Grace S. Richmond.

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

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heartbreaking little scene to remember when he should be tempted to
harden his heart against the woman he had chosen.

"Red," he said bye and bye, when the two were alone together for a few
minutes again in the consulting room before he should leave for his
train, "is that all the prescription you're going to give me - a trip to
California? Suppose I'm not successful?"

Red Pepper Burns smiled, a curious little smile. "You've forgotten what
I told you about the way my old man and woman made a home together,' and
worked at their market gardening together, and read and studied
together - did everything from first to last _together_. That's the whole
force of the illustration, to my mind, Cooly. It's the standing shoulder
to shoulder to face life that does the thing. Whatever plan you make for
your after life, when you bring Alicia back with you - as you will; I
know it - make it a plan which means partnership - if you have to build a
cottage down on the edge of your estate and live alone there together.
Alone till the children come to keep you company," he added with a
sudden flashing smile.

Coolidge looked at him and shook his head. His face dropped back into
melancholy. He opened his lips and closed them again. Red Pepper Burns
opened his own lips - and closed them again. When he did speak it was to
say, more gently than he had yet spoken:

"Old fellow, life isn't in ruins before you. Make up your mind to that.
You'll sleep again, and laugh again - and cry again, too, - because life
is like that, and you wouldn't want it any other way."

It was time for Coolidge to go, and the two men went in to permit the
guest to take leave of Mrs. Burns. When they left the house Coolidge
told his friend briefly what he thought of his friend's wife, and Burns
smiled in the darkness as he heard.

"She affects most people that way," he answered with a proud little ring
in his voice. But he did not go on to talk about her; that would have
been brutal indeed in Coolidge's unhappy circumstances.

At the train Coolidge turned suddenly to his physician. "You haven't
given me anything for my sleeplessness," he said.

"Think you must have a prescription?" Burns inquired, getting out his
blank and pen.

"It will take some time for your advice to work out, if it ever does,"
Coolidge said. "Meanwhile, the more good sleep I get the fitter I shall
be for the effort."

"True enough. All right, you shall have the prescription."

Burns wrote rapidly, resting the small leather-bound book on his knee,
his foot on an iron rail of the fence which kept passengers from
crowding. He read over what he had written, his face sober, his eyes
intent. He scrawled a nearly indecipherable "_Burns_" at the bottom,
folded the slip and handed it to his friend. "Put it away till you're
ready to get it filled," he advised.

The two shook hands, gripping tightly and looking straight into each
other's eyes.

"Thank you, Red, for it all," said Gardner Coolidge. "There have been
minutes when I felt differently, but I understand you better now. And I
see why your waiting room is full of patients even on a stormy day."

"No, you don't," denied Red Pepper Burns stoutly. "If you saw me take
their heads off you'd wonder that they ever came again. Plenty of them
don't - and I don't blame them - when I've cooled off."

Coolidge smiled. "You never lie awake thinking over what you've said or
done, do you, Red? Bygones are bygones with a man like you. You couldn't
do your work if they weren't!"

A peculiar look leaped into Burns's eyes. "That's what the outsiders
always think," he answered briefly.

"Isn't it true?"

"You may as well go on thinking it is - and so may the rest. What's the
use of explaining oneself, or trying to? Better to go on looking
unsympathetic - and suffering, sometimes, more than all one's patients
put together!"

Coolidge stared at the other man. His face showed suddenly certain grim
lines which Coolidge had not noticed there before - lines written by
endurance, nothing less. But even as the patient looked the physician's
expression changed again. His sternly set lips relaxed into a smile, he
pointed to a motioning porter.

"Time to be off, Cooly," he said. "Mind you let me know how - you are.
Good luck - the best of it!"

* * * * *

In the train Coolidge had no sooner settled himself than he read Burns's
prescription. He had a feeling that it would be different from other
prescriptions, and so it proved:


Walk five miles every evening.

Drink no sort of stimulant, except one cup of coffee at

Begin to make plans for the cottage. Don't let it turn out a

Ask the good Lord every night to keep you from being a proud




"Not hungry, Red? After all that cold drive to-day? Would you like to
have Cynthia make you something special, dear?"

