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- Red Pepper Burns - 6/29 -
gone, not for you or any other box-party. It was the kiddie that was on my mind - as I'd seen him last."
"Where is he now?" asked Martha Macauley urgently. She was the mother of two small sons, and Burns's sketch had interested her.
He looked up at her. "Want to see him?"
"Of course I do. Did you take him to somebody in town? Are you going to send him to the asylum in the city?"
"Do you want to see him?". Burns inquired of Winifred Chester. He rose.
"Red! What do you mean? Have you got a child here?"
"Come along, all of you, if you like. He won't wake up. He's sleeping like a top - can't help it, with all that bread and milk inside of him. Part cream it was, too. I saw Cynthia chucking it in. He'd got her, good and plenty, in the first five minutes. Bless her susceptible heart! Come on."
"Talk of susceptible hearts," jeered Macauley as he followed. "There's the softest one in the county."
"Nobody would ever guess it," murmured Pauline Hempstead.
They tiptoed into the house, across the offices into the big, square room which was Burns's own. He switched on a hooded reading-light beside the bed and turned it so that its rays fell on the small occupant.
He lay in spread-eagle, small-child fashion, arms and legs thrown wide, the black, curly head disdaining the pillow, one fist clutching a man's riding-crop. In sleep the little face was an exquisite one; the onlookers might guess what it would be awake.
Burns pointed at the crop, smiling. "That was the nearest approach to a plaything I could muster to-night. To-morrow the shops will help me out."
"I'll send over plenty in the morning, Red," whispered Martha Macauley. Her eyes were suspiciously shiny.
"Did you bring him home just now?" questioned Winifred.
Burns nodded. "I hadn't meant to get him to-night, if I did at all. My call took me within half a mile. I went over and saw him again. That settled it."
The small sleeper stirred, sighed. Burns turned off the light in a twinkling. "He's not used to electricity point blank," he chuckled.
Going down the steps a hand touched his arm. He looked into Ellen Lessing's upturned face and discovered anew that it was a face to hold the attention of a man. But there was no coquetry in it. Instead, he saw a stirred look in eyes which struck him suddenly as singularly like those of the child he had just shown her, "black, with a fringe around 'em."
"Doctor Burns," she said, "will you give me the very great pleasure of dressing the boy? I know how to do it."
"Of course, if you want to," he responded gladly. "I hoped you ladies would look after that."
"Let me do it alone," she urged. "They have their children: it would only be a task to them. To me - I can't tell you what a delight it would be."
"I'll take you and Bob to the city in the morning if you'll go."
"It will be a happy morning for Bob and me, then," she answered, and he saw it in her face that it would be. But he felt that it was because of the boy; not for any other reason. It occurred to him that it might possibly be a happy morning for the driver of the Green Imp, also.
"So Ellen's going to dress the brat." Macauley was strolling over the lawn with Chester and Burns, as, having out-sat the women on the Macauley porch, the men were turning bedward, reluctant to leave the cool star-shine of the July night. "It's easy to see why she wants to do that. Her three-year-old boy would have been just about this Bob's age by now. Tough luck, wasn't it? - when he was all she had left since Jack got out of the game?"
Burns stared at him. "Oh, that's why? I didn't know about her boy, or I'd forgotten it if I was ever told. She will enjoy fitting Bob out, if I can keep her from putting him into white clothes to make him resemble an angel instead of a small boy with an eye for dirt."
"You'll find Ellen's no fool," Macauley assured him warmly. "But if she takes an interest in the boy it'll be the best thing that could happen to him. She has a lot of money. She may get a notion to adopt him."
But upon this Red Pepper Burns spoke with decision. "Confound you, the kiddie belongs to me. Didn't I tell you his name is now Robert Burns? She may dress him if she likes. She can't have him, not by a long shot. He's mine!"
"Oh, well, it might be arranged," murmured Macauley, but not quite low enough. In a flash he was laid flat on his back on the lawn, a menacing figure standing over him.
"None of that!" growled the man with the temper. "Not now or any other time." Then he laughed and let his victim up. "Alcohol will take out grass stains, Jim," he advised. "Tell Martha that."
IN WHICH HE MAKES A CONCESSION
Red Pepper Burns opened his eyes. What on earth was that? A small voice piping at him from within close range? But how could that be?
Something bumped against him. He turned his head on his pillow. A small figure at his side had raised itself upon its elbow; big black eyes in a pale little face were staring at him in affright. Burns roused himself, suddenly very wide awake indeed.
"It's all right, little man," said he, pulling the child gently into the warmth of his encircling arm. "You came home with me last night. Don't you remember? You're going to make me a visit. And this morning after breakfast we're going to drive to town and buy a train of cars - red, shiny cars and an engine with a bell on it. What do you think of that?"
It did not take long to change Bob's fright into the happiest anticipations. Red Pepper Burns was at his best with children; he had what their mothers called "a way with them."
A knock at the door and Cynthia's voice calling," Here's some things for the little boy, Doctor," put an end to a full half-hour of delightful comradeship, during which the sheets of the bed had became a tent and the two were soldiers resting after a day's march. Burns rose and took in the parcel. Martha Macauley had sent it. Her boy Harold was the nearest in size to Bob of any of the children of his neighbours, and the parcel held everything needed from undershirt to scarlet Windsor scarf to tie under the rolling collar of the blue blouse.
"A bath first, Bob," and his new guardian initiated him into the exciting experience of a splash in a big white tub, in water decidedly warmer than it would be a week hence when he should have become used to the invigorating cool plunge. Then Burns, glowing from contact with water as cold as it could be got from the tap, clad in bathrobe and slippers, attempted to solve the mysteries of Bob's toilet. Roars of laughter interspersed with high pipings of glee presently brought Cynthia to the door.
"Can't I help you, Doctor Burns?" she called anxiously.
"Not a bit of it, Cynthia: much obliged. I'm having the time of my life. Stand still, son; let's try it this way round!" came back to the housekeeper's ears.
"I ain't never wore so many fings before," Bob declared doubtfully, as a small white waist with, dangling elastic stocking-supporters was finally discovered to go best buttoned in the back.
"I know. But you'll see how fine it is to have your stockings held up for you. Hi! Here are some sandals, Bob! Barefoot sandals, only we'll wear them over stockings to-day, since we're going shopping. Now for these blue garments I wonder how they go. Shapeless-looking things, they look to me. I suppose they'll resolve into baggy knickers and the sort of long shirt with a belt to it the youngsters of your age all wear. Here we go. Does this top part button behind, Bob, like the waist? No, I think not . . . . It sure looks odd, whichever way we don it, but that may be because it's pretty big. Harold's several sizes bigger than you, though he can't be much older. Give me six months and I'll have you filling out any other five-year-olds clothes."
"My hands - they're all gone," remarked the child, holding out his arms. The blue sleeves did, indeed, cover them to the finger-tips. Laughing, Burns rolled the cloth back, making an awkward bunch at the wrist, but allowing the small hands freedom.
"When Mrs. Lessing trains her eye on you she'll want to make time getting to the shops," Burns observed, struggling with
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