"Itching! It's burning, blistering, scarifying! I never knew how I liked that part of my work till I had to come down to an exclusive practice in pills and plasters. Grayson's doing a stunt to-day that would have driven me mad with envy if I could have stopped to look on. Doing it cleverly, too, by the report I had from Van Horn just now. When Van takes the trouble to praise another man it means something."
"Means it's been forced from him," commented Buller. "Besides, Van enjoys praising Grayson to you. He's enjoyed your smashed arm, too, the old fraud. Was he ever so decent to you before?"
Burns laughed. "You can't strike fire that way today," he declared. "Hold on! You're not going to put that arm back into the splints?"
"Of course I am. It lacks two days yet off the shortest modern regulation period. Come on here."
"Leave 'em off. I'll take the consequences."
"Don't be foolish, man. If I had my way I'd keep the thing put up another full week. I'm not an advocate of this hurry business."
"I am. The arm's well enough to come out. I'll wear it in a sling, but I want my coat sleeve on, and I'm going to have it on. Fix me up, will you? I'm in a hurry."
"You're going on a journey?"
"Yes. Get busy."
"That's the very reason why you should keep that arm out of danger till you get back. Jostling round in a crowd."
"Is this my arm or yours?" thundered Burns.
Buller laughed. "Don't knock me down with it, Pepper-pot. It may be your arm, but you're my patient, and I—"
"Don't you fool yourself. If you won't fix me up I'll go out with it hanging, I can judge my own condition. Will you dress me and put any arm in this sling here, or must I send for Grayson? He's none of your idiotic conservatives."
"Keep quiet, and I'll make you look pretty, little boy. I see—these are new clothes just home from the tailor, and they're an elegant fit. Bully fresh scarf, peach of a pin, brand-new black silk sling—Oh, I say!"
For with his good left arm Burns was threatening his professional friend in a way that looked ominous. But a laugh was in his eye, now that he had got his way, and the altercation ended in a fire of jokes. Then Burns stood up.
"You're a jewel, Buller boy," said he. "You've brought me through in great shape. It was a nasty fracture, and you've given me an arm that'll be as good as new. I'm grateful—you know that. Now, if you'll look over that list I gave you of cases here in the city, and go out once to take a look at Letty Tressler, I'll be ever faithfully yours. Griggs'll see to my village practice. Now I'm off."
"Hope you enjoy your trip. Must be a concentrated pleasure, to be crammed into five days and still make you look like a schoolboy just let out," observed Buller as Burns turned, with his band on the door-knob.
"A dose doesn't have to be big to be powerful," rejoined Burns, opening the door.
"Nitro-glycerin, eh?" Buller called after the departing bulk of his friend. "Don't let it carry you too far up. You might come down with a thud!"
"He's right enough there," was what Burns murmured to himself as he caught the elevator in the great building in which Buller's office was a crowded corner. "I may come down in just that style. But better that than any more of this dead level of suspense. I don't think I could stand that one more day."
He and Johnny Caruthers whirled home in the Imp to find Burns's village office as crowded as Buller's city one. It was late before he could get his dinner, and after it he was kept busy turning calls over to other men. It was the usual experience to have work pile up during the last hours, as if Fate were against his breaking his chains and meant to tie him hand and foot.
"I'm going to get out of this right now," he announced suddenly to Miss Mathewson an hour before train time, as he turned away from a siege over the telephone with one hysterical lady who felt that her life depended upon his remaining to see her through an attack of indigestion. "If I don't, something will come in that will pull hard to keep me home, and I'm not going to be kept. I'll trust you not to look me up for the next hour, for I'll not tell you where I'm going, and you can't guess, you know. Good-bye. Be a good girl."
He wrung her hand, looking at her with that warmth of friendliness which he was accustomed, when in the mood, to bestow on her, recognizing how invaluable she was to him, and never once recking what it meant to her to be so closely associated with him. She answered in her usual quiet way, wishing him a safe journey and bidding him be very careful of the arm, no longer protected except by the silken sign that injury had been done.
"In a crowd, you know, they won't notice the sling," she warned him.
"Won't they? Well, if my trusty left can't protect my battered right I've forgotten my boxing tricks. Don't be anxious about that, little friend. See that Amy Mathewson has a good time in my absence, will you? She's looking just a bit worn, to me."
