Read CHAPTER IX of The White Linen Nurse, free online book, by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, on ReadCentral.com.

Altogether jerkily the Senior Surgeon started up the walk for his own perfectly formal and respectable brown stone mansion.  Deep down in his lurching heart he felt a sudden most inordinate desire to reach that brown stone mansion just as quickly as possible.  But abruptly even to himself he swerved off instead at the yellow sassafras tree and plunged quite wildly through a mass of broken sods towards the rickety, no-account cedar summer house.

Startled by the crackle and thud of his approach the two young figures in the summer house jumped precipitously to their feet, and limply untwining their arms from each other’s necks stood surveying the Senior Surgeon in unspeakable consternation, the White Linen Nurse and a blue overalled lad most unconscionably mated in radiant youth and agonized confusion.

“Oh, my Lord, Sir!” gasped the White Linen Nurse.  “Oh, my Lord, Sir!  I wasn’t looking for you for another week!”

“Evidently not!” said the Senior Surgeon incisively.  “This is the second time this evening that I’ve been led to infer that my home-coming was distinctly inopportune!”

Very slowly, very methodically, he put down first his precious rod-case and then his grip.  His brain seemed fairly foaming with blood and confusion.  Along the swelling veins of his arms a dozen primitive instincts went surging to his fists.

Then quite brazenly before his eyes the White Linen Nurse reached out and took the lad’s hand again.

“Oh, forgive me, Dr. Faber!” she faltered.  “This is my brother!”

“Your brother? what? eh?” choked the Senior Surgeon.  Bluntly he reached out and crushed the young fellow’s fingers in his own.  “Glad to see you, Son!” he muttered with a sickish sort of grin, and turning abruptly, picked up his baggage again and started for the big house.

Half a step behind him his White Linen Bride followed softly.

At the edge of the piazza he turned for an instant and eyed her a bit quizzically.  With her big credulous blue eyes, and her great mop of yellow hair braided childishly down her back, she looked inestimably more juvenile and innocent than his own little shrewd-faced six-year-old whom he had just left domestically ensconced in the middle of the broad gravel path.

“For Heaven’s sake, Miss Malgregor,” he asked.  “For Heaven’s sake why didn’t you tell me that the Wall Paper Man was your brother?”

Very contritely the White Linen Nurse’s chin went burrowing down into the soft collar of her dress and as bashfully as a child one finger came stealing up to the edge of her red, red lips.

“I was afraid you’d think I was cheeky having any of my family come and live with us so soon,” she murmured almost inaudibly.

“Well, what did you think I’d think you were if he wasn’t your brother?” asked the Senior Surgeon sardonically.

“Very economical, I hoped!” beamed the White Linen Nurse.

“All the same!” snapped the Senior Surgeon, with an irrelevance surprising even to himself.  “All the same do you think it sounds quite right and proper for a child to call her step-mother ’Peach’?”

Again the White Linen Nurse’s chin went burrowing down into the soft collar of her dress.  “I don’t suppose it is usual,” she admitted reluctantly.  “The children next door, I notice, call theirs ’Cross-Patch.’”

With a gesture of impatience the Senior Surgeon proceeded up the steps, yanked open the old-fashioned shuttered door, and burst quite breathlessly and unprepared upon his most amazingly reconstructed house.  All in one single second chintzes, muslins, pale blonde maples, riotous canary birds, stormed revolutionary upon his outraged eyes.  Reeling back utterly aghast before the sight, he stood there staring dumbly for an instant at what he considered, and rightly too, the absolute wreck of his black walnut home.

“It looks like Hell!” he muttered feebly.

“Yes, isn’t it sweet?” conceded the White Linen Nurse with unmistakable joyousness.  “And your library ” Triumphantly she threw back the door to his grim work-shop.

“Good God!” stammered the Senior Surgeon.  “You’ve made it pink!”

Rapturously the White Linen Nurse began to clasp and unclasp her hands.  “I knew you’d love it!” she said.

Half dazed with bewilderment the Senior Surgeon started to brush an imaginary haze from his eyes but paused mid-way in the gesture and pointed back instead to a dapper little hall-table that seemed to be exhausting its entire blonde strength in holding up a slender green vase with a single pink rose in it.  Like a caged animal buffeting for escape against each successive bar that incased it, the man’s frenzied irritation hurled itself hopefully against this one more chance for explosive exit.

“What have you done with the big black escritoire that stood there?” he demanded accusingly.

“Escritoire? Escritoire?” worried the White Linen Nurse.  “Why why I’m afraid I must have mislaid it.”

“Mislaid it?” thundered the Senior Surgeon.  “Mislaid it?  It weighed three hundred pounds!”

“Oh, it did?” questioned the White Linen Nurse with great, blue-eyed interest.  Still mulling apparently over the fascinating weight of the escritoire she climbed up suddenly into a chair and with the fluffy broom-shaped end of her extraordinarily long braid of hair went angling wildy off into space after an illusive cobweb.

