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- Red Pepper Burns - 4/29 -
the bedroom beyond, opened cautiously and Zeke Crandall's eye glued itself to the aperture, an eye astonished beyond belief.
"If that there Red ain't a-cuttin' up jest exactly as he used to when he was a boy - and his pa and ma sick a-bed! If 'twas anybody but Red I'd say he was crazy."
Then he caught the sound of a laugh from lips he had not heard laugh like that for a year - a chuckling, delighted laugh, only slightly asthmatic and wholly unrestrained. He began to laugh himself.
"If folks round here could see Red Burns now they'd never believe the stories about his gettin' to be such a darned successful man at his business," he reflected. "Of all the goin's on! Look at him now! An' that nurse! An' Miss Ellen a-playin' for 'em! Oh, my eye!"
Songs followed - college songs, popular airs, opera bits - all delivered in' a resounding barytone and accompanied by thumping chords improvised by the performer. Out through the open windows they floated, and one astonished villages driving by to take the early train caught the exultant strains:
"Oh, see dat watermillion a-smilin' fro' de fence, How I wish dat watermillion it was mine. Oh, de white folks must be foolish, Dey need a heap of sense, Or dye'd nebber leave it dar upon de vine! Oh, de ham-bone am sweet, An' de bacon am good, An' de 'possum fat am berry, berry fine; But gib me, yes, gib me, Oh, how I wish you would, Dat watermillion growin' on de vine!"
Before they knew it the early morning light was creeping in at the small-paned windows. Burns consulted his watch.
"If you'll give us a cup of coffee, Aunt Ellen, we'll be off in fifteen minutes. Miss Mathewson - his glance mirthfully surveyed her - "Aunt Ellen will take you upstairs and give you a chance to put that magnificent brown hair into a condition where it will not shock the natives at the station. As for mine - "
When Aunt Ellen and Miss Mathewson, each in her own way feeling as if she had passed through an extraordinary experience likely never to occur again, had hurried away, Burns applied himself to a process of reconstruction. When every rebellious red hair had been reduced to its usual order and his thick locks lay with the little wave in them as his mother had begun to brush them years ago; when collar and cravat rose sedately above the gray tweed coat, and a fresh, fine handkerchief had replaced the dingy one which had been through every manner of exercise in the "circus," Burns drew up a chair and faced his patients with the keen, professional gaze which told him whether or not his night's work had been good therapeutics.
"When I've gone you're to have breakfast, and I think you'll both eat it," he said, smiling at them, his eyes bright with affection and contentment. "Then you're to compose yourselves for sleep, and I think you'll both sleep. To-morrow Dad's to be out on the porch - all June is out there, and the roses are in full bloom. Day after to-morrow Mother'll be there, too, in the hammock. As soon as these cases I operate on this morning are out of danger I'll be down again for a whole day. I'll keep the time clear."
"I'm afraid," said his father, looking suddenly anxious for a new cause, "your being up all night won't make your hand any steadier for those operations, Red."
"On the contrary, as a matter of fact, Dad, it'll be a lot steadier just because of my being up all night, assuring myself that there's nothing serious the matter with you and Mother, except the need of a bit of jollying by your boy - which you've certainly had right off the reel, eh? Aunt Ellen thinks yet I've probably killed you. Are you the worse for it, Mother? Give it to me straight, now!"
He bent over her, his fingers on her delicate wrist. She smiled up into his eyes. "Redfield!" she murmured. "As if I could ever be the worse for having you come home!"
He dropped on his knees beside the bed, looking at her with the eyes of the boy she had borne. "Bless me, Mother," he said unsteadily, all the fun gone out of his face. "I - need it - to keep decent."
The last three words were under his breath, but she heard the others and laid her hand on the red head with a tremulous soft word or two which lie could barely catch.
In a minute he had risen, his cheek flushed high, and was gripping his father's hand. "You, too, Dad," he begged. "I'm only Red this morning - going back into the world."
His father's hand and voice shook as he administered the little ceremony, used only once before in his son's life - when at fourteen he first went away to school. Few grown men would have asked for it again, he felt that. Coming from Red he was sure the request meant more than they could know.
Then the professional gentleman whom the world knew - the world which was not acquainted with Red Pepper Burns - and the professional lady who was his assistant went decorously away into the early June morning. Zeke was grinning to himself as he saw them step aboard the train.
"Looks mighty fine in them clipper-built city clothes, Red does," he reflected. "If that there young woman chose to give him away, now but I kind of guess she won't - under the circumstances!"
IN WHICH HE ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY
"Red, the new car is here. Come and look her over."
It was Burns's neighbour on the other side, James Macauley, Junior. R. P. Burns laid down his saw, with which in the late June twilight he had been doing vigorous work at a small woodpile behind the house. He stood up straight, throwing back his shoulders to take the kink out of them.
"All right," said he. "I think I'm fit for general society again. I wasn't when I tackled this job. Nothing like fifteen minutes of woodpile for taking the temper out of the saw -and the man."
Macauley, a stout, good-humoured fellow of thirty-five, laughed. "That temper of yours, Red has it been on the rampage again?"
"It has. Don't talk about it or it'll lift to confounded red head again - it's only scotched for the present. New car's here, eh?"
"Yes, and the pretty widow's here, too - my wife's sister, Ellen Lessing. We ve a great plan for tomorrow, Red. I can't venture to drive this elephant of a car yet, but the women are wild for a trip in her. She holds seven. Martha wants you to drive us and the Chesters to-morrow a hundred and fifty miles seventy-five to F-- and back. Will you do it? You're not so horribly busy just now, and Mrs. Lessing and Pauline Hempstead together ought to make it worth while for you."
This feature of the invitation did not appear to appeal to Burns, but the sight of the touring car, brave and shining in russet and brass, plainly did.
"Not that I'd care to drive such a whale for myself, but I shouldn't mind a run for the fun of trying her out. You say she's been driven enough to warm up her engines? Suppose we take her out and let me get the feel of her mouth before to-morrow?"
"Come on." And they were off.
"For a whale she's a bird," was Burns's paradoxical verdict two hours later. The "trying out" had merged into a smooth run of forty-five miles at not anything like the full pace of which the motor was capable. "Best not to overheat her at first. Run your first three hundred miles with consideration for her vital organs - she'll have her wind by that time."
Next morning four women, long-coated, tissue-veiled, watched the brown beauty roll invitingly up to Macauley's porch steps.
As she crossed the lawn with Winifred, Pauline Hempstead, the guest of the Chesters, was studying not only the car, but the undeniably attractive gray-clad figure of the lately-arrived younger sister of Mrs. Macauley. "Will Red P. look at her any more than he does at me?" she murmured in Winifred Chester's ear.
"I doubt it, my dear. But he'll be foolish if he doesn't, won't he?"
"I don't care for widows myself."
"I presume not." Winifred laughed comprehendingly.
"How old is she?"
"Twenty-eight, I believe - though she doesn't look it."
"Doesn't look it! She looks a lot more."
Winifred laughed still, quietly. Although Pauline undoubtedly had the advantage of Ellen in years, her fair-haired, blue-eyed, somewhat sumptuous beauty was not of so youthful a type as the darker colouring and slenderer outlines of
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