She smiled, but her eyes did not meet his: she dared not let them. With all his kindness to her he did not often speak with the real affection which was in his voice now. She understood that he was, for some reason, keyed high over his prospective journey even higher than he had been ten days before when on the point of leaving. And she knew well enough where he was going, though he had not told her. It would have taken thirty-six hours to go to Washington, spend a brief time there and return. It was going to take five days to go to South Carolina, remain long enough to transact his business—was it business?—and come back. And there had been no more attempts to write letters by way of an amanuensis. The affection for his assistant in his manner to her was genuine, she did not doubt that, but it did not deceive her for a moment. So, she did not let her eyes meet his. They rested, instead, on the scarfpin which Buller had termed a "peach," but they did not see it. She could not remember when it had been so hard to maintain that quiet control of herself which had long since made her employer cease to reckon with the possibilities of fire beneath.
R. P. Burns stole away with Johnny and the Imp, without so much as letting his neighbours know of his intentions. He had made sure that they were all well; that no incipient scarlet fever or invading measles was threatening them. He smiled to himself as the car went past the Chester house, to think how interested they would be to know where he was going. But he got safely off and nobody opened a door at sound of the Imp to call to him to come in a minute because somebody seemed not quite well.
And then, after all, he ran upon Arthur Chester—and at the city station, to which he had taken the precaution to go, although the ten-thirty stopped for a half-minute at the village. It must be admitted that he tried to dodge his best friend, but he did not succeed. His shoulders were too conspicuous: he could not get away.
"Going to see an out-of-town patient at this hour of night?" queried Chester, coming up warmly interested, as best friends have a trick of being, in spite of all that can be done to avert their curiosity.
"Where else would I be going?"
"I don't know where else, but I doubt if it's to see a patient. There's an air about you that's not professional. You—er—you can't be going to Washington? There's nobody there now."
"No, only a few Government officials and some odds and ends of hangers-on. To be sure, Congress is in session, but there's nobody there. My train's been called, Ches; so long."
"Let me carry your bag." Chester reached for it. "I say, this isn't a tool-kit—this is a stunner of a regulation travelling bag. See here, Red," he was rushing along on the other's side, fairly running to keep up with Burns's strides—"how long are you going to be gone?"
"Long enough to get a change of air. The atmosphere's heavy here with inquisitive people who call themselves your friends. See here, Ches, you're not looking well. You need rest and sleep. Go home and go to bed."
"You're always telling me to go home and go to bed. Not till I see which train you take," panted Chester, his eyes sparkling. "Ha! Going to turn in at Number Four gate, are you? Sorry I can't take your bag inside. Well, possibly I can guess your destination. Got your section clear through to South Carolina? I say, keep your head, old man, keep your head!"
Burns turned about, shook his fist at Arthur Chester, seized his bag, rushed through the gateway and boarded the last of the long string of Pullmans. On the platform he pulled off his hat and waved it at his friend. He could forgive anybody for anything tonight.
CHAPTER XIII. IN WHICH HE MAKES NO EVENING CALL
Burns opened the white gate—it was sagging a little on its hinges—and walked up the moss-grown path between the rows of liveoaks to the tall-columned portico of the still stately, if somewhat timeworn and decayed, mansion among the shrubbery. It was just at dusk, and far away somewhere a whippoorwill was calling. It was the only sound on the quiet air.
The door was opened by an old negro servant, who hesitated over his answer to the question put by this unknown person looming up before him with his arm in a sling. Mrs. Elmore was in, but she was not well and could not see any visitors this evening.
"Is Mrs. Lessing in?"
"Yas, Sah, she is. But she done tole me she couldn't see nobody herse'f. She tekkin' cah ob Miss Lucy."
Burns produced his card and made a persuasive request. The old darky led the way to a long, nearly dark apartment, where the scent of roses mingled with the peculiar odour of old mahogany and ancient rugs and hangings. The servant lit a tall, antique lamp with crystal pendants hanging from its shade, the light from which fell upon a bowlful of crimson roses so that they glowed richly. He left Burns, departing with a shufing step and an air of grudging the strange gentleman the occupancy of the room, although it was to be for only so long as it would take to bring back word that neither of the ladies would see him to-night.