Faster and faster the Senior Surgeon’s temper began to search for a new point of exit.

“What do you suppose the servants think of you?” he stormed.  “Running round like that with your hair in a pig-tail like a kid?”

“Servants?” cooed the White Linen Nurse.  “Servants?” Very quietly she jumped down from the chair and came and stood looking up into the Senior Surgeon’s hectic face.  “Why, there aren’t any servants,” she explained patiently.  “I’ve dismissed every one of them.  We’re doing our own work now!”

“Doing ’our own work’?” gasped the Senior Surgeon.

Quite worriedly the White Linen Nurse stepped back a little.  “Why, wasn’t that right?” she pleaded.  “Wasn’t it right?  Why, I thought people always did their own work when they were first married!” With sudden apprehensiveness she glanced round over her shoulder at the hall clock, and darting out through a side door, returned almost instantly with a fierce-looking knife.

“I’m so late now and everything,” she confided.  “Could you peel the potatoes for me?”

“No, I couldn’t!” said the Senior Surgeon shortly.  Equally shortly he turned on his heel, and reaching out once more for his rod-case and grip went on up the stairs to his own room.

One of the pleasantest things about arriving home very late in the afternoon is the excuse it gives you for loafing in your own room while other people are getting supper.  No existent domestic sound in the whole twenty-four hours is as soothing at the end of a long journey as the sound of other people getting supper.

Stretched out full length in a big easy chair by his bed-room window, with his favorite pipe bubbling rhythmically between his gleaming white teeth, the Senior Surgeon studied his new “solid gold bed” and his new sage green wall-paper and his new dust-colored rug, to the faint, far-away accompaniment of soft thudding feet, and a girl’s laugh, and a child’s prattle, and the tink-tink-tinkle of glass, china, silver, all scurrying consciously to the service of one man, and that man, himself.

Very, very slowly, in that special half hour an inscrutable little smile printed itself experimentally across the right hand corner of the Senior Surgeon’s upper lip.

While that smile was still in its infancy he jumped up suddenly and forced his way across the hall to his dead wife’s room, the one ghost-room of his house and his life, and there with his hand on the turning door knob, tense with reluctance, goose-fleshed with strain, his breath gasped out of him whether or no with the one word “Alice!”

And behold!  There was no room there!

Lurching back from the threshold, as from the brink of an elevator well, the Senior Surgeon found himself staring foolishly into a most sumptuous linen closet, tiered like an Aztec cliff with home after home for pleasant prosy blankets, and gaily fringed towels, and cheerful white sheets reeking most conscientiously of cedar and lavender.  Tiptoeing cautiously into the mystery he sensed at one astonished, grateful glance how the change of a partition, the re-adjustment of a proportion, had purged like a draft of fresh air the stale gloom of an ill-favored memory.  Yet so inevitable did it suddenly seem for a linen closet to be built right there, so inevitable did it suddenly seem for the child’s meager play-room to be enlarged just there, that to save his soul he could not estimate whether the happy plan had originated in a purely practical brain or a purely compassionate heart.

Half proud of the brain, half touched by the heart, he passed on exploringly through the new play-room out into the hall again.

Quite distinctly now through the aperture of the back stairs the kitchen voices came wafting up to him.

“Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!” wailed his Little Girl’s peevish voice.  “Now that that Man’s come back again I suppose we’ll have to eat in the dining-room all the time!”

“‘That Man’ happens to be your darling father!” admonished the White Linen Nurse’s laughing voice.

“Even so,” wailed the Little Girl, “I love you best.”

“Even so,” laughed the White Linen Nurse, “I love you best!”

“Just the same,” cried the Little Girl shrilly, “just the same let’s put the cream pitcher way up high somewhere so he can’t step in it!”

As though from a head tilted suddenly backward the White Linen Nurse’s laugh rang out in joyous abandon.

Impulsively the Senior Surgeon started to grin.  Then equally impulsively the grin soured on his lips.  So they thought he was clumsy?  Eh?  Resentfully he stared down at his hands, those wonderfully dexterous, yes, ambidexterous hands that were the aching envy of all his colleagues.  Interruptingly as he stared the voice of the young Wall Paper Man rose buoyantly from the lower hallway.

“Supper’s all ready, sir!” called the cordial voice.

For some inexplainable reason, at that particular moment, almost nothing in the world could have irritated the Senior Surgeon more keenly than to be invited to his own supper, in his own house, by a stranger.  Fuming with a new sense of injury and injustice he started heavily down the stairs to the dining-room.

Standing patiently behind the Senior Surgeon’s chair with a laudable desire to assist his carving in any possible emergency that might occur, the White Linen Nurse experienced her first direct marital rebuff.

“What do you think this is?  An autopsy?” demanded the Senior Surgeon tartly.  “For Heaven’s sake sit down!”

Quite meekly the White Linen Nurse subsided into her place.

The meal that ensued could hardly have been called a success though the room was entrancing, the cloth, snow-white the silver, radiant, the guinea chicken beyond reproach.