R.P. Burns, M.D., shook his head. "No, thanks." He straightened in his
chair, where he sat at the dinner table opposite his wife. He took up
his knife and fork again and ate valiantly a mouthful or two of the
tempting food upon his plate, then he laid the implements down
decisively. He put his elbow on the table and leaned his head upon his
hand. "I'm just too blamed tired to eat, that's all," he said.

"Then don't try. I'm quite through, too. Come in the living room and lie
down a little. It's such a stormy night there may be nobody in."

Ellen slipped her hand through his arm and led the way to the big blue
couch facing the fireplace. He dropped upon it with a sigh of fatigue.
His wife sat down beside him and began to pass her fingers lightly
through his heavy hair, with the touch which usually soothed him into
slumber if no interruptions came to summon him. But to-night her
ministrations seemed to have little effect, for he lay staring at a
certain picture on the wall with eyes which evidently saw beyond it into
some trying memory.

"Is the whole world lying heavy on your shoulders to-night, Red?" Ellen
asked presently, knowing that sometimes speech proved a relief from

He nodded. "The whole world - millions of tons of it. It's just because
I'm tired. There's no real reason why I should take this day's work
harder than usual - except that I lost the Anderson case this morning.
Poor start for the day, eh?"

"But you knew you must lose it. Nobody could have saved that poor

"I suppose not. But I wanted to save him just the same. You see, he
particularly wanted to live, and he had pinned his whole faith to me. He
wouldn't give it up that I could do the miracle. It hurts to disappoint
a faith like that."

"Of course it does," she said gently. "But you must try to forget now,
Red, because of to-morrow. There will be people to-morrow who need you
as much as he did."

"That's just what I'd like to forget," he murmured. "Everything's gone
wrong to-day - it'll go worse to-morrow."

She knew it was small use to try to combat this mood, so unlike his
usual optimism, but frequent enough of occurrence to make her understand
that there is no depression like that of the habitually buoyant, once it
takes firm hold. She left him presently and went to sit by the reading
lamp, looking through current magazines in hope of finding some article
sufficiently attractive to capture his interest, and divert his heavy
thoughts. His eyes rested absently on her as she sat there, a charming,
comradely figure in her simple home dinner attire, with the light on her
dark hair and the exquisite curve of her cheek.

It was a fireside scene of alluring comfort, the two central figures of
such opposite characteristics, yet so congenial. The night outside was
very cold, the wind blowing stormily in great gusts which now and then
howled down the chimney, making the warmth and cheer within all the more

Suddenly Ellen, hunting vainly for the page she sought, lifted her head,
to see her husband lift his at the same instant.

"Music?" she questioned. "Where can it come from? Not outside on such a
night as this?"

"Did you hear it, too? I've been thinking it my imagination."

"It must be the wind, but - no, it _is_ music!"

She rose and went to the window, pushing aside draperies and setting her
face to the frosty pane. The next instant she called in a startled way:

"Oh, Red - come here!"

He came slowly, but the moment he caught sight of the figure in the
storm outside his langour vanished.

"Good heavens! The poor beggar! We must have him in."

He ran to the hall and the outer door, and Ellen heard his shout above
the howling of the wind.

"Come in - come in!"

She reached the door into the hall as the slender young figure stumbled
up the steps, a violin clutched tight in fingers purple with cold. She
saw the stiff lips break into a frozen smile as her husband laid his
hand upon the thinly clad shoulder and drew the youth where he could
close the door.

"Why didn't you come to the door and ring, instead of fiddling out there
in the cold!" demanded Burns. "Do you think we're heathen, to shut
anybody out on a night like this?"

The boy shook his head. He was a boy in size, though the maturity of his
thin face suggested that he was at least nineteen or twenty years old.
His dark eyes gleamed out of hollow sockets, and his black hair,
curling thickly, was rough with neglect. But he had snatched off his
ragged soft hat even before he was inside the door, and for all the
stiffness of his chilled limbs his attitude, as he stood before his
hosts, had the unconscious grace of the foreigner.

"Where do you come from?" Burns asked.

Again the stranger shook his head.

"He can't speak English," said Ellen.

"Probably not - though he may be bluffing. We must warm and feed him,
anyhow. Will you have him in here, or shall I take him in the office?"

Ellen glanced again at the shivering youth, noted that the purple hands
were clean, even to the nails, and led the way unhesitatingly into the
living room with all its beckoning warmth and beauty.