Burns sat still for the space of two minutes then, as no further sound could be heard in the quiet house, he became restless. His pulses beat rather heavily and, to quiet them or the sense of them, he got up and walked about, pausing at one of the long French windows to gaze out into the dusky labyrinth of a garden, where he could just make out paths winding about among the bushes. The night was mild, and the window stood ajar as if some one had lately come in.
Then he turned and saw her. She had almost reached him, but he had not heard her, her footfall upon the old Turkey carpet with its faded roses and lilies had been so light. She was in white, and the light from the old lamp shone on her arms end face and brought out the shadows of her hair and eyes. She put out both hands—then quickly drew back one as her glance fell upon the sling, and gave him her left, smiling. But he drew the arm that had been broken out of its support and held it out.
"Please take this hand, too," he said. "It will be its first experience and, perhaps, it will put new life into it. It's pretty limp yet."
She laid hers in it very gently, looking down at it as his fingers closed slowly over hers.
"That's doing very well, I should think," she said. "It's barely time for it to be independent yet, is it?"
"About time. I had something of a wrestle with Doctor Buller to get him to leave the splints off. How warm and soft your hand is. This one of mine has forgotten how the touch of another hand feels."
"I'm sure you ought not to use it yet. Please put it back in the sling." She drew her own hand gently away.
It occurred to him that while he had been absent from her he had not been able to recall half her charm, and that if he had he would never have been able to wait half so long before pursuing her down into this Southern haunt of hers. He drew a full, contented breath.
"At last," he said, "I am face to face with you. It's worth the journey."
In the lamplight it seemed to him the rose cast a reflection on her face which he had not observed at first.
"I'm so sorry Aunt Lucy isn't able to see you tonight," she said—"unless she would consent go see you professionally. She really ought—"
He held up his hand "Not unless she is in serious straits, please," he begged. "I've fled from patients, only to find them all the way down on the train. I don't know what there can be about me to suggest to a conductor that I'm the man he's looking for to attend some emergency case, but he seems to spot me. Only at the station before this did I get released from the last of the series. Let me forget my profession for a bit if I can, just now I'm only a man who's come a long way to see you. Is it really you?"
He leaned forward, studying her intently. His head, with its coppery thatch of heavy hair, showed powerful lines in the lamplight; beneath his dark throws the hazel eyes glowed black.
"It's certainly I," she answered lightly. "And being I, with the mistress of the house prevented from showing you hospitality, I must offer it. She begged me to make you comfortable and to tell you she would see you in the morning. You've had a long journey. You must want the comfort of a room and hot water. I'll ring for Old Sam."
She crossed the room and pulled an old-fashioned bell-cord, upon which a bell was heard to jangle far away. The old darky reappeared.
"I should have gone to a hotel," Burns said, "if I could have found one in the place."
"There is none. And if there had been Aunt Lucy would have been much hurt to have you go there. Where did you leave your bag?"
"At the station. I can stay only for a night and a day, so it's a small one."
"I'll send Young Sam for it. Now let Sam take you to your room, and in a few minutes I'll give you supper."
"Don't bother about supper at this hour. I only want—"
"You want what you are to have,—some of Sue's delicious Southern cookery." She smiled at him as he looked back at her, following the old servant. "She's been in the family for forty years and she loves to have company to appreciate her dishes. Sam, you are to help Doctor Burns. He has had a broken arm."
When Burns came down, fresh from a bath and comfortable with clean linen, he smelled odours which made him realize that, eager as he was for other things, he was human enough to be intensely hungry with a healthy man's appetite. So he surrendered himself to the fortunes that now befell him.
Old Sam conducted him to the dining-room, a quaintly attractive apartment where candle-light illumined the bare mahogany of the round table laid with a large square of linen at his place and set with delicate ancient china and silver. Ellen Lessing was already there in a high-backed chair opposite the one set for him, a figure to which his eyes were again drawn irresistibly and upon which they continued to rest as he took his seat.
Sam disappeared toward the kitchen, and Burns spoke in a low voice across the table.