Swept and garnished to an alarming degree the young Wall Paper Man presided over the gravy and did his uttermost, innocent country-best to make the Senior Surgeon feel perfectly at home.

Conscientiously, as in the presence of a distinguished stranger, the Little Crippled Girl most palpably from time to time repressed her insatiable desire to build a towering pyramid out of all the salt and pepper shakers she could reach.

Once when the young Wall Paper Man forgot himself to the extent of putting his knife in his mouth, the White Linen Nurse jarred the whole table with the violence of her warning kick.

Once when the Little Crippled Girl piped out impulsively, “Say, Peach, what was the name of that bantam your father used to fight against the minister’s bantam?” the White Linen Nurse choked piteously over her food.

Twice some one spoke about this year’s weather.

Twice some one volunteered an illuminating remark about last year’s weather.

Except for these four diversions restraint indescribable hung like a horrid pall over the feast.

Next to feeling unwelcome in your friend’s house, nothing certainly is more wretchedly disconcerting than to feel unwelcome in your own house!

Grimly the Senior Surgeon longed to grab up all the knives within reach and ram them successively into his own mouth just to prove to the young Wall Paper Man what a what a devil of a good fellow he was himself!  Grimly the Senior Surgeon longed to tell the White Linen Nurse about the pet bantam of his own boyhood days that he bet a dollar could lick any bantam her father ever dreamed of owning!  Grimly the Senior Surgeon longed to talk dolls, dishes, kittens, yes, even cream pitchers, to his Little Daughter, to talk anything in fact to any one, to talk sing shout anything that should make him, at least for the time being, one at heart, one at head, one at table, with this astonishingly offish bunch of youngsters!

But grimly instead, out of his frazzled nerves, out of his innate spiritual bashfulness, he merely roared forth, “Where are the potatoes?”

“Potatoes?” gasped the White Linen Nurse.  “Potatoes?  Oh, potatoes?” she finished more blithely.  “Why, yes, of course!  Don’t you remember you didn’t have time to peel them for me?  I was so disappointed!”

“You were so disappointed?” snapped the Senior Surgeon.  “You? you?”

Janglingly the Little Crippled Girl knelt right up in her chair and shook her tiny fist right in her father’s face.

“Now, Lendicott Paber!” she screamed.  “Don’t you start in sassing my darling little Peach!”

Peach?” snorted the Senior Surgeon.  With almost supernatural calm he put down his knife and fork and eyed his offspring with an expression of absolutely inflexible purpose.  “Don’t you ever,” he warned her, “ever ever let me hear you call this woman ‘Peach’ again!”

A trifle faint-heartedly the Little Crippled Girl reached up and straightened her absurdly diminutive little white cap, and pursed her little mouth as nearly as possible into an expression of ineffable peace.

“Why Lendicott Faber!” she persisted heroically.

Lendicott?” jumped the Senior Surgeon.  “What are you ’Lendicotting’ me for?”

Hilariously with her own knife and fork the Little Crippled Girl began to beat upon the table.

“Why, you dear Silly!” she cried.  “Why, if I’m the new Marma, I’ve got to call you ‘Lendicott’!  And Peach has got to call you ’Fat Father’!”

Frenziedly the Senior Surgeon pushed back his chair, and jumped to his feet.  The expression on his face was neither smile nor frown, nor war nor peace, nor any other human expression that had ever puckered there before.

“God!” he said.  “This gives me the willies!” and strode tempestuously from the room.

Out in his own work-shop fortunately, whatever the grotesque new pinkness, whatever the grotesque new perkiness his great free walking-spaces had not been interfered with.  Slamming his door triumphantly behind him, he resumed once more the monotonous pace-pace-pace that had characterized for eighteen years his first night’s return to the obligations of civilization.

Sharply around the corner of his old battered desk the little path started, wanly along the edge of his dingy book-shelves the little path furrowed, wistfully at the deep bay-window where his favorite lilac bush budded whitely for his departure, and rusted brownly for his return, the little path faltered, and went on again, on and on and on, into the alcove where his instruments glistened, up to the fireplace where his college trophy-cups tarnished!  Listlessly the Senior Surgeon re-commenced his yearly vigil.  Up and down, up and down, round and round, on and on and on, through interminable dusks to unattainable dawns, a glutted, bacchanalian Soul sweating its own way back to sanctity and leanness!  Nerves always were in that vigil, raw, rattling nerves clamoring vociferously to be repacked in their sedatives.  Thirst also was in that vigil, no mere whimpering tickle of the palate, but a drought of the tissues, a consuming fire of the bones!  Hurt pride was also there, and festering humiliation!

But more rasping, this particular night, than nerves, more poignant than thirst, more dangerously excitative even than remorse, hunger rioted in him, hunger, the one worst enemy of the Senior Surgeon’s cause, the simple, silly, no-account, gnawing, drink-provocative hunger of an empty stomach.  And ’one other hunger was also there, a sudden fierce new lust for Life and Living, a passion bare of love yet pure of wantonness, a passion primitive, protective, inexorably proprietary, engendered strangely in that one mad, suspicious moment at the edge of the summer house when every outraged male instinct in him had leaped to prove that love or no love the woman was his.  Up and down, up and down, round and round, eight o’clock found the Senior Surgeon still pacing.

