time I'm too busy to make love to my wife, I'm going to do it
to-day - all day. I warn you now, so you can sidetrack me if you get
tired of it."
"I'm very likely to," she said with a gay tenderness. "To have you make
love to me without the chance of a telephone call to break in will be a
"It sure will to me."
It was a significant beginning to a strange day. They drove for twenty
miles, to find a certain place upon a bluff overlooking a small lake of
unusual beauty, far out of the way of the ordinary motor traveller.
They climbed a steep hill, coming out of the wooded hillside into the
full sunlight of the late October day, where spread an extended view of
the countryside, brilliant with autumn foliage. The air was crisp and
invigorating, and a decided breeze was stirring upon this lofty point,
so that the windbreak which Burns began at once to build was a necessary
protection if they were to remain long.
An hour of hard work, at which Ellen helped as much as she was allowed,
established a snug camp, its back against a great bowlder, its windward
side sheltered by a thick barrier of hemlocks cleverly placed, a brisk
bonfire burning in an angle where an improvised chimney carried off its
smoke and left the corner clear and warm.
"There!" Burns exclaimed in a tone of satisfaction as he threw himself
down upon the pine needle-strewn ground at Ellen's side. "How's this for
a comfortable nest? Think we can spend six contented hours here, my
"Six days if you like. How I wish we could!"
"So do I. Jove, how I'd like it! I haven't had enough of you to satisfy
me for many a moon. And there's no trying to get it, except by running
away like this."
"We ought to do it oftener."
"We ought, but we can't. At least we couldn't. Perhaps now - "
He broke off, staring across the valley where the lake lay to the
distant hills, smoky blue and purple in spite of the clear sunlight
which lay upon them.
"Perhaps now - what?"
"Well - I might not be able to keep up my activity forever, and the time
might come when I should have to take less work and more rest."
"But you said 'now.'"
"Did I? I was just looking ahead a bit. Len, are you hungry, or shall we
wait a while for lunch?"
"Don't you want a little sleep before you eat? You haven't had too much
of it lately."
"It would taste rather good - if I might take it with my head in your
She arranged her own position so that she could maintain it comfortably,
and he extended his big form at full length upon the rug he had brought
up from the car and upon which she was already sitting. He smiled up
into her face as he laid his head upon her knees, and drew one of her
hands into his. "Now your little boy is perfectly content," he said.
* * * * *
It was an hour before he stirred, an hour in which Ellen's eyes had
silently noted that which had escaped them hitherto, a curious change in
his colour as he lay with closed eyes, a thinness of the flesh over the
cheek bones, dark shadows beneath the eyes. Whether he slept she could
not be sure. But when he sat up again these signs of wear and tear
seemed to vanish at the magic of his smile, which had never been
brighter. Nevertheless she watched him with a new sense of anxiety,
wondering if there might really be danger of his splendid physique
giving way before the rigour of his life.
She noted that he did not eat heartily at lunch, though he professed to
enjoy it; and afterward he was his old boyish self for a long time. Then
he grew quiet, and a silence fell between the pair while they sat
looking off into the distance, the October sunlight on their heads.
And then, quite suddenly, something happened.
"Red! What is the matter?" Ellen asked, startled.
In spite of the summer warmth of the spot in which they sat her
husband's big frame had begun to quiver and shake before her very eyes.
Evidently he was trying hard to control the strange fit of shivering
which had seized him.
"Don't be s-scared, d-dear," he managed to get out between rigid jaws.
"It's just a bit of a ch-chill. I'll b-be all right in a m-minute."
"In all this sunshine? Why, Red!" Ellen caught up the big coat she had
brought to the place and laid it about his shoulders - "you must have
taken cold. But how could you? Come - we must go at once."
"N-not just yet. I'll g-get over this s-soon."
He drew his arms about his knees, clasping them and doing his best to
master the shivering, while Ellen watched him anxiously. Never in her
life with Red had she seen him cold. His rugged frame, accustomed to all
weathers, hardened by years of sleeping beside wide-opened windows in
the wintriest of seasons, was always healthily glowing with warmth when
others were frankly freezing.
