If you are new to Emilie Loring, “Why?” is a fun story on its own. If you are a longtime “Emilie” reader, watch for elements from this early short story that later appeared in her full-fledged novels.
The year is 1915. War has begun overseas, but it has not yet arrived on Jean Maxwell’s Massachusetts doorstep.
by Emilie Baker Loring
“Yes, Dad, it’s Jean! . . . You can’t?”
The voice was cheery but the face of the girl at the telephone flushed with disappointment.
“Yes. I’ll go without you! Take care of yourself! Good-bye!”
Jean Maxwell hung up the receiver and turned to the woman who sat knitting under the light of the lamp.
“Dad can’t go to the Bradleys’ dinner with me to-night,” she said. “Isn’t it maddening? I arrayed myself in this peachy frock and–what’s the use?”
She glanced at her lovely self in the mirror, and in spite of her indignation dimpled back at the vision confronting her.
“Yellow is my color,” she murmured as she looked critically at the looking-glass girl’s dark eyes, black hair and creamy skin, now flushed with a delicate pink. “Well, I suppose I must go without him–as usual! Aunt Jo, it’s rather trying never to know whether one is to have an escort and, if one has, to be late everywhere!”
The woman, whose animated, unlined face belied the silver in her hair, laughed.
“Come away from that mirror, you vain child,” she counseled; “and stop scolding. If people will insist upon lavishing invitations upon the famous father of a charming daughter, they must take the consequences even if dinners spoil and servants fume while waiting for him. Physicians will smash the best domestic system ever achieved by a prayerful home-maker. I know. Didn’t I keep house for your grandfather for years?”
Jean plumped on her knees in a big chair, rested her elbows on the back of it, faced her aunt and delivered her ultimatum:
“Listen to me, Aunt Jo! I will never marry a physician, never!“
“Careful,” warned Josephine Maxwell. “It is shaking your fist in the face of Fate to swear that you will not marry a doctor. Fate will just grin at you and fling you straight into the arms of the first medico you meet.”
“They’ll have to be strong arms to hold me,” defiantly. “I wouldn’t marry a doctor if there wasn’t another man in the world! I—”
A slight sound from the doorway attracted her attention. She turned quickly. Her father’s assistant, Peter Gerard, stood there. His eyes met hers steadily, gravely, there was a white line about his lips.
Jean flushed rosily. She had seen that expression once, two years before, when she was convalescing from the grippe and Doctor Peter had carried her down stairs. The strength and tenderness of his arms had seemed to take the last vestige of ache from her bones. She remembered how she had snuggled her head against his coat and had cried from sheer weakness and comfort.
“You?” she murmured in confusion, perfectly conscious of the inanity of the question with the six feet of thoroughbred brawn and muscle confronting her.
“Yes, I,” he tried to speak gaily. “Good evening, Miss Maxwell.” He turned to Jean. “I am on my way to the hospital. Your father asked me to take you to the Bradleys’s. Are you ready?”
Gerard took her coat of white fur as she lifted it from the chair. The nearness of his arms caused Jean a little shiver of apprehension. She felt as though they were compelling her, and there came an almost uncontrollable impulse to rest her head on his shoulder. It wasn’t the first time she had been so tempted. The blood rushed to her face and her heart pounded with fright. Suppose some time she should do it!
She kissed her aunt and gave her a furry, repentant hug.
“Good-night, honey. I’m sorry if I was cross. Ready now, Doctor Peter.”
Gerard silently followed her down the stairs. In the hall she spoke to Sampson the colored man who had been in her father’s employ since she was a baby.
“Have the chocolate and sandwiches in the study at eleven, Sampson,” she said.
The smiling black man held open the door for her.
“Yes, Missy Jean, I sure will. Here’s your bag, sir. The boss, he ‘phoned that you was to meet him at the hospital at eight sharp.”
“All right, Sampson.” Gerard gave an order to the chauffeur as they reached the sidewalk, then followed the girl into the limousine and closed the door. Near him, in the dusk, Jean felt again that tantalizing temptation to rest her head against his shoulder and tell him all her troubles.
“This nonsense must stop!” she thought angrily. She stole a glance at the fine, determined face beside her. What was he thinking of? He turned quickly. She sensed danger and hurriedly broke the silence:
“Are you very busy, Doctor Peter?” she asked.
“Very. Your father grows more famous every day, Jean.”
His voice was so cheery and friendly that the girl’s confidence returned. “I’m silly. He still thinks of me as a little girl,” she scolded herself; and thereupon, inconsistently began to prove to him that she was grown up. She teased, sparkled, jested with alluring charm. “Don’t you ever wish that your time was your own?” she asked finally.
