Grace S. Richmond.

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

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course Anne is fond of her. And I'm sure we're glad she did send for
him, for it gave us the pleasure of meeting Doctor Burns, and of course
we understand now why she thought nobody else in the world could pull
Timmy through. He's such an interesting personality, don't you think so?
We're all crazy about him."

"Oh, yes, everybody's crazy about him," King admitted readily. "And
certainly two hundred miles isn't far to send for a surgeon these days."

"Of course not - only I don't suppose it's done every day for one's
housekeeper, do you? But nobody ever knows what Anne's going to
do - least of all now, when she's just back, after the most extraordinary
performance." She stopped, looking at him curiously. "I suppose you know
all about it - much more than we, in fact, since you met her when she was
in that hospital. Did you ever hear of a rich girl's doing such a thing
anyway? Going off to sell books for a whole year just because" - she
stopped again, and bit her lip, then went on quickly: "Everybody knows
about it, and you would be sure to hear it sooner or later. Doctor Burns
knows, anyhow, and - "

"Please don't tell me anything I oughtn't to hear," Jordan's sense of
honour impelled him to say. He recognized the feminine type before him,
and though he longed to know all about everything he did not want to
know it in any way Anne would not like.

But there was no stopping the fluffy-haired young person. "Really,
everybody knows; the countryside fairly rang with it a year ago. You
might even have read it in the papers, only you wouldn't remember. A
girl book agent killed herself in Anne's house here because Anne
wouldn't buy her book. Did you ever hear of anything so absurd as Anne's
thinking it was her fault? Of course the girl was insane, and Anne had
absolutely nothing to do with it. And then Anne took the girl's book and
went off to sell it herself - and find out, she said, how such things
could happen. I don't know whether she found out." Miss Stockton laughed
very charmingly. "All I know is we're tremendously thankful to have her
back. Nothing's the same with her away. We don't know if she'll stay,
though. Nobody can tell about Anne, ever."

"Is this your home, too?" King managed to ask. His brain was whirling
with the shock of this astonishing revelation. He wanted to get off by
himself and think about it.

"Oh, no, indeed, no such luck. We live across the lake in a much less
beautiful place, only of course we're here a great deal when Anne's
home. My mother would be a mother to Anne if Anne would let her, but
she's the most independent creature - prefers to live here with just
Timmy and old Campbell, the butler who's been with the family since
time began. Timmy's more than a housekeeper, of course. Anne's made
almost a real chaperon out of her, and she is very dignified and nice."

King would have had the entire family history, he was sure, if a
diversion had not occurred in the nature of a general move to show the
guests to their rooms, with the appearance of servants, and the removal
of luggage. In his room presently, therefore, King had a chance to get
his thoughts together. One thing was becoming momentarily clear to him:
his being here was with Anne's permission - and she was willing to see
him; she had kept her promise. As for all the rest, he didn't care much.
And when he thought of the moment during which his mother had looked so
kindly into Anne's eyes, not recognizing her, he laughed aloud. Let Mrs.
King retreat from that position now if she wanted to. As for himself, he
was not at all sure that he cared a straw to have it thus so clearly
proved that Anne was what she had seemed to be. Had he not known it all
along? His heart sang with the thought that he had been ready to marry
her, no matter what her position in the world.

And now he wondered how many hours it would be before he should have his
chance to see her alone, if for but five minutes. Well, at least he
could look at her. And that, as he descended the stairs with the
others, he found well worth doing. Anne and Gardner Coolidge were
meeting them at the foot, and the young hostess had changed her white
outing garb for a most enchanting other white, which showed her round
arms through soft net and lace and made her yet a new type of girl in
King's thought of her.

She had a perfectly straightforward way of meeting his eyes, though her
own were bewildering even so, without any coquetry in her use of them.
She was not blushing and shy, she was self-possessed and radiant. King
could understand, as he looked at her now, how she had felt over that
affair of the tragedy suddenly precipitated into her life, and what
strength of character it must have taken to send her out from this
secluded and perfect home into a rough world, that she might find out
for herself "how such things could happen." And as he watched her,
playing hostess in this home of hers, looking after everybody's comfort
with that ease and charm which proclaims a lifetime of previous training
and custom, his heart grew fuller and fuller of pride and love and

The dinner hour passed, a merry hour at a dignified table, served by the
old butler who made a rite of his service, his face never relaxing
though the laughter rang never so contagiously. Burns and Coolidge were
the life of the company, the latter seeming a different man from the
one who had come to consult his old chum as to the trouble in his life.
Mrs. Coolidge, quiet and very attractive in her reserved, fair beauty,
made an interesting foil to Ellen Burns, and the two, beside the rather
fussy aunt and cousins, seemed to belong together.

