"Oh, what a romanticist!" she said, through her soft laughter. "One
would think you wrote novels instead of specifications for concrete
walls. What if you come and find me living with my older sister, who
sews for a living, plain sewing, at a dollar a day? And we have a long
credit account at the grocery, which we can't pay? And at night our
little upstairs room is full of neighbours, untidy, loud-talking,
commonplace women? And the lamp smokes - "

"It wouldn't smoke; you would have trimmed it," he answered, quickly and
with conviction. "But, even if it were all like that, you would still be
the perfect thing you are. And I would take you away - "

"If you don't drive on, Mr. King," she interposed gently, "you will soon
be mentally unfit to drive at all. And I must be back before the
darkness has quite fallen. And - don't you think we have talked enough
about ourselves?"

"I like that word," he declared as he obediently set the car in motion.
"Ourselves - that sounds good to me. As long as you keep me with you that
way I'll try to be satisfied. One thing I'm sure of: I've something to
work for now that I didn't have this morning. Oh, I know; you haven't
given me a thing. But you're going to let me come to see you next
spring, and that's worth everything to me. Meanwhile, I'll do my level
best - for you."

* * * * *

When he drew up before the door of the church, where, in spite of his
entreaties that he be allowed to take her to her lodging place, Anne
insisted on being left, he felt, in spite of all he had gained that day,
a sinking of the heart. Though the hour was early and the neighbourhood
at this time of day a quiet one, and though she assured him that she had
not far to go, he was unhappy to leave her thus unaccompanied.

"I wish I could possibly imagine why it must be this way," he said to
himself as he stood hat in hand beside his car, watching Anne Linton's
quickly departing figure grow more and more shadowy as the twilight
enveloped it. "Well, one thing is certain: whatever she does there's a
good and sufficient reason; and I trust her."



Crowding his hat upon his head with a vigorous jerk after his reluctant
parting with Anne Linton at the church door, Jordan King jumped into his
car and made his way slowly through the streets to the hotel where Aleck
awaited him. For the first few miles out of the city he continued to
drive at a pace so moderate that Aleck more than once glanced
surreptitiously at him, wondering if he were actually going to sleep at
the wheel. It was not until they were beyond the last environs and far
out in the open country that, quite suddenly, the car was released from
its unusual restraint and began to fly down the road toward home at the
old wild speed.

Somehow or other, after this encounter, King could not settle down to
his work till he had seen Red Pepper Burns. He could not have explained
why this should be so, for he certainly did not intend to tell his
friend of the meeting with Anne Linton, or of the basis upon which his
affairs now stood. But he wanted to see Burns with a sort of hunger
which would not be satisfied, and he went to look him up one evening
when he himself had returned early from his latest trip to the concrete

He found Burns just setting forth on a drive to see a patient in the
country, and King invited himself to go with him, running his own car
off at one side of the driveway and leaping into Burns's machine with
only a gay by-your-leave apology. But he had not more than slid into his
seat before he found that he was beside a man whom he did not know.

King had long understood that Red Pepper's significant cognomen stood
for the hasty temper which accompanied the coppery hair and hazel eyes
of the man with the big heart. But such exhibitions of that temper as
King had witnessed had been limited to quick explosions from which the
smoke had cleared away almost as soon as the sound of warfare had died
upon the air. He was in no way prepared, therefore, to find himself in
the company of a man who was so angry that he could not - or would
not - speak to one of his best friends.

"Fine night," began the young man lightly, trying again, after two
silent miles, to make way against the frost in the air. "I don't know
when we've had such magnificent September weather."

No answer.

"I hope you don't mind my going along. You needn't talk at all, you
know - and I'll be quiet, too, if you prefer."

No answer. King was not at all sure that Burns heard him. The car was
running at a terrific pace, and the profile of the man at the wheel
against the dusky landscape looked as if it were carved out of stone.
The young man fell silent, wondering. Almost, he wished he had not been
so sure of his welcome, but there was no retreating now.

Five miles into the country they ran, and King soon guessed that their
destination might be Sunny Farm, a home for crippled children which was
Ellen Burns's special charity, established by herself on a small scale a
few years before and greatly grown since in its size and usefulness.
Burns was its head surgeon and its devoted patron, and he was accustomed
to do much operative work in its well-equipped surgery, bringing out
cases which he found in the city slums or among the country poor, with
total disregard for any considerations except those of need and
suffering. King knew that the place and the work were dearer to the
hearts of both Doctor and Mrs. Burns than all else outside their own
home, and he began to understand that if anything had gone wrong with
affairs there Red Pepper would be sure to take it seriously.