At half past eight the young Wall Paper Man came to say good-by to him.

“As long as Sister won’t be alone any more, I guess I’ll be moving on,” beamed the Wall Paper Man.  “There’s a dance at home Saturday night.  And I’ve got a girl of my own!” he confided genially.

“Come again,” urged the Senior Surgeon.  “Come again when you can stay longer!”

With one honest prayer in stock, and at least two purely automatic social speeches of this sort, no man needs to flounder altogether hopelessly for words in any ordinary emergency of life.  Thus with no more mental interruption than the two-minute break in time, the Senior Surgeon then resumed his bitter-thoughted pacing.

At nine o’clock, however, patroling his long rangy book-shelves, he sensed with a very different feeling through his heavy oak door, the soft whirring swish of skirts and the breathy twitter of muffled voices.  Faintly to his acute ears came the sound of his little daughter’s temperish protest, “I won’t!  I won’t!” and the White Linen Nurse’s fervid pleading, “Oh, you must, you must!” and the Little Girl’s mumbled ultimatum, “Well, I won’t unless you do!”

Irascibly he crossed the room and yanked the door open abruptly upon their surprise and confusion.  His nerves were very sore.

“What in thunder do you want?” he snarled.

Nervously for an instant the White Linen Nurse tugged at the Little
Girl’s hand.  Nervously for an instant the Little Girl tugged at the
White Linen Nurse’s hand.  Then with a swallow like a sob the White Linen
Nurse lifted her glowing face to his.

“K kiss us good night!” said the White Linen Nurse.

Telescopically all in that startling second, vision after vision beat down like blows upon the Senior Surgeon’s senses!  The pink, pink flush of the girl!  The lure of her!  The amazing sweetness!  The physical docility!  Oh ye gods, the docility!  Every trend of her birth, of her youth, of her training, forcing her now if he chose it to unquestioning submission to his will and his judgment!  Faster and faster the temptation surged through his pulses!  The path from her lips to her ear was such a little path, the plea so quick to make, so short, “I want you now!

“K kiss us good night!” urged the Big Girl’s unsuspecting lips.  “Kiss us good night!” mocked the Little Girl’s tremulous echo.

Then explosively with the noblest rudeness of his life, “No, I won’t!” said the Senior Surgeon, and slammed the door in their faces.

Falteringly up the stairs he heard the two ascending, speechless with surprise, perhaps, stunned by his roughness, still hand in hand, probably, still climbing slowly bed-ward, the soft, smooth, patient footfall of the White Linen Nurse and the jerky, laborious clang-clang-clang of a little dragging iron-braced leg.

Up and down, round and round, on and on and on, the Senior Surgeon resumed his pacing.  Under his eyes great shadows darkened.  Along the corners of his mouth the lines furrowed like gray scars.  Up and down, round and round, on and on and on and on!

At ten o’clock, sitting bolt upright in her bed with her worried eyes straining bluely out across the Little Girl’s somnolent form into unfathomable darkness, the White Linen Nurse in the throb of her own heart began to keep pace with that faint, horrid thud-thud-thud in the room below.  Was he passing the book-case now?  Had he reached the bay-window?  Was he dawdling over those glistening scalpels?  Would his nerves remember the flask in that upper desk drawer?  Up and down, round and round, on and on, the harrowing sound continued.

Resolutely at last she scrambled out of her snug nest, and hurrying into her great warm, pussy-gray wrapper began at once very practically, very unemotionally, with matches and alcohol and a shiny glass jar to prepare a huge steaming cup of malted milk.  Beef-steak was infinitely better, she knew, or eggs, of course, but if she should venture forth to the kitchen for real substantiate the Senior Surgeon, she felt quite positive, would almost certainly hear her and stop her.  So very stealthily thus like the proverbial assassin she crept down the front stairs with the innocent malted milk cup in her hand, and then with her knuckles just on the verge of rapping against the grimly inhospitable door, went suddenly paralyzed with uncertainty whether to advance or retreat.

Once again through the sombre inert wainscoting, exactly as if a soul had creaked, the Senior Surgeon sensed the threatening, intrusive presence of an unseen personality.  Once again he strode across the room and jerked the door open with terrifying anger and resentment.

As though frozen there on his threshold by Her own little bare feet, as though strangled there in his doorway by her own great mop of golden hair, stolid and dumb as a pink-cheeked graven image the White Linen Nurse thrust the cup out awkwardly at him.

Absolutely without comment, as though she trotted on purely professional business and the case involved was of mutual concern to them both, the Senior Surgeon took the cup from her hand and closed the door again in her face.