The chill was over presently, but close upon its heels followed
reaction, and Red Pepper's face flushed feverishly as he said, with a
gallant attempt at a smile: "Sit down again a minute, dear, while I tell
you what I'm up against. I wasn't sure, but this looks like it. You've
got to know now, because I'm undoubtedly in for a bit of trouble - and
that means you, too."
She waited silently, but her hand slipped into his. To her surprise he
drew it gently away. "Try the other one," he said. "It's in better shape
She looked down at the hand he had withdrawn and which now lay upon his
knee. It was the firmly knit and sinewy hand she knew so well, the
typical hand of the surgeon with its perfectly kept, finely sensitive
fingertips, its broad and powerful thumb, its strong but not too thick
wrist. Not a blemish marked its fair surface, yet - was it very slightly
swollen? She could hardly be sure.
"Dear, tell me," she begged. "What has happened? Are you hurt - or
ill - and haven't let me know?"
"I thought it might not amount to anything; it's only a scratch in the
palm. But - "
"Red - did you get it - operating? On what?"
He nodded. "Operating. It's the usual way, the thing we all expect to
get some day. I've been lucky so far; that's all."
"But - you didn't give yourself a scratch; you never have done that?"
"No, not up to date anyhow. I might easily enough; I just haven't
"Amy didn't? - She couldn't!"
"She didn't - and couldn't, thank heaven. She'd kill herself if she ever
did that unlucky trick. No, she wasn't assisting this time. It was an
emergency case, early yesterday morning - one of the other men brought in
the case. It was hopeless, but the family wanted us to try."
"What sort of a case, Red?" Ellen's very lips had grown white.
"Now see here, sweetheart, I had to tell you because I knew I was in
for a little trouble, but there's no need of your knowing any more than
this about it. It was just an accident - nobody's fault. The blamed
electric lights went off - for not over ten seconds, but it was the wrong
ten seconds. I didn't even know I was scratched till the thing began to
set up a row. I don't even yet understand how I got it in the palm.
"Who did it?"
"I'm not going to tell you. He feels badly enough now, and it wasn't his
fault. He asked me at the time if he had touched me in the dark and I
said no. It was as slight a thing as that. If we'd known it at the time
we'd have fixed it up. We didn't, and that's all there was to it."
"You must tell me what sort of a case it was, Red."
He looked down at her. The two pairs of eyes met unflinchingly for a
minute, and each saw straight into the depths of the other. Burns
thought the eyes into which he gazed had never been more beautiful;
stabbed though they were now with intense shock, they were yet speaking
to him such utter love as it is not often in the power of man to
He managed still to talk lightly. "I expect you know. What's the use of
using scientific terms? The case was rottenly septic; never mind the
cause. But - I'm going to be able to throw the thing off. Just give me
"Let me see it, Red."
Reluctantly he turned the hand over, showing the small spot in which was
quite clearly the beginning of trouble. "Doesn't look like much, does
it?" he said.
"And it is not even protected."
"What was the use? The infection came at the time."
"And you did all that work in the windbreak. Oh, you ought not to have
"Nonsense, dear. I wanted to, and I did it mostly with my left hand
"Your blood must be of the purest," she said steadily.
"It sure is. I expect I'll get my reward now for letting some things
alone that many men care for, and that I might have cared for, too - if
it hadn't been for my mother - and my wife."
"You are strong - strong."
"I am - a regular Titan. Yes, we'll fight this thing through somehow;
only I have to warn you it'll likely be a fight. I'll go to the
"No!" It was a cry.
"No? Better think about that. Hospital's the best place for such cases."
"It can't be better than home - when it's like ours. We'll fight our
fight there, Red - and nowhere else."
He put one hand to his arm suddenly with an involuntary movement and a
contraction of the brow. But in the next breath he was smiling again.
"Perhaps we'd better be getting back," he admitted. "My head's beginning
to be a trifle unsteady. But, I'm glad a thousand times we've had this
"Was it wise to take it, dear?"
"I'm sure of it. What difference could it make? Now we've had it - to
She shivered, there in the warm October sunlight. A chill seemed
suddenly to have come into the air, and to have struck her heart.
No more words passed between them until they were almost home. Then
Ellen said, very quietly: "Red, would you be any safer in the hospital
than at home?"