“Yes,” he said simply. The eyes which looked straight into hers held an expression which made her retreat to her corner.
The car stopped. Gerard alighted and turned to assist her. Jean perversely ignored the proffered aid.
“Tell Dad not to send for me. The Stanleys will take me home with them.” She ran lightly up the steps of the house, “Good-night and thank you, Doctor Peter,” she called from the safe haven of the doorway.
Gerard waited till the door closed behind her, then with a curt, “To the hospital!” sprang into the car.
“I wouldn’t marry a doctor if there wasn’t another man in the world!” The words kept up a ceaseless repetition in Gerard’s mind. The phrase seemed burned into his brain. Had Jean really meant it? He thought back over the five years he had been with Dr. Maxwell. He had seen Jean grow from a slim, long-legged girl into a charming young woman. Gerard couldn’t remember the time when he hadn’t loved her. they had been the best of comrades, but now that he was in a position to ask any girl to marry him, Jean had retreated behind a barrier of indifference. Troubled and wondering, he had kept away from her. Was what she had said the reason? Did she really mean that she would have none of his profession?
Perhaps she was right. Being the wife of a physician was not a madly romantic existence. Famous as Maxwell had become, he still responded to every urgent call. During office-hours, his rooms were thronged with patients, and even when he was supposed to be off-duty the telephone made insistent demands upon the expert’s time.
Gerard’s heart warmed as he thought of the elder man’s belief in him. When the younger man had suggested that he offer his services to the Red Cross in its tragic need across the water, Maxwell had answered curtly:
“You’re wanted here, Gerard. Don’t get the Red Cross bee in your bonnet. It’s a grand work, but–Lord, man!–look at the poor creatures on life’s firing-line in this city who need help! It’s just sordid, hideous, deadly, terrifying to the human soul. There are none too many of us to give a helping hand. Stay here with me and take on my work as I unload.”
That settled it. Gerard loved and admired Maxwell. The man was big, natural, vital. He was one of the most noted specialists in the country. To succeed him—“
“I wouldn’t marry a doctor—” the views so ardently proclaimed recurred to him with teasing persistence.
“Well, it’s too late to change my profession now!” thought Gerard grimly. “It would be easier to change her mind. I wonder if I were to take a week off from my work and devote myself to her–but, my word, how can I take a week off!” he groaned as the car stopped and the hospital loomed before him. In an instant, his mind was busy with the problems which would confront him within its doors.
During the evening Jean Maxwell was subconsciously troubled and defiant. Of course she had meant what she said about physicians, but she had not intended it for Doctor Peter’s ears. Anyway, she would just show Aunt Jo that she could defy Fate.
Stanley the faithful, as usual, hovered about her. Why didn’t she love him, she wondered. She studied him with appraising eyes. He was certainly good to look at. He was the perfection of grooming and tailoring from the top of his blonde head to the tips of his perfect shoes. His tiny mustache gave the last touch of ultra smartness to his appearance. He was as fine as he looked and had a contagious faith in life and the kindness of human-nature. She would love him, she determined, ignoring the fact that hearts have a disconcerting way of declaring independence.
Jean laughed, talked, danced to the mental refrain: “I will never, never marry a doctor!” Once she indulged in a little giggle of mirth. “Nobody’s asked you to, my pretty maid. You’d better relax,” she thought. Dick Stanley looked down at her as she laughed aloud.
“Do you ever feel amused at yourself, Dicky?” she asked, her beautiful eyes gleaming with mirth.
“Sometimes,” gruffly. “Especially when I think of how I am wasting my love and my time.”
“Wasting it? On poor little me?” she challenged. “Oh, Dicky what a slash!”
The man looked at her with a grudging smile. “It is a joke, isn’t it? Look here, Jean, I don’t believe that your feeling for me is a bit more grown-up than when I used to tie your shoes for you in dancing school when we were kids!”
“But I honestly want to love you, Dick,” she said wistfully.
“Really, Jean? You have never acknowledged as much as that before,” he whispered joyously. “Going now?” as she moved toward the door.
“Yes. Your sister is to take me home. She’s signaling to me now.”
“Then I’ll come along to see that you get inside the house safely.”
The entrance floor at the Maxwells’ was devoted to the doctor’s use. Beyond the office and laboratory was his study. Dick Stanley lingered a moment at its door. The room was cheery with firelight. A low table which held a light supper had been drawn near the hearth.