At eleven o’clock she came again, just as pink, just as blue, just as gray, just as golden.  And the cup of malted milk she brought with her was just as huge, just as hot, just as steaming, only this time she had smuggled two raw eggs into it.

Once more the Senior Surgeon took the cup without comment and shut the door in her face.

At twelve o’clock she came again.  The Senior Surgeon was unusually loquacious this time.

“Have you any more malted milk?” he asked tersely.

“Oh, yes, sir!” beamed the White Linen Nurse.

“Go and get it!” said the Senior Surgeon.

Obediently the White Linen Nurse pattered up the stairs and returned with the half depleted bottle.  Frankly interested she recrossed the threshold of the room and delivered her glass treasure into the hands of the Senior Surgeon as he stood by his desk.  Raising herself to her tiptoes she noted with eminent satisfaction that the three big cups on the other side of the desk had all been drained to their dregs.

Then very bluntly before her eyes the Senior Surgeon took the malted milk bottle and poured its remaining contents out quite wantonly into his waste basket.  Then equally bluntly he took the White Linen Nurse by the shoulders and marched her out of the room.

“For God’s sake!” he said, “get out of this room!  And stay out!”

Bang! the big door slammed behind her.  Like a snarling fang the lock bit into its catch.

“Yes, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse.  Even just to herself all alone there in the big black hall, she was perfectly polite.  “Y-e-s, sir,” she repeated softly.

With a slightly sardonic grin on his face the Senior Surgeon resumed his pacing.  Up and down, round and round, on and on and on!

At one o’clock in the dull, clammy chill of earliest morning he stopped long enough to light his hearthfire.

At two o’clock he stopped again to pile on a trifle more wood.

At three o’clock he dallied for an instant to close a window.  The new day seemed strangely cold.

At four o’clock, dawn the wonder, the miracle, the long despaired of, quickened wanly across the East.  Then suddenly, more like a phosphorescent breeze than a glow, the pale, pale yellow sunshine came wafting through the green gloom of the garden.  The vigil was over!

Stumbling out into the shadowy hall to greet the new day and the new beginning, the Senior Surgeon almost tripped and fell over the White Linen Nurse sitting all huddled up and drowsy-eyed in a little gray heap on his outer threshold.  The sensation of stepping upon a human body is not a pleasant one.  It smote the Senior Surgeon nauseously through the nerves of his stomach.

“What are you doing here?” he fairly screamed at her.

“Just keeping you company, sir,” yawned the White Linen Nurse.  Before her hand could reach her mouth again another great childish yawn overwhelmed her.  “Just watching with you, sir,” she finished more or less inarticulately.

“Watching with me?” snarled the Senior Surgeon resentfully.  “Why should you watch with me?”

Like the frightened flash of a bird the heavy lashes went swooping down across the pink cheeks and lifted as suddenly again.  “Because you’re my man!” yawned the White Linen Nurse.

Almost roughly the Senior Surgeon reached down and pulled the White Linen Nurse to her feet.

“God!” said the Senior Surgeon.  In his strained, husky voice the word sounded like an oath.  Grotesquely a little smile went scudding zig-zag across his haggard face.  With an impulse absolutely alien to him he reached out abruptly again and raised the White Linen Nurse’s hand to his lips. “’Good God’ was what I meant Miss Malgregor!” he grinned a bit sheepishly.

Quite bruskly then he turned and looked at his watch.

“I’d like my breakfast just as soon now as you can possibly get it!” he ordered peremptorily, in his own morbid pathological emergency no more stopping to consider the White Linen Nurse’s purely normal fatigue, than he in any pathological emergency of hers would have stopped to consider his own comfort, safety, or even perhaps, life!

Joyously then like a prisoner just turned loose, he went swinging up the stairs to recreate himself with a smoke and a shave and a great, splashing, cold shower-bath.

Only one thing seemed to really trouble him now.  At the top of the stairs he stopped for an instant and cocked his head a bit worriedly towards the drawing-room where from some slow-brightening alcove bird-carol after bird-carol went fluting shrilly up into the morning.

“Is that those blasted canaries?” he asked briefly.

Very companionably the White Linen Nurse cocked her own towsled head on one side and listened with him for half a moment.

“Only four of them are blasted canaries,” she corrected very gently.  “The fifth one is a paroquet that I got at a mark-down because it was a widowed bird and wouldn’t mate again.”

“Eh?” jerked the Senior Surgeon.

“Yes, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse and started for the kitchen.

No one but the Senior Surgeon himself breakfasted in state at five o’clock that morning.  Snug and safe in her crib upstairs the Little Crippled Girl slumbered peacefully on through the general disturbance.  And as for the White Linen Nurse herself, what with chilling and rechilling melons, and broiling and unbroiling steaks, and making and remaking coffee, and hunting frantically for a different-sized water glass, or a prettier colored plate, there was no time for anything except an occasional hurried surreptitious nibble half way between the stove and the table.

Yet in all that raucous early morning hour together neither man nor girl suffered towards the other the slightest personal sense of contrition or resentment, for each mind was trained equally fairly, whether reacting on its own case or another’s to differentiate pretty readily between mean nerves and a mean spirit.