"I feel as if I were in a dream," said he. "Forty-eight hours ago I was rushing about, hundreds of miles from here, trying to attend to the wants of a lot of people who seemed determined not to let me get away. Now I'm down here in the midst of all this quiet and peace, with you before me to look at, and nobody to demand anything of me for at least twenty-four hours. It's all too good to be true."
"It seems rather odd to me, too," she answered, letting her eyes stray from his and rest upon the bowl of japonicas of a glowing pink, which stood in the centre of the table. The candle-light made little starry points in her dark eyes as she looked at the rich-hued blooms. "The last person in the world I was expecting to see to-night was you."
"I suppose I was as far from your thoughts as your expectation," he suggested.
"How should I be thinking of a person who had not written to me for so long I thought he had forgotten me?" she asked, and then as he broke out into a delighted laugh at her expense she grew as, pink as her flowers and seemed to welcome the return of Sam bearing a trayful of Sue's good things to eat.
Fried chicken and sweet potatoes, beaten biscuit and fragrant coffee, had a flavour all their own to Burns that night. He ate as a hungry man should, yet never forgot his companion for a moment or allowed her to imagine that he forgot her. And by and by the meal was over and the two rose from the table.
"I must go and see that Auntie is comfortable for the night, if you will excuse me for half an hour," said the person he had come to see. "Will you wait in the drawing-room? I will have Sam bring you some late magazines."
"I'll wait, and no magazines, thank you. I can fill the time somehow," he answered. "But don't let it be more than the half-hour, will you?"
He watched her until she disappeared from his sight at the turn of the staircase landing, then went in to pace up and down the long room, his left arm folded over his right, after the fashion he had acquired since the right arm became useless. After what seemed an interminable interval she came back. He met her at the door.
"Are the duties all done?" he inquired.
"All done for the present. I must look in on Auntie by and by, but I think she is going to sleep."
"May she sleep the sleep of the just! And there's nothing more you feel it incumbent upon you to do for me? No more sending me to my room, no more waiting upon me by Sam, no more feeding me till my capacity is reached? Is there really no notion in your mind as to how you can put off the coming hour?"
His voice had its old, whimsical inflection, but there was a deeper note in it, too. She parried him gently, yet not quite so composedly as was her wont.
"Why should I want to put if off? Aren't we going to sit down and have a delightful talk? I want to hear all about Bob and Martha and all of them, and about your work since I saw you."
"You want to hear all about those things, do you? I had the impression that we discussed them quite thoroughly while I was at supper. Still, I can go over them all again if you insist. It may take up another five minutes, and when one is fencing for time, even five minutes counts."
It was his old way, with a vengeance. There was a saying of Arthur Chester's current among his and Burns's friends that it never was of any use to try to evade Red Pepper when once he had begun to fire upon your defenses. With his eyes searching you and his insolent tongue putting point blank questions to you, you might as well capitulate first as last.
There being no conceivable answer to this thrust about fencing for time, even for a woman experienced in replying skilfully to men under all sorts of conditions, Ellen Lessing was forced to look up or play the part of a shy girl. So she looked up, lifting her head bravely. There really was nothing else to do.
It was all in his face. He had not come all those hundreds of miles to pay her an evening call, nor did he mean to be put off longer. His eyes held hers: she could not withdraw them.
"It's odd," he said, speaking slowly, "how like a magnet drawing a steel bar you've drawn me down here. Pull-pull-pull—an irresistible force. I wonder if the magnet feels the attraction, too? Could it pull so hard if it didn't?"
There was a long minute during which neither stirred—it might have been the counterpart of that minute, months back, when they had first observed each other. Recognition it was, perhaps, at the very first; there could be no question about the recognition now—it went deep.
Suddenly he slipped his right arm out of the sling. Before she could draw breath she was in the circle of his arms, but he had not touched her.
"Am I wrong?" he was saying. "Has it pulled both ways from the first?"
It must be as useless for the magnet to resist as for the bar. And when they, have come within a certain distance of each other—
If Red Pepper's left arm caught her in the stronger grasp, the right did all, and more than all, that could have been expected of it. It was his right arm which slowly drew her hands up, one after the other, and indicated to them that their place was locked together, behind his neck.