Quite as he had foreseen - since there were few homes on this road,
which ran mostly through thickly wooded country - the car rushed on to
the big farmhouse, lying low and long in the night, with pleasant lights
twinkling from end to end. Burns brought up with a jerk beside the
central porch, leaped out, and disappeared inside without a word of
explanation to his companion, who sat wondering and looking in through
the open door to the wide hall which ran straight through the house to
more big porches on the farther side.

Everything was very quiet at this hour, according to the rules of the
place, all but the oldest patients being in bed and asleep by eight
o'clock. Therefore when, after an interval, voices became faintly
audible, there was nothing to prevent their reaching the occupant of the

In a front room upstairs at one side of the hall two people were
speaking, and presently through the open window Burns was heard to say
with incisive sternness: "I'll give you exactly ten minutes to pack your
bag and go - and I'll take you - to make sure you do go."

A woman's voice, in a sort of deep-toned wail, answered: "You aren't
fair to me, Doctor Burns; you aren't fair! You - "

"Fair!" The word was a growl of suppressed thunder. "Don't talk of
fairness - you! You don't know the meaning of the word. You haven't been
fair to a single kid under this roof, or to a nurse - or to any one of
us - you with your smiles - and your hypocrisy - you who can't be trusted.
That's the name for you - She-Who-Can't-Be-Trusted. Go pack that bag,
Mrs. Soule; I won't hear another word!"

"Oh, Doctor - "

"Go, I said!"

Outside, in the car, Jordan King understood that if the person to whom
Burns was speaking had not been a woman that command of his might have
been accompanied by physical violence, and the offending one more than
likely have been ejected from the door by the thrust of two vigorous
hands on his shoulders. There was that in Burns's tone - all that and
more. His wrath was quite evidently no explosion of the moment, but the
culmination of long irritation and distrust, brought to a head by some
overt act which had settled the offender's case in the twinkling of an

Burns came out soon after, followed by a woman well shrouded in a heavy

King jumped out of the car. "I'm awfully sorry," he tried to say in
Burns's ear. "Just leave me and I'll walk back."

"Ride on the running board," was the answer, in a tone which King knew
meant that he was requested not to argue about it.

Therefore when the woman - to whom he was not introduced - was seated, he
took his place at her feet. To his surprise they did not move off in the
direction from which they had come, but went on over the hills for five
miles farther, driving in absolute silence, at high speed, and arriving
at a small station as a train was heard to whistle far off somewhere in
the darkness.

Burns dashed into the station, bought a ticket, and had his passenger
aboard the train before it had fairly come to a standstill at the
platform. King heard him say no word of farewell beyond the statement
that a trunk would be forwarded in the morning. Then the whole strange
event was over; the train was only a rumble in the distance, and King
was in his place again beside the man he did not know.

* * * * *

Silence again, and darkness, with only the stars for light, and the
roadside rushing past as the car flew. Then suddenly, beside the deep
woods, a stop, and Burns getting out of the car, with the first
voluntary words he had spoken to King that night.

"Sit here, will you? I'll be back - sometime."

"Of course. Don't hurry."

It was an hour that King sat alone, wondering. Where Burns had gone, he
had no notion, and no sound came back to give him hint. As far as King
knew there was no habitation back there in the depths into which his
companion had plunged; he could not guess what errand took him there.

At last came a distant crashing as of one making his way through heavy
undergrowth, and the noise drew nearer until at length Burns burst
through into the road, wide of the place where he had gone in. Then he
was at the car and speaking to King, and his voice was very nearly his
own again.

"Missed my trail coming back," he said. "I've kept you a blamed long
time, haven't I?"

"Not a bit. Glad to wait."

"Of course that's a nice, kind lie at this time of night, and when
you've no idea what you've been waiting for. Well, I'll tell you, and
then maybe you'll be glad you assisted at the job."

He got in and drove off, not now at a furious pace, but at an ordinary
rate of speed which made speech possible. And after a little he spoke
again. "Jord," he said, "you don't know it, but I can be a fiend

"I don't believe it," refused King stoutly.