"Not safer, but where it would be easier for all concerned, in case
things get rather thick."
"Easier for you, too?"
He looked at her. "Do I have to speak the truth?"
"You must. If you would rather be there - "
"I would rather be as near you as I can stay. There's no use denying
that. But Van Horn wants me at the hospital."
"Is he to look after you?"
"Yes. Queer, isn't it? But he wants the job. No," at the unspoken
question in her face, "it wasn't Van. But he came in just as the trouble
began to show and - well, you know we're the best of friends now, and I
think I'd rather have him - and Buller, good old Buller - than anybody
"Oh, but you won't need them both?" she cried, and then bit her lip.
"Of course not. But you know how the profession are - if one of them gets
down they all fall over one another to offer their services."
"They may all offer them, but they will have to come to you. You are
going to stay at home. You shall have the big guest room - made as you
want it. Just tell me what to do - "
"You may as well strip it," he told her quietly. "And - Len, I'd rather
be right there than anywhere else in the world. I think, when it's
ready, I'll just go to bed. I'd bluff a bit longer if I could,
but - perhaps - "
"I'm sure you ought," she said as quietly as he. But she was very glad
when the car turned in at the driveway.
Two hours later, under her direction and with her efficient help,
Cynthia and Johnny Carruthers in medical parlance had "stripped" the
guest room, putting it into the cleared bare order most useful for the
purpose needed. If Ellen's heart was heavy as she saw the change made
she let nothing show. And when, presently, she called her husband from
the couch where he had lain, feverish and beginning to be tortured by
pain, and put him between the cool, fresh sheets, she had her reward in
the look he gave, first at the room and then at her.
"Decks all cleared for action," he commented with persistent
cheerfulness, "and the captain on deck. Well - let them begin to fire;
we're ready. All I know is that I'm glad I'm on your ship. Just pray,
Len, will you - that I keep my nerve?"
This was the beginning, as Burns himself had foreseen, of that which
proved indeed to be a long fight. Strong of physique though he
unquestionably was, pure as was the blood which flowed in his veins,
the poison he had received unwittingly and therefore taken no immediate
measures to combat was able to overcome his powers of resistance and
take shattering hold upon his whole organism. There followed day after
day and week after week of prostrating illness, during which he suffered
much torturing pain in the affected hand and arm, with profound
depression of mind and body, though he bore both as bravely as was to
have been expected. Two nurses, Amy Mathewson and Selina Arden,
alternated in attendance upon him, day and night, and Ellen herself was
always at hand to act as substitute, or to share in the care of the
patient when it was more than ordinarily exacting.
As she watched the powerful form of her husband grow daily weaker before
the assaults of one of the most treacherous enemies modern science has
to face, she felt herself in the grip of a great dread which could not
be for an hour thrown off. She did not let go of her courage; but
beneath all her serenity of manner - remarked often in wonder by the
nurses and physicians - lay the fear which at times amounted to a
conviction that for her had come the end of earthly happiness.
She was able to appreciate none the less the devoted and skillful
attention given to Burns by his colleagues. Dr. Max Buller had long been
his attached friend and ally, and of him such service as he now
rendered was to have been counted on. But concerning Dr. James Van Horn,
although Ellen well knew how deeply he felt in Burns's debt for having
in all probability saved his life only a few months earlier, she had had
no notion what he had to offer in return. She had not imagined how warm
a heart really lay beneath that polished urbanity of manner with its
suggestion of coldness in the very tone of his voice - hitherto. She grew
to feel a distinct sense of relief and dependence every time he entered
the door, and his visits were so many that it came to seem as if his
motor were always standing at the curb.
"You know, Len, Van's a tremendous trump," Burns himself said to her
suddenly, in the middle of one trying night when Doctor Van Horn had
looked in unexpectedly to see if he might ease his patient and secure
him a chance of rest after many hours of pain. "It seems like a queer
dream, sometimes, to open my eyes and see him sitting there, looking at
me as if I were a younger brother and he cared a lot."