An old garden in South Carolina is a place to lure the Northerner out-of-doors. Before breakfast next morning Burns was walking down the box-bordered paths, feasting his gaze and his sense of fragrance on the clumps of blue and white violets, the clusters of gay crocuses, the splendid spikes of Roman hyacinths. But he did not fail to keep track of all doorways in sight, and when she appeared at the open French window of the drawing-room he was there in a trice, offering her a bunch of purple violets and feasting his eyes upon her morning freshness.
"I'm still dreaming, I think," said he when he had drawn her back into the quiet room long enough to satisfy himself with the active demonstration that possession means privilege, and had himself fastened the violets in the front of her crisp white morning dress. "Dreaming that I can stay down here in this wonderful paradise with you and not go back to the slave's life I lead."
"You would never be happy away from that slave's life long, you know," she reminded him. "The rush of it is the joy of it to you."
"How will it be to you? I shall be yours, you remember, till Joe Tressler or any other ne'er-do-weel wants me, then I'm his."
"But you'll always come back to me," said she.
"And will you be content with that?"
"So long as you want to come back."
He looked steadily into her eyes, and his own took fire. "Want to come back! I've waited a long time to find the woman I could be sure I should always want to come back to. I thought there would never be such a woman: not for an erratic fellow like me.... But now I'm wondering how I shall ever be able to stay away."
CHAPTER XIV. IN WHICH HE DEFIES SUPERSTITION
"Hades of Hymen! Red, are you making calls this morning?"
"Why not? I'm not to be married till noon, am I?"
"I say, take me with you, will you? I want to go along with a man who has the nerve to see patients up to the last minute before his wedding!"
"Takes less nerve than to sit around and wait for the fateful hour, I should say. Come on, if you think you'll have time to dress when you get back. It may be close work."
"Haven't you got to dress yourself?" demanded Arthur Chester, settling himself in the car beside its driver. "Or shall you go to the altar in tweeds with April mud on your boots?"
"Rather than not get there, yes. But I can dress in half the time you can—always could, and necessity has developed the art. Look here, there isn't any April mud. The roads are fine."
"Oh, I suppose if I were booked for a wedding journey in the Green Imp before the leaves were fairly out I shouldn't be able to see any mud myself. As it is, well, I don't know the colour of the bride's motoring clothes, but I presume they'll be adapted to the circumstances. I never saw her look anything but ready for whatever situation she happened to be in. That's a trick that'll serve her many a good turn as the wife of R. P. Burns, M.D., eh, Red?"
The Imp whirled about the country all the morning, having made an early start. The car was in fine fettle, like a horse that has been trained for a race. Although it was beginning its second season it had never been in better trim for business. The engine, having been cared for and seldom abused, was running more smoothly than when it had been first put upon the road. The Imp had had a fresh coat of the dark-green which gave it its name, and its brasswork was shining as only Johnny Caruthers by long and untiring labors could make metal shine. It had that morning acquired a luggage-rack attached to its rear, which was soon to receive a leather-covered motor trunk at that moment receiving its final consignments in the Macauley house; and there were several other new fittings about the machine which indicated that it was presently to be put to uses which had never been required of it before.
The Imp drew up in front of the hospital. Chester looked anxiously at his watch for the twenty-seventh time that morning. "For Heaven's sake, hurry, Red," he urged. "Women are the dickens about having a wedding late, and it's ten minutes of eleven now. Noon comes sure and soon, and at noon, allow me to remind you—"
Burns nodded. "Keep cool, boy," he recommended. "No use getting excited before a critical operation."
But he disappeared at a pace fast enough to satisfy Chester, who sat back and said to himself that R. P. had come nearer giving the crisis before him its appropriate name than he had ever heard done before.
He became anxious again, however, before Burns returned, and his watch was in his hand when the prospective bridegroom bolted out of the hospital door and ran for his car as if he had not a moment to spare.
"Glad to see you're losing your head a trifle at last," commented Chester as the Imp turned a dizzy curve and shot away. "It's the only proper thing. But we've really enough time if you don't stop anywhere else. What's the matter? Good Lord, man, you'll get nabbed if you speed up like this within limits. You—"
"Cut it and don't talk. I've got to make time," was all the answer or explanation he received; and Chester, with the wisdom of long association with Red Pepper at his pepperest, obeyed.
