“No, you don’t,” denied Red Pepper Burns stoutly. “If you saw me take their heads off you’d wonder that they ever came again. Plenty of them don’t—and I don’t blame them—when I’ve cooled off.”
Coolidge smiled. “You never lie awake thinking over what you’ve said or done, do you, Red? Bygones are bygones with a man like you. You couldn’t do your work if they weren’t!”
A peculiar look leaped into Burns’s eyes. “That’s what the outsiders always think,” he answered briefly.
“Isn’t it true?”
“You may as well go on thinking it is—and so may the rest. What’s the use of explaining oneself, or trying to? Better to go on looking unsympathetic—and suffering, sometimes, more than all one’s patients put together!”
Coolidge stared at the other man. His face showed suddenly certain grim lines which Coolidge had not noticed there before—lines written by endurance, nothing less. But even as the patient looked the physician’s expression changed again. His sternly set lips relaxed into a smile, he pointed to a motioning porter.
“Time to be off, Cooly,” he said. “Mind you let me know how—you are. Good luck—the best of it!”
* * * * *
In the train Coolidge had no sooner settled himself than he read Burns’s prescription. He had a feeling that it would be different from other prescriptions, and so it proved:
Walk five miles every evening.
Drink no sort of stimulant,
except one cup of coffee at
Begin to make plans
for the cottage. Don’t let it turn out a
Ask the good Lord every
night to keep you from being a proud
“Not hungry, Red? After all that cold drive to-day? Would you like to have Cynthia make you something special, dear?”
R.P. Burns, M.D., shook his head. “No, thanks.” He straightened in his chair, where he sat at the dinner table opposite his wife. He took up his knife and fork again and ate valiantly a mouthful or two of the tempting food upon his plate, then he laid the implements down decisively. He put his elbow on the table and leaned his head upon his hand. “I’m just too blamed tired to eat, that’s all,” he said.
“Then don’t try. I’m quite through, too. Come in the living room and lie down a little. It’s such a stormy night there may be nobody in.”
Ellen slipped her hand through his arm and led the way to the big blue couch facing the fireplace. He dropped upon it with a sigh of fatigue. His wife sat down beside him and began to pass her fingers lightly through his heavy hair, with the touch which usually soothed him into slumber if no interruptions came to summon him. But to-night her ministrations seemed to have little effect, for he lay staring at a certain picture on the wall with eyes which evidently saw beyond it into some trying memory.