"He does care," Ellen answered positively. "You would be even surer of
it if you could hear him talk with me alone. He speaks of you as if he
loved you - and what is there strange about that? Everybody loves you,
Red. I'm keeping a list of the people who come to ask about you and
send you things. You haven't heard of half of them. And to-day Franz
telephoned to offer to come and play for you some night when you
couldn't sleep with the pain. He begged to be allowed to do the one
thing he could to show his sympathy."
"Bless his heart! I'd like to hear him. I often wish my ears would
stretch to reach him in his orchestra." Burns moved restlessly as he
spoke. A fresh invasion of trouble in his hand and arm was reaching a
culmination, and no palliative measures could ease him long. "You've no
idea, Len," he whispered as Ellen's hand strayed through his heavy
coppery locks with the soothing touch he loved well, "what it means to
me to have you stand by me like this. If I give in now it won't be for
want of your supporting courage."
"It's you who have the courage, Red - wonderful courage."
He shook his head. "It's just the thought of you - and the Little-Un - and
Bobby Burns - that's all. If it wasn't for you - "
He turned away his head. She knew the thing he had to fear - the thing
she feared for him. Though his very life was in danger it was not that
which made the threatening depths of black shadow into which he looked.
If he should come out of this fight with a crippled right hand there
would be no more work for him about which he could care. Neither Van
Horn nor Buller would admit that there was danger of this; but Grayson,
who had seen the hand yesterday; Fields, who was making blood counts for
the case; Lenhart and Stevenson, who had come to make friendly calls
every few days and who knew from Fields how things were going - all were
shaking their heads and saying in worried tones that it looked pretty
"owly" for the hand, and that Van Horn and Buller would do well if they
pulled Burns through at all.
Outside of the profession Jordan King was closest in touch with Burns's
case. He persistently refused to believe that all would not come out as
they desired. He came daily, brought all sorts of offerings for the
patient's comfort, and always ran up to see his friend, hold his left
hand for a minute and smile at him, without a hint in his ruddy face of
the wrench at the heart he experienced each time at sight of the
steadily increasing devastation showing in the face on the pillow.
"You're a trump, Jord," Burns said weakly to him one morning. King had
just finished a heart-warming report of certain messages brought from
some of Burns's old chronic patients in the hospital wards, where it was
evident the young man had gone on purpose to collect them. "Every time I
look at you I think what an idiot I was ever to imagine you needed me
to put backbone into you, last spring."
"But I did - and you did it. And if you think I showed more backbone to
go through a thing that hardly took it out of me at all than you to
stand this devilish slow torture and weakness - well, it just shows
you've lost your usual excellent judgment. See?"
"I see that you're one of the best friends a man ever had. There's only
one other who could do as much to keep my head above water - and he isn't
"Why isn't he? Who is he?" demanded King eagerly. "Tell me and I'll get
"No, no. He could do no more than is being done. I merely get to
thinking of him and wishing I could see him. It's my old friend and chum
of college days, John Leaver, of Baltimore."
"The big surgeon I've heard you and Mrs. Burns speak of? Great heavens,
he'd come in a minute if he knew!"
"I've no doubt he would, but I happen to know he's abroad just now."
King studied his friend's face, saw that Burns was already weary with
the brief visit, and soon went away. But it was to a consultation with
Mrs. Burns as to the possibility of communicating with Doctor Leaver.
"I wrote his wife not long ago of Red's illness," Ellen said, "but I
didn't state all the facts; somehow I couldn't bring myself to do that.
They are in London; they go over every winter. I had a card only
yesterday from Charlotte giving a new address and promising to write
"Wasn't he the man you told me of who had a bad nervous breakdown a few
years ago? The one Red had stay with you here until he got back his
"Yes; and he has been even a more brilliant operator ever since."
"I remember the whole story; there was a lot of thrill in it as you told
it. How Red made him rest and build up and then fairly forced him to
operate, against his will, to prove to him that he had got his nerve
back? Jove! Do you think that man wouldn't cross the ocean in a hurry if
he thought he could lift his finger to help our poor boy?"
King's speech had taken on such a fatherly tone of late that Ellen was
not surprised to hear him thus allude to his senior.
"Yes, Jack Leaver would do anything for Red, but I know Red would never
let us summon him from so far."