"It's absolutely true. When I get into a red rage I could twist a neck
more easily than I can get a grip on myself. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll
do it. Years back when I had a rush of blood to the head of that sort I
used to take it out in swearing till the atmosphere was blue; but I
can't do that any more."

"Why not?" King asked, with a good deal of curiosity.

"I did it once too often - and the last time I sent a dying soul to the
other world with my curses in its ears - the soul of a child, Jord. I
lost my head because his mother had disobeyed my orders, and the little
life was going out when it might have stayed. When I came to myself I
realized what I'd done - and I made my vow. Never again, no matter what
happened! And I've kept it. But sometimes, as to-night - Well, there's
only one thing I can do: keep my tongue between my teeth as long as I
can, and then - get away somewhere and smash things till I'm black and

"That's what you've been doing back in the woods?" King ventured to ask.

"Rather. Anyhow, it's evened up my circulation and I can be decent
again. I'm not going to tell you what made me rage like the bull of
Bashan, for it wouldn't be safe yet to let loose on that. It's enough
that I can treat a good comrade like you as I did and still have him
stand by."

"I felt a good deal in the way, but I'm glad now I was with you."

"I'm glad, too, if it's only that you've discovered at last what manner
of man I am when the evil one gets hold of me. None of us likes to be
persistently overrated, you know."

"I don't think the less of you for being angry when you had a just
cause, as I know you must have had."

"It's not the being angry; it's the losing control."

"But you didn't."

"Didn't I?" A short, grim laugh testified to Burns's opinion on this
point. "Ask that woman I put on the train to-night. Jord, on her arm is
a black bruise where I gripped her when she lied to me; I gripped her - a
woman. You might as well know. Now - keep on respecting me if you can."

"But I do," said Jordan King.



"Len, will you go for a day in the woods with me?"

Ellen Burns looked up from the old mahogany secretary which had been
hers in the southern-home days. She was busily writing letters, but the
request, from her busy husband, was so unusual that it arrested her
attention. Her glance travelled from his face to the window and back

"I know it's pretty frosty," he acknowledged, "but the sun is bright,
and I'll build you a windbreak that'll keep you snug. I'm aching for a
day off - with you."

"Artful man! You know I can't resist when you put it that way, though I
ought not to leave this desk for two hours. Give me half an hour, and
tell me what you want for lunch."

"Cynthia and I'll take care of that. She's putting up the stuff now,
subject to your approval."

He was off to the kitchen, and Ellen finished the note she had begun,
put away the writing materials and letters, and ran up to her room. By
the end of the stipulated half hour she was down again, trimly clad in a
suit of brown tweeds, with a big coat for extra warmth and a close hat
and veil for breeze resistance.

"That's my girl! You never look prettier to my eyes than when you are
dressed like this. It's the real comrade look you have then, and I feel
as if we were shoulder to shoulder, ready for anything that might come."

"Just as if it weren't always that," she said in merry reproach as she
took her place beside him and the car rolled off.

"It's always great fun to go off with you unexpectedly like this," she
went on presently. "It seems so long since we've done it. It's been such
a busy year. Is everybody getting well to-day, that you can manage a
whole day?"

"All but one, and he doesn't need me just now. I could keep busy, of
course, but I got a sudden hankering for a day all alone with you in the
woods; and after that idea once struck me I'd have made way for it
anyhow, short of actually running away from duty."

"You need it, I know. We'll just leave all care behind and remember
nothing except how happy we are to be together. That never grows old,
does it, Red?"

"Never!" He spoke almost with solemnity, and gave her a long look as he
said it, which she met with one to match it. "You dear!" he murmured.
"Len, do you know I never loved you so well as I do to-day?"

"I wonder why?" She was smiling, and her colour, always duskily soft in
her cheek, grew a shade warmer. "Is it the brown tweeds?"

"It's the brown tweeds, and the midnight-dark hair, and the beautiful
black eyes, and - the lovely soul of my wife."

"Why, Red, dear - and all this so early in the morning? How will you end
if you begin like this?"

"I don't know - or care." Something strange looked out of his eyes for a
minute. "I know what I want to say now and I'm saying it. So much of the

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Online LibraryGrace S. RichmondRed Pepper's Patients With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular → online text (page 11 of 14)