"Anne, we must show Doctor Burns our plans for the cottage," Coolidge
said to his sister as they left the table. He turned to Ellen, walking
beside her. "She's almost persuaded us to build on a corner of her own
estate - at least a summer place, for a starter. You know Red prescribed
for us a cottage, and we haven't yet carried out his prescription But
this sister of mine, since she met him, has acquired the idea that any
prescription of his simply has to be filled, and she won't let Alicia
and me alone till we've done this thing. Shall we all walk along down
there? There'll be just about time before dark for you to see the site,
and the plans shall come later."

The whole party trooped down the steps into the garden. King was a
clever engineer, but he could not do any engineering which seemed to
count in this affair. Never seeming to avoid him, Anne was never where
he could get three words alone with her. She devoted herself to his
mother, to Ellen, or to Burns himself, and none of these people gave him
any help. Not that he wanted them to. He bided his time, and meanwhile
he took some pleasure in showing his lady that he, too, could play his
part until it should suit her to give him his chance.

But when, as the evening wore on, it began to look as if she were
deliberately trying to prevent any interview whatever, he grew unhappy.
And at last, the party having returned to the house and gathered in a
delightful old drawing-room, he took his fate in his hands. At a moment
when Anne stood beside Red Pepper looking over some photographs lying on
the grand piano, he came up behind them.

"Miss Coolidge," he said, "I wonder if you would show me that lilac
hedge by moonlight."

"I'm afraid there isn't any moon," she answered with a merry,
straightforward look. "It will be as dark as a pocket down by that
hedge, Mr. King. But I'll gladly show it to you to-morrow morning - as
early as you like. I'm a very early riser."

"As early as six o'clock?" he asked eagerly.

She nodded. "As early as that. It is a perfect time on a May morning."

"And you won't go anywhere now?"

"How can I?" she parried, smiling. "These are my guests."

Burns glanced at his friend, his hazel eyes full of suppressed laughter.
"Better be contented with that, old fellow. That row of lilacs will be
very nice at six o'clock to-morrow morning. Mayn't I come, too, Miss

"Of course you may." Her sparkling glance met his. Evidently they were
very good friends, and understood each other.

"If he does," said King, in a sort of growl, "he'll have something to
settle with me."

He went to bed in a peculiar frame of mind. Why had she wanted to waste
all these hours when at nine in the morning the party was to leave for
its return trip? Well, he supposed morning would come sometime, though
it seemed, at midnight, a long way off.

"Want me to call you at five-thirty, Jord?" Burns had inquired of him at

"No, thanks," he had replied. "I'll not miss it."

"A fellow might lie awake so long thinking about it that he'd go off
into a sound sleep just before daylight, and sleep right through his
early morning appointment," urged his loyal friend. "Better let me - "

"Oh, you go on to bed!" requested King irritably.

"No gratitude to one who has brought all this to pass, eh?"

"Heaps of it. But this evening has been rather a facer."

"Not at all. There were a dozen times when you might have rushed in and
got a little quiet place all to yourself, with only the stars looking
on. Plenty of openings."

"I didn't see 'em. You were always in the way."

"I was! Well, I like that. Had to be ordinarily attentive to my hostess,
hadn't I? It wasn't for me to take shy little boys by the hand and lead
them up to the little girls they fancied."

"I don't want to be led up by the hand, thank you. Good-night!"

* * * * *

King was up at daybreak, which in May comes reasonably early. Stealing
down through the quiet house, the windows of which seemed to be all wide
open to the morning air, he came out upon the porch and took the path to
the lilac hedge. Arrived there at only twenty minutes before the
appointed hour, he had so long a wait that he began to grow both
impatient and chagrined. At quarter-past six he was feeling very much
like stalking back to the house and retiring to his room, when the low
sound of a motor arrested him, and he wheeled, to discover a long, low,
gray car, of a type with which he was not familiar, sailing gracefully
around the long curve of the driveway toward him. A trim figure in gray,
with a small gray velvet hat pulled close over auburn hair, was at the
wheel, and a vivid face was smiling at him. But the air of the driver
as she drew up beside him was not at all sentimental, rather it was

"I'm awfully sorry to be late," she said, "but I couldn't possibly help
it. I got up at four, to make a call I had to make and be back, but I
was detained. And even now I must be off again, without any lingering by
lilac hedges. What shall we do about it?"

"I'll go with you." And King stepped into the car.

"With or without an invitation?" Her eyes were laughing, though her lips
had sobered.

"With or without. And you know you came back for me."

"I came back for a basket of things I must get from the house. Also, of
course, to explain my detention."

"Out selling books, I suppose?" he questioned, not caring much what he
said, now that he had her to himself. "You must make a great impression
as a book agent. If only you had tried that way in our town. And I - I
took you in my car under the pleasant impression that I was giving you a
treat - on that first trip, you know. By the second trip I had acquired a
sneaking suspicion that motoring wasn't such a novelty to you as I had
at first supposed."