"Summon him from the antipodes - I would. And we don't have to consult
Red. His wish is enough. Leave it to me, Mrs. Burns; I'll take all the
She smiled at him, feeling that she must not express the very natural
and unwelcome thought that to call a friend from so far away was to
admit that the situation was desperate. Burns had said many times that
Doctor Van Horn was using the very latest and most acceptable methods
for his relief, and that his confidence in him was absolute. None the
less she knew that the very sight of John Leaver's face would be like
that of a shore light to a ship groping in a heavy fog.
Within twenty-four hours Jordan King came dashing in to wave a cable
message before her. "Read that, and thank heaven that you have such
friends in the world."
At a glance her eyes took in the pregnant line, and the first tears she
had shed leaped to her eyes and misted them, so that she had to wipe
them away to read the welcome words again.
We sail Saturday. Love to Doctor and Mrs. Burns.
A week later, Burns, waking from an uneasy slumber, opened his eyes upon
a new figure at his bedside. For a moment he stared uncomprehending into
the dark, distinguished face of his old friend, then put out his
uninjured hand with a weak clutch.
"Are you real, Jack?" he demanded in a whisper.
"As real as that bedpost. And mighty glad to see you, my dear boy. They
tell me the worst is over, and that you're improving. That's worth the
journey to see."
"You didn't come from - England?"
"Of course I did. I'd come from the end of the world, and you know it!
Why in the name of friendship didn't somebody send me word before?"
"Who sent it now?"
"That's a secret. I hoped to be able to do something for you, Red, just
to even up the score a little, but the thing that's really been done has
been by yourself. You put your own clean blood into this tussle and it's
brought you through."
"I don't feel so very far through yet, but I suppose I'm not quite so
much of a dead fish as I was a week ago. There's only one thing that
"I can guess. Well, Red, I saw Doctor Van Horn on my way upstairs, and
he tells me you're going to get a good hand out of this. He'll be up
shortly to dress it, and then I may see for myself."
"That will be a comfort. I've wished a thousand times you might, though
nobody could have given me better care than these bully fellows have.
But I've a sort of superstition that one look at trouble from Jack
Leaver is enough to make it cut and run."
By and by Dr. John Leaver came downstairs and joined his wife and Ellen.
His face was grave with its habitual expression, but it lighted as the
two looked up. "He's had about as rough a time as a man can and weather
it," he said; "but I think the trouble is cornered at last, and there'll
be no further outbreak. And the hand will come out better than could
have been expected. He will be able to use it perfectly in time. But it
will take him a good while to build up. He must have a sea voyage - a
long one. That will do you all kinds of good, too," he added, his keen
eyes on the face of his friend's wife.
"She looks etherealized," Charlotte Leaver said, studying Ellen
affectionately. "You've had a long, anxious time, haven't you, Len,
darling?" Mrs. Leaver went on. "And we knew nothing - we who care more
than anybody in the world. You can't imagine how glad we are to be here
now, even though we can't help a bit."
"You can help, you do. And I know what it means to Red to have his
beloved friend come to him."
"Then I hope you know what it means to me to come," said John Leaver.
The Leavers stayed for several days, while Burns continued to improve,
and before they left they had the pleasure of seeing him up and
partially dressed, the bandages on his injured hand reduced in extent,
and his eyes showing his release from torture. His face and figure gave
touching evidence of what he had endured, but he promised them that
before they saw him again he would be looking like himself.
"I wonder," Burns said, on the March day when he first came downstairs
and dropped into his old favourite place in a corner of the big blue
couch, "whether any other fellow was ever so pampered as I. I look like
thirty cents, but I feel, in spite of this abominable limpness, as if my
stock were worth a hundred cents on the dollar. And when we get back
from the ocean trip I expect to be a regular fighting Fijian."
"You look better every day, dear," Ellen assured him. "And when it's all
over, and you have done your first operation, you'll come home and say
you were never so happy in your life."
Burns laughed. He looked over at Jordan King, who had come in on purpose
to help celebrate the event of the appearance downstairs. "She promises
me an operation as she would promise the Little-Un a sweetie, eh? Well,
I can't say she isn't right. I was a bit tired when this thing began,
but when I get my strength back I know how my little old 'lab' and
machine shop will call to me. Just to-day I got an idea in my head that