Only once in fact across the intervening chasm of crankiness did the Senior Surgeon hurl a smile that was even remotely self-conscious or conciliatory.  Glancing up suddenly from a particularly sharp and disagreeable speech, he noted the White Linen Nurse’s red lips mumbling softly one to the other.

“Are you specially religious, Miss Malgregor?” he grinned quite abruptly.

“No, not specially, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse.  “Why, sir?”

“Oh, it ’s only ” grinned the Senior Surgeon dourly, “it’s only that every time I’m especially ugly to you, I see your lips moving as though in ‘silent prayer’ as they call it and I was just wondering if there was any special formula you used with me that kept you so everlastingly damned serene.  Is there?”

“Yes, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse.

“What is it?” demanded the Senior Surgeon quite bluntly.

“Do I have to tell?” gasped the White Linen Nurse.  A little tremulously in her hand the empty cup she was carrying rattled against its saucer.  “Do I have to tell?” she repeated pleadingly.

A delirious little thrill of power went fluttering through the Senior Surgeon’s heart.

“Yes, you have to tell me!” he announced quite seriously.

In absolute submission to his demand, though with very palpable reluctance, the White Linen Nurse came forward to the table, put down the cup and saucer, and began to finger a trifle nervously at the cloth.

“Oh, I’m sure I didn’t mean any harm, sir,” she stammered.  “But all I say is, honest and truly all I say is, ’Bah!  He’s nothing but a man nothing but a man nothing but a man!’ over and over and over, just that, sir!”

Uproariously the Senior Surgeon pushed back his chair, and jumped to his feet.

“I guess after all I’ll have to let the little kid call you ’Peach’ one day a week!” he acknowledged jocosely.

With infinite seriousness then he tossed back his great splendid head, shook himself free apparently from all unhappy memories, and started for his work-room, a great gorgeously vital, extraordinarily talented, gray-haired boy lusting joyously for his own work and play again after a month’s distressing illness!

From the edge of the hall he turned round and made a really boyish grimace at her.

“Now if I only had the horns or the cloven hoof that you think I have,” he called, “what an easy time I’d make of it, raking over all the letters and ads. that are stacked up on my desk!”

“Yes, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse.

Only once did he come back into the kitchen or dining-room for anything.  It was at seven o’clock.  And the White Linen Nurse was still washing dishes.

As radiant as a gray-haired god he towered up in the doorway.  The boyish rejuvenation in him was even more startling than before.

“I’m feeling so much like a fighting cock this morning,” he said, “I think I’ll tackle that paper on surgical diseases of the pancreas that I have to read at Baltimore next month!” A little startlingly the gray lines furrowed into his cheeks again.  “For Heaven’s sake see that I’m not disturbed by anything!” he admonished her warningly.

It must have been almost eight o’clock when the ear-splitting scream from upstairs sent the White Linen Nurse plunging out panic-stricken into the hall.

“Oh, Peach!  Peach!” yelled the Little Girl’s frenzied voice.  “Come quick and see what Fat Father’s doing now out on the piazza!”

Jerkily the White Linen Nurse swerved off through the French door that opened directly on the piazza.  Had the Senior Surgeon hung himself, she tortured, in some wild, temporary aberration of the “morning after”?

But staunchly and reassuringly from the further end of the piazza the Senior Surgeon’s broad back belied her horrid terror.  Quite prosily and in apparently perfect health he was standing close to the railing of the piazza.  On a table directly beside him rested four empty bird cages.  Just at that particular moment he was inordinately busy releasing the last canary from the fifth cage.  Both hands were smouched with ink and behind his left ear a fountain pen dallied daringly.

At the very first sound of the White Linen Nurse’s step the Senior Surgeon turned and faced her with a sheepish sort of defiance.

“Well, now, I imagine,” he said, “well, now, I imagine I’ve really made you mad!”

“No, not mad, sir,” faltered the White Linen Nurse.  “No, not mad, sir, but very far from well.”  Coaxingly with a perfectly futile hand she tried to lure one astonished yellow songster back from a swaying yellow bush.  “Why, they’ll die, sir!” she protested.  “Savage cats will get them!”

“It’s a choice of their lives or mine!” said the Senior Surgeon tersely.

“Yes, sir,” droned the White Linen Nurse.

Quite snappishly the Senior Surgeon turned upon her.  “For Heaven’s sake do you think canary birds are more valuable than I am?” he demanded stentoriously.

Most disconcertingly before his glowering eyes a great, sad, round tear rolled suddenly down the White Linen Nurse’s flushed cheek.

“N o, not more valuable,” conceded the White Linen Nurse.  “But more c-cunning.”

Up to the roots of the Senior Surgeon’s hair a flush of real contrition spread hotly.