"Good little sport - I knew you would," murmured Burns, as he beckoned
the boy after him.

Ellen left the two alone together by the fire, while she went to prepare
a tray with Cynthia in the kitchen, filling it with the hearty food
Burns himself had left untouched. Big slices of juicy roast beef, two
hurriedly warmed sweet potatoes which had been browned in syrup in the
Southern style, crisp buttered rolls, and a pot of steaming coffee were
on the large tray which Cynthia insisted on carrying to the living-room
door for her mistress. Burns, jumping up at sight of her, took the tray,
while Ellen cleared a small table, drew up a chair, and summoned the
young stranger.

The low bow he made her before he took the chair proclaimed his
breeding, as well as the smile of joy which showed the flash of his even
white teeth in the firelight. He made a little gesture of gratitude
toward both Burns and Ellen, pressing his hands over his heart and then
extending them, the expression on his face touching in its starved
restraint. Then he fell upon the food, and even though he was plainly
ravenous he ate as manneredly as any gentleman. Only by the way he
finished each tiniest crumb could they know his extremity.

"By Jove, that beats eating it myself, if I were hungry as a faster on
the third day!" Burns exclaimed, as he sat turned away from the
beneficiary, his eyes apparently upon the fire. Ellen, from behind the
boy, smiled at her husband, noting how completely his air of fatigue had
fallen from him. Often before she had observed how any call upon R.P.
Burns's sympathies rode down his own need of commiseration.

"Hungarian, I think, don't you?" Burns remarked, as the meal was
finished, and the youth rose to bow his thanks once more. This time
there was a response. He nodded violently, smiling and throwing out his

"_Ungahree_!" he said, and smiled and nodded again, and said again,

"He knows that word all right," said Burns, smiling back. "It's a land
of musicians. The fiddle's a good one, I'll wager."

He glanced at it as he spoke, and the boy leaped for it, pressing it to
his breast. He began to tune it.

"He thinks we want to be paid for his supper," Ellen exclaimed. "Can't
you make him understand we should like him to rest first?"

"I'd only convey to him the idea that we didn't want to hear him play,
which would be a pity, for we do. If he's the musician he looks, by
those eyes and that mouth, we'll be more than paid. Go ahead,
Hungary - it'll make you happier than anything we could do for you."

Clearly it would. Burns carried out the tray, and when he returned his
guest was standing upon the hearth rug facing Ellen, his bow uplifted.
He waited till Burns had thrown himself down on the couch again in a
sitting posture, both arms stretched along the back. Then he made his
graceful obeisance again, and drew the bow very slowly and softly over
the first string. And, at the very first note, the two who were watching
him knew what was to come. It was in every line of him, that promise.

It might have been his gratitude that he was voicing, so touching were
the strains that followed that first note. The air was unfamiliar, but
it sounded like a folk song of his own country, and he put into it all
the poignant, peculiar melody of such a song. His tones were exquisite,
with the sure touch of the trained violinist inspired and supported by
the emotional understanding of the genuine musician.

When he had finished he stood looking downward for a moment, then as
Burns said "Bravo!" he smiled as if he understood the word, and lifted
his instrument again to his shoulder. This time his bow descended upon
the strings with a full note of triumph, and he burst into the brilliant
performance of a great masterpiece, playing with a spirit and dash which
seemed to transform him. Often his lips parted to show his white teeth,
often he swung his whole body into the rhythm of his music, until he
seemed a very part of the splendid harmonies he made. His thin cheeks
flushed, his hollow eyes grew bright, he smiled, he frowned, he shook
his slender shoulders, he even took a stride to right or left as he
played on, as if the passion of his performance would not let him rest.

His listeners watched him with sympathetic and comprehending interest.
Warmed and fed, his Latin nature leaping up from its deep depression to
the exaltation of the hour, the appeal he made to them was intensely
pathetic. Burns, even more ardently than his wife, responded to the
appeal. He no longer lounged among the pillows of the broad couch; he
sat erect, his eyes intent, his lips relaxed, his cares forgot. He was a
lover of music, as are many men of his profession, and he was more than
ordinarily susceptible to its influences. He drank in the tones of the
master, voiced by this devoted interpreter, like wine, and like wine
they brought the colour to his face also, and the light to his eyes.