Around it, in dignified expectancy, sat Jean’s pets. An orange Persian kitten blinked inscrutable, topaz eyes at the man in the doorway. Next to her, a Chow sat on his haunches, his black tongue hanging from his open mouth as though in amused contemplation of the visitor. Above the other side of the table loomed the English foxhound. He yawned between the whines of recognition, his tail thumped the floor in rhythmic, monotonous greeting. Not one of them stirred. They merely cast occasionally interested glances at the table. Dick Stanley, watching them, felt that he looked as ridiculously imploring as they.
Jean sensed his unspoken request and laughingly shook her head. “Not to-night, Dick. I haven’t seen Dad since morning. I always wait up to give him a bit to eat. It is my one chance to talk things over.”
“What you say goes!” responded Stanley gaily. He caught her hands and drew her along the hall with him. “Tell me again, Jean dear, do you really mean that I have a chance?”
“I really do, Dick,” gravely; “but,” she added quickly, as his eyes glowed, “please, please, do not look like that yet! I do not love you now. I—“
The outer door swung quickly open and Peter Gerard stepped into the hall. “I beg pardon,” he said in confusion, as he saw the unmistakable situation, “I didn’t know—“
Jean interrupted him. “Dad has not returned, Doctor Peter, but there is a message for you in his study.”
Gerard passed on but it was impossible for him not to hear a portion of the conversation which followed:
“Good-night Dick. Yes, Aunt Jo and I are going to the Lawlers’ reception tomorrow. What? Haven’t you any work to do? You must be a dyed-in-the-wool idle rich! Very well, then; call for us. Good night!”
The dogs gave Gerard a demonstrative greeting, then resumed their attitude of watchful waiting. He leaned against the mantel, apparently absorbed in a slip of paper when Jean entered. She perched on the corner of her father’s desk.
“Isn’t Dad coming home to-night?” asked anxiously.
“Yes. He wants me to wait until he comes.”
Gerard crossed to the desk. The tableau which he had seen in the hall had smashed his self-control and set his heart and senses rioting in mad rebellion. He took the girl gently by the shoulders:
“Tell me, Jean,” he said compellingly, “Why do you keep me at arm’s-length?”
His touch brought with it the usual dreaded longing to surrender, but the girl fought it off. She smiled dazzlingly up into his eyes and said with merry audacity:
“Isn’t it your fault? You doctors never have time for anyone who isn’t a patient. I’m neither a germ nor a symptom, alas!” she sighed with adorable mockery. “How can I expect to excite your interest?”
She dimpled tantalizingly. Gerard caught his breath. Her mutinous eyes and the pain her remark earlier in the evening had caused him, did the rest. He seized her quickly in his arms.
“You can never say that again,” he cried and pressed his lips to her soft throat.
Amazement and something else held the girl for a moment, then she wrenched herself free just as a grave voice said:
Jean looked up. Her father stood in the doorway. She gave him one embarrassed glance, then fled from the room and up the stairs, the dogs and cat trailing dejectedly after her.
Maxwell’s face was very stern as he looked at Gerard for an explanation. The younger man faced him squarely.
“You must know, sir, that I love Jean,” he said, with a directness for which Maxwell admired him. “To-night I heard her declare that she wouldn’t marry a doctor if there were not another man in the world. The remark has been rankling in my mind all the evening and when I came here and found that Stanley had brought her home; that he was to be with her again to-morrow, well–I–my feelings got the better of me–that’s all!”
Maxwell put his hand on Peter’s shoulder.
“We are all inflammable, when it comes to the girl we love, Gerard. But you can’t wonder, can you, that any woman living in this house decides never to marry a physician?
“My word, no, Doctor! How does a man in our profession find time to make one love him?”
“Look here, Gerard, you’ve been working like a demon,” said Maxwell thoughtfully; “quit for a week and when you start in again it will be with a fresh outlook. You have been so driven that you’ve lost your sense of proportion.”
“But how can I, sir?” He pulled out his note-book and turned the leaves. “Look at that list?”
“Never mind the list. I’ll take on some, and Hale will grin with glee for the chance to step into your shoes for a week. Board the Social Express, boy, and be young for a while. You know Jean’s set. Go where she goes, but let her politely and firmly alone. She is the dearest thing in the world to me, and I desire her happiness above all else. I believe that it lies with you. Go in and win, Peter, but take my advice–you know the heart is my specialty–let her miss you for a week–then, we’ll see!”
We’ll see if his plan works– next week!
The old magazines where I find these stories are chock-full of ads, articles, and artwork that have nothing to do with Emilie Loring, except that they are of the times.
Just for fun, there are 6 domestic animals, 4 wild animals, and 3 birds hidden in the puzzle below. Can you find them?
And I just like this turtle car!