They had flown around the remaining curves and were at a rear door of
the house. Anne jumped out, was gone for ten minutes or so, and emerged
with a servant following with a great hamper. This was bestowed at
King's feet, and the car was off again, Anne driving with the ease of a

"You see," she explained, "late last evening I had news of the serious
illness of a girl friend of mine. I went to see her, but after I came
back I couldn't be easy about her, and so I got up quite early this
morning and went again. She was much better, precisely as Doctor Burns
had assured me she would be. By and by perhaps I shall learn to trust
him as absolutely as all the rest of you do."

"Burns! You don't mean to say you had him out to see a case last
night - after - "

She nodded, and her profile, under the snug gray hat, was a little like
that of a handsome and somewhat mischievous but strong-willed boy. "Was
that so dreadful of me - as a hostess? I admit that a doctor ought to be
allowed to rest when he is away from home, but I knew that he was just
back from a long voyage and was feeling fit as a fiddle, as he himself
said. And there is really no very competent man in the town where my
friend is ill; it was such a wonderful chance for her to have great
skill at her service. And such skill! Oh, how he went to work for her!
It made one feel at once that something was being done, where before
people had merely tried to do things."

King was making rapid calculation. At the end of it, "Would you mind
telling me whether you have had any sleep at all?" he begged.

She turned her face toward him for an instant. "Do I look so haggard and
wan?" she queried with a quick glance. "Yes, I had a good two hours. And
I'm so happy now to know that Estelle is sleeping quietly that it's much
better than to have slept myself."

"Do you do this sort of thing often?"

"Not just such spectacular night work, but I do try to see that a little
is done to look after a few people who have had a terribly hard time of
it. But this is all - or mostly - since I came back from my year away. I
learned just a few things during that year, you know."

"Your cousin - do you mind? - gave me just a bit of an idea why you went,"
he ventured.

"Oh, Leila Stockton." Her lips took on an amused curl. "Of course Leila
would. She - chatters. But she's a dear girl; it's just that she can't
easily get a new point of view."

He pressed her with his questions, for his discernment told him that it
was of no use, while they were flying along the road at this pace, with
a hamper at their feet - or at his feet, crowding him rather
uncomfortably and forcing him to sit with cramped legs - no use for him
to talk of the subject uppermost in his anxious mind. So he got from
her, as well as he could, the story of the year, and presently had her
telling him eagerly of the people she had met, and the progress she had
made in the study of human beings. It was really an engrossing tale,
quietly as she told it, and many as were the details he saw that she
kept back.

"I found out one thing very early," she said. "I knew that I could never
come back and live as I had lived before, with no thought of any one but

"I don't believe you had ever done that."

"I had - I had, if ever any one did. I went away to school in Paris for
two years; I wouldn't go to college - how I wish I had! I was the gayest,
most thoughtless girl you ever knew until - the thing happened that sent
my world spinning upside down. Why, Mr. King, I was so selfish and so
thoughtless that I could turn that poor girl away from my door with a
careless denial, and never see that she was desperate - that it wanted
only one more such turning away to make her do the thing she did."

He saw her press her lips together, her eyes fixed on the road ahead,
and he saw the beautiful brows contract, as if the memory still were
too keen for her to bear calmly.

"You have certainly atoned a hundred times over," he said gently, "for
any carelessness in the past. How could you know how she was feeling?
And she was insane, Miss Stockton said."

"No more insane than I am now - simply desperate with weariness and
failure. And I should have seen; I did see. I just - didn't care. I was
busy trying on a box of new frocks from a French dressmaker, frocks of
silk and lace - of silk and lace, Jordan King, while she hadn't clothes
enough to keep her warm! And I couldn't spare the time to look at the
girl's book! Well, I learned what it was to have people turn me from
their doors - I, with plenty of money at my command, no matter how I
elected to dress cheaply and go to cheap boarding places, and - insist on
cheap beds at hospitals." Her tone was full of scorn. "After all, did I
ever really suffer anything of what she suffered? Never, for always I
knew that at any minute I could turn from a poor girl into a rich one,
throw my book in the faces of those who refused to buy it, and telephone
my anxious family. They did come on and try to get me away - once. I went
with them - for the day. It was the day you met me. And always there was
the interest of the adventure. It was an adventure, you know, a big

"I should say it was. And when you were at the hospital - "

"Accepting expensive rooms and free medical attendance - oh, wasn't I a
fraud? How I felt it I can never tell you. But I could - and did - send
back Doctor Burns a draft in part payment, though I thought he would
never imagine where it came from. He did, though. What do you suppose he
told me last night when we were driving home? - this morning it was, of

"I can't guess," King admitted, suffering a distinct and poignant pang
of jealousy at thought of Red Pepper Burns driving through the night
with this girl, on an errand of mercy though it had been.