"Jove!" he murmured, as the last note died away, "he's a wonder. He must
be older than he looks. How he loves it! He's forgotten that he doesn't
know where he's to sleep to-night - but, by all that's fair, _we_ know,

Ellen smiled, with a look of assent. Her own heart was warmly touched.
There was a small bedroom upstairs, plainly but comfortably furnished,
which was often used for impecunious patients who needed to remain under
observation for a day or two. It was at the service of any chance guest,
and the chance guest was surely with them to-night. There was no place
in the village to which such a vagrant as this might be sent, except
the jail, and the jail, for a musician of such quality, was unthinkable.
And in the night and storm one would not turn a dog outdoors to hunt for
shelter - at least not Red Pepper Burns nor Ellen Burns, his wife.

As if he could not stop, now that he had found ears to listen, the young
Hungarian played on. More and more profoundly did his music move him,
until it seemed as if he had become the very spirit of the instrument
which sung and vibrated under his thin fingers.

"My word, Len, this is too good to keep all to ourselves. Let's have the
Macauleys and Chesters over. Then we'll have an excuse for paying the
chap a good sum for his work - and somehow I feel that we need an excuse
for such a gentleman as he is."

"That's just the thing. I'll ask them."

She was on her way to the telephone when her husband suddenly called
after her, "Wait a minute, Len." She turned back, to see the musician,
his bow faltering, suddenly lower his violin and lean against his
patron, who had leaped to his support. A minute later Burns had him
stretched upon the blue couch, and had laid his fingers on the bony

"Hang me for a simpleton, to feed him like that he's probably not tasted
solid food for days. The reaction is too much, of course. He's been
playing on his nerve for the last ten minutes, and I, like an idiot,
thought it was his emotional temperament."

He ran out of the room and returned with a wine glass filled with
liquid, which he administered, his arm under the ragged shoulders. Then
he patted the wasted cheek, gone suddenly white except where the excited
colour still showed in faint patches.

"You'll be all right, son," he said, smiling down into the frightened
eyes, and his tone if not his words seemed to carry reassurance, for the
eyes closed with a weary flutter and the gripping fingers relaxed.

"He's completely done," Burns said pityingly. He took one hand in his
own and held it in his warm grasp, at which the white lids unclosed
again, and the sensitive lips tried to smile.

"I'd no business to let him play so long - I might have known. Poor boy,
he's starved for other things than food. Do you suppose anybody's held
his hand like this since he left the old country? He thought he'd find
wealth and fame in the new one - and this is what he found!"

Ellen stood looking at the pair - her brawny husband, himself "completely
done" an hour before, now sitting on the edge of the couch with his new
patient's hand in his, his face wearing an expression of keen interest,
not a sign of fatigue in his manner; the exhausted young foreigner in
his ragged clothing lying on the luxurious couch, his pale face standing
out like a fine cameo against the blue velvet of the pillow under his
dark head. If a thought of possible contamination for her home's
belongings entered her mind it found no lodgment there, so pitiful was
her heart.

"Is the room ready upstairs?" Burns asked presently, when he had again
noted the feeble action of the pulse under his fingers. "What he needs
is rest and sleep, and plenty of both. Like the most of us he's kept up
while he had to, and now he's gone to pieces absolutely. To-morrow we
can send him to the hospital, perhaps, but for to-night - "

"The room is ready. I sent Cynthia up at once."

"Bless you, you never fail me, do you? Well - we may as well be on our
way. He's nearly asleep now."

Burns stood up, throwing off his coat. But Ellen remonstrated.

"Dear, you are so tired to-night. Let me call Jim over to help you carry
him up."

A derisive laugh answered her. "Great Cæsar, Len! The chap's a mere bag
of bones - and if he were twice as heavy he'd be no weight for me. Jim
Macauley would howl at the idea, and no wonder. Go ahead and open the
doors, please, and I'll have him up in a jiffy."

He stooped over the couch, swung the slender figure up into his powerful
arms, speaking reassuringly to the eyes which slowly opened in
half-stupefied alarm. "It's all right, little Hungary. We're going to
put you to bed, like the small lost boy you are. Bring his fiddle,
Len - he won't want that out of his sight."

He strode away with his burden, and marched up the stairs as if he were
carrying his own two-year-old son. Arrived in the small, comfortable
little room at the back of the house he laid his charge on the bed, and
stood looking down at him.

