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- Red Pepper Burns - 3/29 -
there for a day or two - by your leave. We'll take the Green Imp into the city - the ten-fifteen doesn't stop here. Then it'll be at the hospital when we want it in the morning. You've twenty minutes to get ready."
"Very well, Doctor Burns."
The office bell rang. Burns fled toward the inner office. Miss Mathewson discovered the guest of the Chesters on the doorstep - all in white, with a face which usually stimulated interest wherever it was seen.
"May I see Doctor Burns just a minute - for Mr. Chester?" The caller took her cue cleverly from Miss Mathewson's face, which at the moment expressed schedules and engagements thick as blackberries in August. Burns, just closing the inner door, caught Chester's name. He pulled off his white office coat, slid into his gray tweed one, and opened the door.
"What can I do for Mr. Chester - in three minutes?" he inquired, coming forward. Miss Mathewson, aware of the shortness of time, vanished.
"Give me something for his headache, please," replied the young person in white promptly. Schedules and engagements were in R. P. Burns's eyes also; they looked at her without appearing to see her at all. To this she was not accustomed and it displeased her.
"Was it too severe for him to come himself?"
"Much too severe. He has gone to bed with it."
"Mrs. Chester closely attending him?"
"Certainly - or I shouldn't be here." The eyes of the Chesters' guest sparkled. Something about the cool tone of this question displeased her still more.
"Tell him to get up and go out and walk a mile, breathing deep all the way."
"Not a grain. He ought to know better than to ask."
"He does, I think. He suggested that possibly if I asked - But I see for myself how that wouldn't make the slightest difference."
"I'm glad your perceptions are so acute," replied Burns gravely.
"Are the three minutes up?" asked the caller.
He looked at his watch. "I think not quite. Is there anything of importance to fill the one remaining?"
"Nothing whatever - except to mention your fee." The guest receded gracefully from the door.
"If the patient will follow directions I'll ask no fee. If he doesn't I'll exact one when I see him again. Forgive my haste, Miss - Halstead?"
"Hempstead," corrected the caller crisply. "Don't mention it, Doctor - Brown. Good night."
The Chesters' guest lingered on the porch before going in to report the failure of her mission. She was still lingering there when the Green Imp, carrying no open-shirted mechanic, but a properly clothed professional gentleman and a severely dressed professional lady, whirled away down the drive.
"He really was going somewhere in a hurry, then," admitted the guest. "In which case I can't be quite so offended. I wonder if that nurse enjoys her trips with him - when his mouth doesn't happen to be shut like a steel trap."
If she could have seen the pair on the train which presently bore them flying away across the state, she would hardly have envied either of them. Between abstraction on the one side and reserve an the other, they exchanged less conversation than two strangers might have done. When Miss Mathewson's eyes drooped with weariness her companion made her as comfortable as he could and bade her rest. His own eyes were untouched by slumber: he stared straight before him or out into the night, seeing nothing but a white farmhouse far ahead, where his anxious thoughts were waiting for his body to catch up.
"Are they much sick, Zeke?."
"Wal, I dunno hardly, Red. - You goin' to drive? They're pretty lively, them blacks. Ain't used to comin' to the station at two o'clock in the mornin'. Your ma's been worryin' about your pa for a consid'able spell, and now that she's took down so severe herself he's gone to pieces some. Miss Ellen'll be glad to see you."
The blacks covered the mile from the station as they had never covered it before, and Burns was in the house five minutes before they had expected him.
"Mother, here's your big boy. - Dad, here I am - here's Red. Bless your hearts -you wanted me, didn't you?"
They could hardly tell him how they had wanted him, but he saw it in their faces.
"I've got to take the four o'clock back - worse luck! - for some operations I can't postpone. But between now and then I'm going to look you over and set you straight, and I'll be back again in two days if you need me. Now for it. Mother first. Come here, Aunt Ellen, and tell me all about her."
R. P. Burns, M.D., had never been quicker nor more thorough at examination of a pair of patients than with these. He went straight at them both, each in the presence of the other, Miss Mathewson capably assisting. With his most professional air he asked his questions, applied his trained senses to the searching tests made of special organs, and gave directions for future treatment. Then he sat back and looked at them.
"Do I appear worried about her, Dad?"
"Why, you don't seem to, Red."
"Miss Mathewson, should you gather from my appearance that I am consumed with anxiety?"
"I think you seem very much relieved, Doctor Burns."
"Mother, as you look at Dad over on the couch there, does he strike you as appearing like a frightfully sick man?"
Mrs. Burns smiled faintly in the direction of the couch, but her eyes came immediately back to her son's. "He seems a good deal better since you came, Redfield."
"There's not a thing the matter with either of you except what can be fixed up in a week. You've got scared to death about each other, and that's pulled you both down. What you need more than anything else is to go to a circus - and, by George! - Since I didn't observe any tents in the darkness as we drove along, you shall have one come to you. Look here! Did you know I'd kept up my old athletic stunts these nine years since I left college?"
He pulled off his coat, waistcoat, collar, shoes, rolled his shirt-sleeves as high as they would go, and turned a series of handsprings across the wide room. Then he stood on his head; he balanced chairs on his chin; he seized his father's hickory stick and went through a set of military evolutions. Then he put on his shoes, eyeing his patients with satisfaction. His mother had lifted her head to watch him, and Miss Mathewson had tucked an extra pillow under it. His father had drawn himself up to a half-sitting posture and was regarding his son with pride.
"I never thought so well of those doings before," he was saying. "If they've kept you as supple as a willow, in spite of your weight, I should say you'd better keep 'em up."
"You bet I will! - See here, Aunt Ellen - you used to play the `Irish Washerwoman: Mind playing it now? Miss Mathewson and I are going to do a cakewalk."
He glanced, laughing, at his office nurse. She was staring at him wide-eyed. He threw back his head, showing a splendid array of white teeth as he roared at her expression.
"Forget `Doctor Burns,' please," said he, in answer to the expression. "He's discharged this case as not serious enough for him, and left it to Red Pepper to administer a few gentle stimulants on the quack order. Come! You can do a cake walk! Forget you're a graduate of any training school but the vaudeville show!"
He caught her hand. Flushing so that her plain face became almost pretty, she yielded - for the hand was insistent. Miss Ellen leaned bewildered against the door which led to the sitting-room where the old piano stood. Her nephew looked at her again, with the eyes which the Chesters' guest had somewhat incoherently described as "Irish-Scotch-barbarian." He said, "Please, Aunt Ellen, there's a good fellow," at which Mr. Burns, Senior, chuckled under his breath; for anything less like that of a "good fellow" was never seen than Sister Ellen's prim little personality. Miss Ellen went protestingly to the piano. Was it right, her manner said, to be performing in this idiotic manner at this unholy hour of three o'clock in the morning - in a sick-room?
It mattered little whether Miss Mathewson could or could not dance the "Irish Washerwoman," or any other antic dance improvised to that live air; she had only to yield herself to Red Pepper Burns's hands and steps, and let him disport himself around her. A most startlingly hilarious performance was immediately and effectively produced. At the height of it, a door across the sitting-room, which commanded a strip of
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