As they approached the house Burns spoke for the first time since they had left the city. "Go in and tell the bunch I have to do an operation at the hospital as quick as I can get my stuff and drive back there. I'll be back at—"
"Great Christopher, man! But—"
"I can be back by two. Ellen will understand."
"The deuce she will! Don't ask me to explain to her."
"I won't. I'll do it myself. You tell the rest."
The Imp shot up the driveway. Burns jumped out and ran to his office. Five minutes later, instrument bag in hand, he ran out again, Miss Mathewson following. He bolted in at the Macauleys' front door. Chester had already broken the incredible news to Martha Macauley and was standing out a storm of expostulations and reproaches, as if by any chance anybody could expect Arthur Chester to be able to stop R. P. Burns when he had started upon any course of action whatsoever. But when Burns himself appeared at the doorway the situation came to a crisis. Towering beside a group of palms which decorated the foot of the staircase Burns demanded to see Ellen.
"Why, Red, you can't. She's—besides how can you—"
"Ask her to come where I can speak to her then. Quick, please."
There was no knowing how long the sparring might have lasted, or what extreme measures might have been taken, had not a figure in a floating lilac-and-white garment, with two long braids of dark hair hanging over its shoulders, appeared upon the staircase landing. Burns looked up, saw it, and was up the stairs to the landing before Chester could flick an eyelash.
"Dear, to save a life I want to delay things just two hours. There's nobody else to do it. Van Horn was taken ill just as he was getting ready. The only other man who would venture under the conditions—Grayson—is out of town."
His arms were about her as she stood a step above him. So, her eyes were level with his.
"Do it, of course," she whispered. "And take my love with you."
For one minute Burns stayed to tell her that he had known she would send him to his duty, then he was off. The door slammed behind him, and outside the Imp's horn sent back a parting salute.
From the bottom stair Martha Macauley, distressed young matron and hostess, gazed up at her sister, who, with arms leaning on the vine-wreathed rail at the landing, was smiling down at her.
"Ellen! Was ever anything so crazy! I did suppose Red would take time enough to be married in. There's everybody coming."
"So few you can easily telephone them all to wait."
"And the breakfast under way—"
"It will keep."
"Aren't you superstitious enough not to want to postpone your wedding?" demanded Martha urgently.
The dark braids of hair swung violently as the bride's head was emphatically shaken. "Martha! Take it back! Let somebody die because I was afraid to wait two hours?"
"I don't believe anybody would die," insisted Martha. "Somebody could be found. It's just Red's ridiculous craze for surgery. I always said he'd rather operate than eat. Now, it seems he'd rather operate than be—"
But at this moment a large, determined hand came over her mouth from behind, as James Macauley, junior, arriving upon the scene, asserted his authority. He was in bathrobe and slippers, having been excitedly interviewed by Chester through the bathroom door.
"Quit fussing, Marty. The thing can't be helped, and if Ellen doesn't mind I don't know why we should. If we were having a houseful it would be fierce, but with only ourselves and the Chesters and the minister's family and Red's people—I'll go telephone Mr. Harding now."
As Martha freed herself from the silencing hand the front door opened again. This time it was Mrs. Richard Warburton—Burns's young sister Anne—also in somewhat informal attire, over which she had thrown an evening coat. She surveyed the group with laughing eyes. She herself had been married within the year.
"It's absurd, isn't it?" she cried. "But it's just like Red. Ellen knows that, don't you, dear? Ellen'll not only take him for better and for worse, but for present and for absent—mostly absent! But we're rather proud of him over at the house. Father's walking up and down and saying no other fellow would have done it, and Mother's all tearful and smiling. Dick wanted to go in with him, but of course Miss Mathewson had to go: he seldom operates without her."
"It's so uncertain when he'll get back," mourned Martha, still unreconciled.
"I made Miss Mathewson promise to telephone, the moment she should know. It's lucky the wedding guests are all in the family, isn't it? Ellen, dear"—pretty Anne ran up the stairs to the landing—"I really don't see how, after he caught sight of you in that fascinating garb, with your hair down, he could ever tear himself away! You're positively the loveliest thing I ever saw in all my life, and I'm almost out of my senses with joy that you're to be my sister, even though I never saw you in the world till yesterday! I always said when Red did care for anybody for keeps, she'd be a jewel!"