"Len, I'll have to go the whole figure," he said - and said it not as if
the task he was about to impose upon himself were one that irked him.
"Get me hot water and soap and towels, will you? And an old pair of
pajamas. I can't put him to bed in his rags."

"Shall I send for Amy?" questioned his wife, quite as if she understood
the uselessness of remonstrance.

"Not much. Amy's making out bills for me to-night, we'll not interrupt
the good work. Put some bath-ammonia in the water, please - and have it

Half an hour later he called her in to see the work of his hands. She
had brought him one of his surgical aprons with the bath equipment. With
his sleeves rolled up, his apron well splashed, his coppery hair more or
less in disarray from the occasional thrustings of a soapy hand, and his
face flushed and eager like a healthy boy's, Red Pepper Burns stood
grinning down at his patient. Little Hungary lay in the clean white bed,
his pale face shining with soap and happiness, his arms upon the
coverlet encased in the blue and white sleeves of Burns's pajamas, the
sleeves neatly turned back to accommodate the shortness of his arms. The
workman turned to Ellen as she came in.

"Comfy, eh?" he observed briefly.

"Absolutely, I should say, poor dear."

"Ah, you wouldn't have called him that before the bath. But he is rather
a dear now, isn't he? And I think he's younger than I did downstairs.
Not over eighteen, at the most, but fully forty in the experiences and
hardships that have brought him here. Well, we'll go away and let him
rest. Wish I knew the Hungarian for 'good-night,' don't you? Anyway, if
he knows any prayers he'll say 'em, I'll venture."

The dark eyes were watching him intently as he spoke, as if their owner
longed to know what this kind angel in the form of a big American
stranger was saying to him. And when, in leaving him, Burns once more
laid an exploring touch upon his wrist, the two thin hands suddenly
clutched the strong one and bore it weakly to lips which kissed it

"Well, that's rather an eloquent thank-you, eh?" murmured Burns, as he
patted the hands in reply. "No doubt but he's grateful. Put the fiddle
where he can see it in the morning, will you, honey? Open the window
pretty well: I've covered him thoroughly, and he has a touch of fever to
keep him warm. Good-night, little Hungary. Luck's with you to-night, to
get into this lady's house."

Downstairs by the fireside once more, the signs of his late occupation
removed, Burns stretched out an arm for his wife.

"Come sit beside me in the Retreat," he invited, using the name he had
long ago given to the luxurious blue couch where he was accustomed,
since his marriage, to rest and often to catch a needed nap. He drew the
winsome figure close within his arm, resting his red head against the
dark one below it. "I don't seem to feel particularly tired, now," he
observed. "Curious, isn't it? Fatigue, as I've often noticed, is more
mental than physical - with most of us. Your ditch-digger is tired in his
back and arms, but the ordinary person is merely tired because his mind
tells him he is."

"You are never too tired to rouse yourself for one patient more," was
Ellen's answer to this. "The last one seems to cure you of the one

Burns's hearty laugh shook them both. "You can't make me out such an
enthusiast in my profession as that. I turned away two country calls
to-night - too lazy to make 'em."

"But you would have gone if they couldn't have found anybody else."

"That goes without saying - no merit in that. The ethics of the
profession have to be lived up to, curse 'em as we may, at times. Len,
how are we to get to know something about little Hungary upstairs? Those
eyes of his are going to follow me into my dreams to-night."

"I suppose there are Hungarians in town?"

"Not a one that I ever heard of. Plenty in the city, though. The waiter
at the Arcadia, where I get lunch when I'm at the hospital, is a Magyar.
By Jove, there's an idea! I'll bring Louis out, if Hungary can't get
into the hospital to-morrow - and I warn you he probably can't. I
shouldn't want him to take a twelve-mile ambulance ride in this weather.
That touch of fever may mean simple exhaustion, and it may mean look out
for pneumonia, after all the exposure he's had. I'd give something to
know how it came into his crazy head to stand and fiddle outside a
private house in a January storm. Why didn't he try a cigar shop or some
other warm spot where he could pass the hat? That's what Louis must find
out for me, eh? Len, that was great music of his, wasn't it? The fellow

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Online LibraryGrace S. RichmondRed Pepper's Patients With an Account of Anne Linton's Case in Particular → online text (page 2 of 14)