"He told me," she said slowly, "that he learned all about me while I was
in the hospital. One night, when I was at the worst, he sent Miss Arden
out for a rest and sat beside me himself. And in my foolish, delirious
wanderings I gave him the whole story, or enough of it so that he pieced
out the rest. And he never told a soul, not even his wife; wasn't that
wonderful of him? And treated me exactly the same as if he didn't
practically know I wasn't what I seemed. You see, I wasn't far enough
away from that poor girl's suicide, when I was so ill last year, but
that it was always in my mind. Even yet I dream of it at times."

They were entering a large manufacturing town, the streets in the early
morning full of factory operatives on their way to work, dinner-pails in
hands and shawls over heads. Anne drove carefully, often throwing a
smile at a group of children or slowing down more than the law decreed
to avoid making some weary-faced woman hurry. And when at length she
drew up before a dingy brick tenement house, of a type the most
unpromising, King discovered that her "friend" was one of these very

He carried the hamper up two flights of ramshackle stairs and set it
inside the door she indicated. Then he unwillingly withdrew to the car,
where he sat waiting - and wondering. It was not long he had to wait, in
point of time, but his impatience was growing upon him. All this was
very well, and threw interesting lights upon a girl's character, but - it
would be nine o'clock all too soon. To be sure, though Red Pepper bore
him away, he knew the road back - he could come back as soon as he
pleased, with nobody to set hours of departure for him. But he did not
mean to go away this first time without the thing he wanted, if it was
to be his.

She came running downstairs, face aglow with relief and pleasure, and
sent the car smoothly away. And now it was that King discovered how a
girl may fence and parry, so that a man may not successfully introduce
the subject he is burning to speak of, without riding roughshod over her
objection. And presently he gave it up, biding his time. He sat silent
while she talked, and then finally, when she too grew silent, he let the
minutes slip by without another word. Thus it was that they drew up at
the house, still speechless concerning the great issue between them.

It was only a little past seven; nobody was in sight except a maid
servant, who slipped discreetly away. King took one look into a small
room at the right of the hall, a sort of small den or office it seemed
to be. Then he turned to Anne and put out his hand. "Will you come in
here, please?" he requested.

She looked at him for a moment without giving him her hand, then
preceded him into the room. There was a heavy curtain of dull blue silk
hanging by the door frame, and King noiselessly drew this across. Then
he turned and confronted the girl. She had drawn off her motoring
gloves, but made no motion to remove either the rough gray coat in which
she had been driving or the small gray velvet hat drawn smoothly down
over her curls with a clever air of its own. Altogether she looked not
in the least like a hostess, but very like a traveller who has only
paused for a brief stop on a journey to be immediately continued.

He stood there watching her for a minute, himself a challenging figure
with his dark, bright face, his fine young height, his air of - quite
suddenly - commanding the situation. And he was between the girl and the
door. The two pairs of eyes looked straight into each other.

"Well?" he said.

"Well?" said Anne Linton Coolidge in return.

"Did you expect me to wait any longer?"

"I was afraid you might come and go - and never say so much as 'Well?'"
said she.

This was more than mortal man could bear - and there was no more waiting
done by anybody. When Jordan King had - temporarily - done satisfying the
hunger of his lips and arms, he spoke again, looking down searchingly at
a face into which he had brought plenty of splendid colour.

"If I had found you in that poor place I thought I should, it would have
been just the same," he said.

"I really believe it would," admitted Anne.

* * * * *

Half an hour afterward, emerging from the small room which had held such
a big experience, the pair discovered Red Pepper Burns just descending
the stairway. He scrutinized their faces sharply, then advanced upon
them. They met him halfway. He gravely took Anne's hand and set his
fingers on her pulse.

"Too rapid," he said with a shake of the head. "Altogether too rapid.
You have been undergoing much excitement - and so early in the morning,
too. As your physician I must caution you against such untimely hours."

He felt of King's wrist, and again he shook his head. "Worse and worse,"
he announced. "Not only rapid, but bounding. The heart is plainly
overworked. These cases are contagious. One acts upon the other - no
doubt of it - no doubt at all. I would suggest - "

He found both his arms grasped by Jordan King's strong hands, and he
allowed himself to be held tightly by that happy young man. "Give us
your best wishes!" demanded his captor.

"Why, you've had those from the first. I saw this coming before either
of you," Burns replied.

"Not before I did," asserted King.

"Not before I did," declared Anne.

Then the two looked at each other, and Burns, smiling at them, his hazel
eyes very bright, requested to be restored the use of his arms. This
being conceded, he laid those arms about the shoulders before him and
drew the two young people close within them.

"You two are the most satisfactory and the dearest patients I've ever
had," declared Red Pepper Burns.


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