Red Pepper came back at precisely twenty minutes of three. His patient had given him a bad hour of anxiety immediately after leaving the table, and he could not desert her until she had rallied. But he felt easy about her now, and he had arranged to leave her in Buller's hands—Buller, who did not do major surgery himself, but was a most competent man when it came to the care of surgical patients after operation. Burns brought Amy Mathewson back with him, though she had begged to be allowed to stay with the case.
"And not be at my wedding?" cried Red Pepper, in exuberant spirits. "Why, I couldn't be properly married without you to see me through!"
Upon which she had smiled and obeyed him, and taken a tighter grip upon herself as he put her into the Green Imp for the last ride together. That was what it was to her, though she might yet go with him a thousand times to help him in his work. To him it was a quick and joyful journey back to his marriage.
"All right, Mother and Dad!" he exulted, coming in upon them in their festal array. He shook hands with his father and his brother-in-law; he kissed his mother. Then he ran for his own room where Bobby Burns, just being finished off by Anne, herself superbly dressed, shrieked with rapture at the sight of him.
"Red! At last! I've laid everything ready; you've only to jump into your bath; I turned on the water when Dick saw the Imp down the road. Don't you dare have a vestige of a surgical odour about you when you come out!"
In precisely seventeen minutes and three-quarters the bridegroom was ready to the last coppery affair on his head.
"Have I a 'surgical odour,' Anne?" he asked as he came up to her.
She buried her face on his shoulder, both arms about him, regardless of her finery. "You're the dearest, sweetest old trump of a brother that ever lived, and you smell like sunshine and fresh air!" she cried. Whereat he shook with laughter and patted her back as she clung to him.
"Promise me, Red," she begged, lifting her head, "that you won't let anything—anything—keep you from going off with Ellen in the Imp. She's been so lovely about this horrid delay, but I'm always suspicious of you. Promise!"
"I promise you this," agreed her brother: "Wherever the Imp and I go, after the minister has said the words, for this two weeks Ellen shall go with me."
"Chester," said Dick Warburton as he stood in that gentleman's company, looking over a stupendous assortment of wedding gifts, which, in spite of the fact that nobody outside the family had been asked to see Redfield Pepper Burns married, overflowed two large rooms into the upper hall and almost over the railing, "will you tell me who in the name of time sent that rat-trap? This is the most extraordinary display of gold, silver, and tinware that I ever saw, and I'm at the end of my astonishment. But that rat-trap, is it a joke?"
"No joke whatever—," declared Chester. "It comes from one of R, Red's—devoted friends—his own invention. And the point of the thing is that the making of that rat-trap is going to be the making of the worst dead-beat of a patient Red ever stood by. I really believe Joe Tressler's going to get a patent on it, which also will be Red's doing. But this is a special, particular rat-trap made of extra fine materials, suitable for a wedding gift!"
"Well, well," mused Burns's brother-in-law. "And what millionaire sent the diamond pendant? By Jove, I haven't seen finer jewels than those this side of the water."
"That came from the Walworths, I believe. Take it all together, it's a great collection, isn't it? It shows up the odder because Ellen wouldn't have the freak grateful-patient gifts put to one side—or even thrown into a sort of refining shadow. Fix your eye on that rainbow quilt, will you, Dicky, alongside of the Florentine tapestry? That quilt would put out your eye if you gazed upon it steadily, so let up on it by regarding this match-safe. Wouldn't that—"
"That came from Johnny Caruthers," said a richly modulated low voice behind him. "Please set it down carefully, Mr. Arthur Chester."
The two men wheeled to see the bride come to the defense of her wedding gifts. Behind her loomed her husband, laughing over her head, his eyes none the less tender, like hers, for the queer presents which meant no less of love and gratitude than the costlier gifts, of which there was no mean array.
"I see you've married him, patients and all, Ellen Burns," declared Richard Warburton. "On the whole, it's your wisest course. The less he knows you mind their devotion to him—"
"Mind it!" She gave him the flash of which the soft black eyes were brilliantly capable. "Dick, I have no gift I like so well as that rat-trap. You don't know the story, but I do, and it means to me—fidelity to duty. And if there's one great big thing in the world I think it's that!"
