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- Red Pepper Burns - 10/29 -
this point he had been both hurt and angry. After a moment he said, with his eyes on the floor, but in a different tone from any he had yet used: "Go ahead, Red. I'll try to prove I have some stuff in me yet."
"Of course you have." Burns's hand was on his friend's shoulder. "That's what I'm counting on. Prove it by following directions to the letter. And begin by coming with me for a trip into the country. I have to see a case before I go to bed, and the air will do your head good."
It was the first of many similar trips. Arthur Chester may fairly have been said to spend the succeeding fortnight in the company of the Green Imp and its driver. From morning till night, and often in the night itself when he found it impossible to sleep, he was living in the open air by means of this device. Of walking, also, he did an increasing amount as his strength grew under the regimen Burns insisted upon. But for the first week, in spite of all the help his physician could give him, he found himself indeed involved in a fierce struggle - a struggle with shaken and unmanageable nerves; with a desperate craving for the soothing, uplifting effect of the drug to which he was forced to admit he had become perilously accustomed; with a black depression of spirit which was worse than anything else he had to combat.
It was at the worst of one of these periods of darkness that, alone with his patient upon a hilltop where the two had climbed, leaving the Green Imp at a point where the road had become impossible, Burns said suddenly:
"Ches, I believe, with all my care to give you the treatment I thought you needed, I've failed to point out the most potent remedy of all."
Chester shook his head. "You've done everything, Red. All the trouble's with me. I'm so pitiably weak - so much weaker than I ever dreamed I could be. I can't seem to care whether I get out of this or not. All I want is to lie down and go to sleep - and never wake up."
The last words came under his breath, but Burns heard them. He showed no sign of being startled, though this mood was a gloomier one than he had yet seen his patient succumb to. Instead, he went on talking in a tone of confidence:
"I ought to have known enough to apply this remedy, because it's one I've tried myself. If you could know, since the night you heard me make a certain vow, what a time I've had with myself to keep it, you'd understand that I know what it means to try to break up a habit. Mine's the habit of years. With my temper and some of my associations, intemperate profanity's been the easiest thing in the world to fall into. When things went wrong, out would come the oaths like water out of a spring - though that's a false comparison: like the filth out of a sewer, I'd better say."
"We all swear more or less," acknowledged Chester, his head in his hands.
"Not as I did - and you know it. I've been responsible for many a boy's taking it up, though I didn't realize it. Because I was athletic and in for sports with them, they thought I was the whole thing. They laughed when I got mad and ripped out a lot of language: they copied it. But I never heard myself as others hear me till that night I let go at the mother who'd ignorantly murdered her boy by disobeying orders. On the way home that night I woke up - came to myself - I don't know how. The stars were unusually bright, and I looked up at them and thought of that child's soul going back to its Maker . . . . and then thought of my curses following it and coming to His ear."
A silence fell. When Burns broke it, it was in a voice deep with feeling.
"The next words I sent up to that ear were in a different shape. I think it was the first real prayer I'd ever said since the little parrot prayers my mother taught me. That was the first: it hasn't been the last. I don't suppose I say much that would sound like the preacher's language, but Ches, what I do believe is that - I get what I ask for. That's - help to fight my temptations. And profanity isn't the only one nor the toughest one to down."
Chester looked up. For a moment he forgot himself and his wretchedness. "It's hard to believe it's you, Red - talking like this."
"I know it must be hard, but it ought to be the more convincing on that account. I belong to a profession of materialists, and all at once it's grown to seem to me the strangest thing in life that a man who studies the anatomy of this body of ours should be a materialist. To watch its workings and then doubt the God who made it is sheet wilful blindness. But, Ches - I've got my eyes open at last. The God who made me is up there, and He knows and cares how I go on with the job. As for answering my appeals for help when I get hard pressed - the, biggest sign I have of that is a human one. Since Bobby Burns came to sleep in that little bed next mine, it's been a whole lot easier to get on."
A deep sigh was Chester's reply to this. He had a small boy and girl of his own. For their sakes and Winifred's he knew he must fight this fight out and win. But as for getting tangible help from the Creator of a body handicapped by nerves like his! He began to say this, but Burns broke in upon him with the answer he would least have expected at a moment like this a great, ringing laugh, the sound of which brought the slow blood to Chester's white face.
"If you consider wrecked nerves like mine a laughing matter -" he broke out.
But Burns, his laugh over, was sober again and his voice was earnest. "Arthur Chester, don't make Him responsible for your `wrecked nerves.' They weren't wrecked when you were furnished with them. You've done the wrecking yourself by breaking pretty nearly every law that governs the workings of the human machine. You're paying the penalty. But you're going to get the upper hand. From now on, in spite of your office life, you're going to get good red blood in your veins - and your brains. The worst is over now - the second week will be easier. But what I'm trying to tell you is that you'll get that upper hand a lot quicker if" - his cheek grew hot with this strange, unaccustomed effort at putting things he had never spoken of before into words - "if you'll just reach up and take hold of that `Upper Hand' that, according to my new belief and experience, is ready to reach down to you. It's stronger than yours: you'll feel the upward pull."
He broke off and got to his feet. The two had been sitting on a fallen log, looking off over the hills toward a distant river winding its blue length through fields of living green.
"I wasn't exactly cut out for a preacher, Ches," he added after a minute. "I hope my talk doesn't sound to you like `cant.' I'm a pretty poor specimen of a chap to be setting up my own example for anybody to follow."
"I don't think you've been setting up your own example," Chester replied. He pulled himself up limply from the log, yet out of his face had gone the black look which had been there when he carne up the hill. "And what you've said doesn't sound like `cant' to me, Red. It sounds more like 'can.'"
Red Pepper Burns held out his hand. His big; warm fingers closed hard over the thin; cold ones which met them. Then the two men, without more words, went away down the hill. From this hour Arthur Chester afterward dated the beginning of the end of the fight.
IN WHICH HE PRESCRIBES FOR HIMSELF
"Red," observed James Macauley, junior, "this place of yours looks like a drunkard's home."
He glanced around him as he spoke. The criticism certainly found justification in every corner. No more neglected office could have been discovered belonging to any practitioner within an area of many miles.
"I suppose it does," rejoined Burns from the depths of a big, dusty leather chair where he sat stretched in an attitude expressing extreme fatigue. " But I don't care a hang."
Macauley looked at him. His eyes were closed. His arms lay upon the chair arms, relaxed and limp. For the first time his friend observed what might have been noted by a critical eye on any day during the last fortnight. The lines on the ordinarily strong, health-tinted face were deeper than he had ever seen them; the cheeks were thinner; there were even shadows under the thick eyelashes which outlined the lids of the closed eyes.
"Look here, old man," Macauley cried, sudden conviction seizing him, "you're working altogether too hard. This miserable city epidemic has done you out. I've thought all the time you were trying to cover too much ground."
"Ground's had to be covered," replied the other briefly, without opening his eyes.
"Have the other fellows worked as hard as you?"
"I don't believe it. They're all city men. You've done all this city work and looked after your own patients here, too, to say nothing of living in both places at once. With your housekeeper gone home to her sick folks, and Miss Mathewson off on one of your cases - no wonder this place looks the way it does."
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