“You think you do, dear lady. What you really want is—your own way.”
Suddenly she sat up, staring at him. His clear gaze met her clouded one, his sane glance confronted her wild one. She lifted her shaking hand with a gesture of dismissal. But there was a new experience in store for Jordan King’s mother.
Burns leaned forward, and took the delicate hand of his hysterical patient in his own.
“No, no,” he said, smiling, “you don’t mean that; you are not quite yourself. I am Jordan’s friend and yours. I have said harsh things to you; it was the only way. I love your boy as I would a younger brother, and I want you to keep him because I can understand what the loss of him would mean to you. But you must know that you can’t tie a man’s heart to you with angry commands, nor with tears and reproaches. You can tie it—tight—by showing sympathy and understanding in this crisis of his life. Believe me, I know.”
His tone was very winning; his manner—now that he had said his say—though firm, was gentle, and he held her hand in a way that did much toward quieting her. Many patients in danger of losing self-control had known the strengthening, soothing touch of that strong hand. Red Pepper was not accustomed to misuse this power of his, which came very near being hypnotic, but neither did he hesitate to use it when the occasion called as loudly as did this one.
And presently Mrs. King was lying quietly on her couch again, her eyes closed, the beating of her agitated pulses slowly quieting. And Burns, bending close, was saying before he left her: “That’s a brave woman. Ladies are lovely things, but I respect women more. Only a mighty fine one could be the mother of my friend Jord, and I knew she would meet this issue like the Spartan she knows how to be.”
If, as he stole away downstairs—leaving his patient in the hands of a somewhat long-suffering maid—he was saying to himself things of a quite different sort, let him not be blamed for insincerity. He had at the last used the one stimulant against which most of us are powerless: the call to be that which we believe another thinks us.
THE SURGICAL FIRING LINE
“Len, I’ve something great to tell you,” announced Red Pepper Burns, one evening in August, as he came out from his office where he had been seeing a late patient, and joined his wife, who was wandering about her garden in the twilight. “To-day I’ve had the compliment of my life. Whom do you think I’m to operate on day after to-morrow?”
She looked up at him as he stood, his hands in his pockets, looking down at her. In her sheer white frock, through which gleamed her neck and arms, her hands full of pink and white snapdragon, she was worth consideration. Her eyes searched his face and found there a curious exultation of a very human sort. “How could I guess? Tell me.”