The man in the silk-lined, London-made overcoat, holding his hat firmly on his head lest the January wind send its expensive perfection into the gutter, paused to ask his way of the man with no overcoat, his hands shoved into his ragged pockets, his shapeless headgear crowded down over his eyes, red and bleary with the piercing wind.
“Burns?” repeated the second man to the question of the first. “Doc Burns? Sure! Next house beyond the corner—the brick one.” He turned to point. “Tell it by the rigs hitched. It’s his office hours. You’ll do some waitin’, tell ye that.”
The questioner smiled—a slightly superior smile. “Thank you,” he said, and passed on. He arrived at the corner and paused briefly, considering the row of vehicles in front of the old, low-lying brick house with its comfortable, white-pillared porches. The row was indeed a formidable one and suggested many waiting people within the house. But after an instant’s hesitation he turned up the gravel path toward the wing of the house upon whose door could be seen the lettering of an inconspicuous sign. As he came near he made out that the sign read “R.P. Burns, M.D.,” and that the table of office hours below set forth that the present hour was one of those designated.
“I’ll get a line on your practice, Red,” said the stranger to himself, and laid hand upon the doorbell. “Incidentally, perhaps, I’ll get a line on why you stick to a small suburban town like this when you might be in the thick of things. A fellow whom I’ve twice met in Vienna, too. I can’t understand it.”
A fair-haired young woman in a white uniform and cap admitted the newcomer and pointed him to the one chair left unoccupied in the large and crowded waiting-room. It was a pleasant room, in a well-worn sort of way, and the blazing wood fire in a sturdy fireplace, the rows of dull-toned books cramming a solid phalanx of bookcases, and a number of interesting old prints on the walls gave it, as the stranger, lifting critical eyes, was obliged to admit to himself, a curious air of dignity in spite of the mingled atmosphere of drugs and patients which assailed his fastidious nostrils. As for the patients themselves, since they were all about him, he could hardly do less than observe them, although he helped himself to a late magazine from a well-filled table at his side and mechanically turned its pages.
The first to claim his attention was a little girl at his elbow. She could hardly fail to catch his eye, she was so conspicuous with bandages. One eye, one cheek, the whole of her neck, and both her hands were swathed in white, but the other cheek was rosy, and the uncovered eye twinkled bravely as she smiled at the stranger. “I was burned,” she said proudly.
“I see,” returned the stranger, speaking very low, for he was conscious that the entire roomful of people was listening. “And you are getting better?”