“Why Rae!” he stammered.  “Why, what a beast I am!  Why !  Why!” In sincere perplexity he began to rack his brains for some adequate excuse, some adequate explanation.  “Why, I’m sure I didn’t mean to make you feel badly,” he persisted.  “Only I’ve lived alone so long that I suppose I’ve just naturally drifted into the way of having a thing if I wanted it and throwing it away if I didn’t!  And canary birds, now?  Well really ” he began to glower all over again.  “Oh, thunder!” he finished abruptly, “I guess I’ll go on down to the hospital where I belong!”

A little wistfully the White Linen Nurse stepped forward.  “The hospital?” she said.  “Oh, the hospital?  Do you think that perhaps you could come home a little bit earlier than usual to-night and and help me catch just one of the canaries?”

“What?” gasped the Senior Surgeon.  Incredulously with a very inky finger he pointed at his own breast.  “What?  I?” he demanded.  “I?  Come home early from the hospital to help you catch a canary?”

Disgustedly without further comment he turned and stalked back again into the house.

The disgust was still in his walk as he left the house an hour later.  Watching his exit down the long gravel path the Little Crippled Girl commented audibly on the matter.

“Peach!  Peach!” called the Little Crippled Girl.  “What makes Fat Father walk so surprised?”

People at the hospital also commented upon him.

“Gee!” giggled the new nurses.  “We bet he ’s a Tartar!  But isn’t his hair cute?  And say ” gossiped the new nurses, “is it really true that that Malgregor girl was pinned down perfectly helpless under the car and he wouldn’t let her out till she’d promised to marry him?  Isn’t it awful? Isn’t it romantic?”

“Why!  Dr. Faber ’s back!” fluttered the senior nurses.  “Isn’t he wonderful?  Isn’t he beautiful?  But, oh, say,” they worried, “what do you suppose Rae ever finds to talk with him about?  Would she ever dare talk things to him, just plain every-day things, hats, and going to the theater, and what to have for breakfast? breakfast?” they gasped.  “Why, yes, of course!” they reasoned more sanely.  “Steak?  Eggs?  Even oatmeal?  Why, people had to eat no matter how wonderful they were!  But evenings?” they speculated more darkly.  “But evenings?” In the whole range of human experience was it even so much as remotely imaginable that evenings the Senior Surgeon and Rae Malgregor sat in the hammock and held hands?  “Oh, Gee!” blanched the senior nurses.

“Good-morning, Dr. Faber!” greeted the Superintendent of Nurses from behind her austere office desk.

“Good-morning, Miss Hartzen!” said the Senior Surgeon.

“Have you had a pleasant trip?” quizzed the Superintendent of Nurses.

“Exceptionally so, thank you!” said the Senior Surgeon.

“And Mrs. Faber, is she well?” persisted the Superintendent of Nurses conscientiously.

“Mrs. Faber?” gasped the Senior Surgeon.  “Mrs. Faber?  Oh, yes!  Why, of course!  Yes, indeed she’s extraordinarily well!  I never saw her better!”

“She must have been very lonely without you this past month?” rasped the Superintendent of Nurses perfectly politely.

“Yes she was,” flushed the Senior Surgeon.  “She she suffered keenly!”

“And you, too?” drawled the Superintendent of Nurses.  “It must have been very hard for you.”

“Yes, it was!” sweated the Senior Surgeon.  “I suffered keenly, too!”

Distractedly he glanced back at the open door.  An extraordinarily large number of nurses, internes, orderlies, seemed to be having errands up and down the corridor that allowed them a peculiarly generous length of neck to stretch into the Superintendent’s office.

“Great Heavens!” snapped the Senior Surgeon.  “What ’s the matter with everybody this morning?” Tempestuously he started for the door.  “Hurry up my cases, please, Miss Hartzen!” he ordered.  “Send them to the operating room!  And let me get to work!”

At eleven o’clock, absolutely calm, absolutely cool, pure as a girl in his fresh, white operating clothes cleaner, skin, hair, teeth, hands, than any girl who ever walked the face of the earth, in a white tiled room as surgically clean as himself, with three or four small, glistening instruments still boiling, steaming hot and half a dozen breathless assistants almost as immaculate as himself, with his gown, cap and mask adjusted, his gloves finally on, and the faintest possible little grin twitching oddly at the corner of his mouth, he “went in” as they say, to a new born baby’s tortured, twisted spine and took out fifty years perhaps of hunched-back pain and shame and morbid passions flourishing banefully in the dark shades of a disordered life.

At half-past twelve he did an appendix operation on the only son of his best friend.  At one o’clock he did another appendix operation.  Whom it was on didn’t matter.  It couldn’t have been worse on any one.  At half-past one no one remembered to feed him.  At two, in another man’s operation, he saw the richest merchant in the city go wafted out into eternity on the fumes of ether taken for the lancing of a stye.  At three o’clock, passing the open door of one of the public waiting-rooms, an Italian peasant woman rushed out and spat in his face because her tubercular daughter had just died at the sanitarium where the Senior Surgeon’s money had sent her.  Only in this one wild, defiling moment did the lust for alcohol surge up in him again, surge clamorously, brutally, absolutely mercilessly, as though in all the known cleansants of the world only interminable raw whisky was hot enough to cauterize a polluted consciousness.  At half past three, as soon as he could change his clothes again, he re-broke and re-set an acrobat’s priceless leg.  At five o’clock, more to rest himself than anything else, he went up to the autopsy amphitheater to look over an exhibit of enlarged hearts, whose troubles were permanently over.