Over her head, Dick Warburton nodded at his brother-in-law. "I'm glad we've got her into the family, Red," said he. "It's a mighty rare thing to find a beautiful woman who knows how to dress like a picture, with that ideal at the back of her head! 'Cherish her, Red. If you don't I'll come around and knock you down!"
"I'll let you do it," agreed Burns soberly. All his marriage vows were in his face.
It was quite dusk when the Green Imp got away. Johnny Caruthers had the satisfaction of lighting up the car's lamps—always a joy to him, and particularly so to-night, for even the oil taillight bore witness to his trimming and polishing till its red eye could gleam no brighter. As for the front lamps and the searchlight the Imp's progress would be as down an avenue of brilliance if its driver allowed them all full play upon the road.
"She's in great trim, Johnny," said Burns's voice in his ear. "I like her looks immensely. I shall hate to get a speck of mud on her."
"Meaning the lady, Doc?" asked Johnny anxiously. "There's a wet bit there under the elms, Doc, remember. It would be a pity to splash any mud on her!"
He glanced toward the porch, his freckled face eloquent of his admiration for the figure which was the centre of the group gathered there.
Burns's eyes followed his. Bob, a picturesque, small person in his wedding attire of white linen, was attempting to tie Ellen's motor-veil for her, as she stooped, smiling, to the level of his eager little arms. It occurred to both master and man, as they watched the child's efforts to adjust the floating chiffon, that veils, however useful, were to be regretted when they were allowed even partially to obscure faces like those of Red Pepper's wife.
"I meant the car, lad," explained Burns, laughing. "You've done a great piece of work an her since I brought her home this afternoon. I'm afraid you've done some last polishing with your wedding clothes on, Johnny. Here's some, thing to take the spots out."
"Oh, Doc!" breathed the boy. "Not to-night, Let me do it—for you—and her."
The money went back into Burns's pocket, and his hand met Johnny's in a hearty grasp. "That's better yet," said he, "and thank you, John. If anybody but you were sending me off I'd ask if everything was surely in the car But I'll not even ask you."
"You don't need to," vowed the boy proudly. "And there's some things in you don't need to know about, just extrys in case of breakdown."
"Now, that," said his employer, "is what call proving one's self a friend."
The Imp went cautiously through the "wet bit," for it lay under the corner arc-light, and Johnny Caruthers would be watching. But, once on the open road outside the village, the pace quickened. For late April the roads were not bad, and if they had been sloughs the Imp Could have pulled through them. She had a great power hidden away in those six cylinders of hers, had the Imp.
"You'll not mind if I stop at the hospital as we go through?" questioned Burns. "Then we'll be off, out the old west road, out of reach of telephones and summonses of any sort. But I shall be just that much easier."
"Do stop, please. I'm sure you'll be more satisfied and so shall I."
She sat quietly in the car while he was gone looking up at the lighted windows and thinking all sorts of sympathetic thoughts concerning those inside—yet with a tiny fear in her heart that he would find some new and unavoidable duty to detain him. If he should—
But he was back, and as the Imp's searchlight fell upon his face, returning, she read there that he was free.
"Doing well, everything satisfactory, and I've not a care in the world," he exulted as he leaped in. "Now we're off, and never a stop till we've put a wide space between us and the rest of them."
The Green Imp ran at its quietest along the city streets, then through the thinning suburbs, and finally, with the lights all behind them, the open country ahead, the long, low car came out upon the straight highway which leads a hundred miles before it comes again to any but insignificant hamlets and small, rustic inns.
Burns had said little thus far, but as he glanced over his shoulder at the now distant lights of the city he suddenly spoke low, out of the quiet:
"We're out of reach of everything and everybody; nobody even knows the road we're taking. We're all alone in the world together. You can't think what that means to me. I've lived nine years at the call of every soul that wanted me: hardly a vacation except for study. A fortnight seems pretty short allowance for a honeymoon; we'll take a longer one when we go to Germany in the fall. But—for two weeks—"
He looked down at her in the April starlight. He bent to finish the statement, whatever it might have been, upon her lips, for speech failed him. Then, with a happy laugh, he gave the Green Imp her head.