At six o’clock just as he was leaving the great building with all its harrowing sights, sounds, and smells, a peremptory telephone call from one of the younger surgeons of the city summoned him back into the stuffy office again.

“Dr. Faber?”

“Yes.”

“This is Merkley!”

“Yes.”

“Can you come immediately and help me with that fractured skull case I was telling you about this morning?  We’ll have to trepan right away!”

“Trepan nothing!” grunted the Senior Surgeon.  “I’ve got to go home early to-night and help catch a canary.”

“Catch a what?” gasped the younger surgeon.

“A canary!” grinned the Senior Surgeon mirthlessly.

“A what?” roared the younger man.

“Oh, shut up, you damned fool!  Of course I’ll come!” said the Senior Surgeon.

There was no “boy” left in the Senior Surgeon when he reached home that night.

Gray with road-travel, haggard with strain and fatigue, it was long, long after the rosy sunset time, long, long after the yellow supper light, that he came dragging up through the sweet-scented dusk of the garden and threw himself down without greeting of any sort on the top step of the piazza where the White Linen Nurse’s skirts glowed palely through the gloom.

“Well, I put a canary bird back into its cage for you!” he confided laconically.  “It was a little chap’s soul.  It sure would have gotten away before morning.”

“Who was the man that tried to turn it loose this time?” asked the White Linen Nurse.

“I didn’t say that anybody did!” growled the Senior Surgeon.

“Oh,” said the White Linen Nurse.  “Oh.”  Quite palpably a little shiver of flesh and starch went rustling through her.  “I’ve had a wonderful day, too!” she confided softly.  “I’ve cleaned the attic and darned nine pairs of your stockings and bought a sewing-machine and started to make you a white silk negligee shirt for a surprise!”

“Eh?” jerked the Senior Surgeon.

The jerk seemed to liberate suddenly the faint vibration of dishes and the sound of ice knocking lusciously against a glass.

“Oh, have you had any supper, sir?” asked the White Linen Nurse.

With a prodigious sigh the Senior Surgeon threw his head back against the piazza railing and stretched his legs a little further out along the piazza floor.

“Supper?” he groaned.  “No!  Nor dinner!  Nor breakfast!  Nor any other blankety-blank meal as far back as I can remember!” Janglingly in his voice, fatigue, hunger, nerves, crashed together like the slammed notes of a piano.  “But I wouldn’t move now,” he snarled, “if all the blankety-blank-blank foods in Christendom were piled blankety-blank-blank high on all the blankety-blank-blank tables in this whole blankety-blank-blank house!”

Ecstatically the White Linen Nurse clapped her hands.  “Oh, that’s just exactly what I hoped you’d say!” she cried. “’Cause the supper’s right here!”

“Here?” snapped the Senior Surgeon.  Tempestuously he began all over again.  “I tell you I wouldn’t lift my little finger if all the blankety-blank-blank-blank ”

“Oh, Goody then!” said the White Linen Nurse. “’Cause now I can feed you!  I sort of miss fussing with the canary birds,” she added wistfully.

“Feed me?” roared the Senior Surgeon.  Again something started a lump of ice tinkling faintly in a thin glass.  “Feed me?” he began all over again.

Yet with a fragrant strawberry half as big as a peach held out suddenly under his nose, just from sheer, irresistible instinct he bit out at it and nipped the White Linen Nurse’s finger instead.

“Ouch sir!” said the White Linen Nurse.

Mumblingly down from an upstairs window, as from a face flatted smouchingly against a wire screen, a peremptory summons issued.

“Peach! Peach!” called an angry little voice.  “If you don’t come to bed now I’ll I’ll say my curses instead of my prayers!”

A trifle nervously the White Linen Nurse scrambled to her feet.

“Maybe I’d better go?” she said.

“Maybe you had!” said the Senior Surgeon quite definitely.

At the edge of the threshold the White Linen Nurse turned for an instant.

“Good-night, Dr. Faber!” she whispered.

“Good-night, Rae Malgregor Faber!” said the Senior Surgeon.

“Good-night what?” gasped the White Linen Nurse.

“Good-night, Rae Malgregor Faber,” repeated the Senior Surgeon.

Clutching at her skirts as though a mouse were after her, the White Linen Nurse went scuttling up the stairs.

Very late on into the night the Senior Surgeon lay there on his piazza floor staring out into his garden.  Very companionably from time to time, like a tame firefly, a little bright spark hovered and glowed for an instant above the bowl of his pipe.  Puff-puff-puff, doze-doze-doze, throb-throb-throb, on and on and on and on into the sweet-scented night.