Last week, Dr. Peter Gerard overheard Jean Maxwell’s declaration, “I will never marry a physician!” Her father, knowing Peter’s feelings for Jean, advised:
“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 continue our story…
by Emilie Loring
Gerard grasped his adviser’s hand. “I’ll do it, sir,” he said earnestly, “if you can spare me. but, there’s that case of the Wells child,” he said doubtfully. “I was to operate there, and—“
“I will take it. The mother won’t like it, but she will have to put up with me.” He looked at Gerard quizzically and the latter flushed. “Why, why, in heaven’s name, Peter, couldn’t you have fallen in love with that charming widow–and not with my pretty girl who will have none of you?”
“Oh, but she’ll have to!” confidently. “I’ll take your advice and present myself at the Lawlers’ tomorrow clad in my most gaudy raiment.” His voice was buoyant with hope and happiness. “Good-night, sir, and thank you.”
As the street-door closed behind Gerard a hoarse whisper came from the head of the stairs:
“Has he gone?”
Philip Maxwell looked up at the beautiful girl bending over the balustrade.
“Come down, Jean. I have banished your persecutor–forever,” with mock heroics.
The girl ran swiftly down the stairs.
“Forever, Dad?” she asked anxiously, as her father put his arm about her.
“Shouldn’t he be banished after to-night, Jean?” he asked seriously.
The girl faced him bravely. “Dad,” she exclaimed, “Can you tell me just why, why, I should feel drawn to Doctor Peter, when I don’t want to be?”
“There’s no accounting for the attraction which one personality has for another, dear,” he answered.
“Well, I don’t intend to let myself love him. I will never, nev–” she hesitated as her aunt’s warning recurred to her, “I do not want to marry a doctor,” she corrected herself hastily. “Think of it, Daddy dear, you almost never can go anywhere with me and you are always carrying a load of the ills and sorrows of humanity. A husband would be just the same. Don’t you think yourself that I would be happier to marry a man who could think of me some of the time?” coaxingly.
“I thought of your mother always, dear.”
Her arms were around his neck.
“Daddy darling, I know it,” penitently. “But she was the dearest thing in the world and you couldn’t help it. I miss her so!” she whispered.
The man’s face was gray with sorrow and longing as he stroked the soft hair so near him.
“She was very happy while she lived, dear. She said that the moments she spent with me were better than a lifetime with anyone else. Then she would laugh in her teasing way and say, ‘I wonder why?'”
The girl sank to her knees in front of her father. She noted his dark eyes, his graying hair, his vigorous distinction.
“I know why. Because you are you.” She smiled at him through tears. “In spite of your argument I intend to love Dick Stanley. You approve of him, do you not?” anxiously.
“Heartily.” He’s straight and clean and fine. But have you ever thought of the disappointment to him if you fail?”
She flushed. “But I sha’n’t fail, Dad.”
“All right, child. Promise me one thing, however–that you won’t become engaged to Stanley till I am convinced of the depth and reality of your love for him?”
“Here’s my hand on it. Shall I keep a chart of my symptoms and hold it out for your inspection every morning as Nurse Byrnes does when she is on a case?” She smiled at him mischievously though her lashes were still wet.
“Yes, you disrespectful child! If I am not here you may show it to my assistant.” He whistled softly. “I forgot. You can’t do that. He is to be away.”
“Away!” The chocolate-pot which Jean was wielding treacherously looped the loop and descended in a spiral glide.
“Better set that down,” suggested the doctor dryly. “You seem nervous.”
The girl’s face turned a rosy pink but she poured the chocolate with a defiantly steady hand. As she nibbled her sandwich she adroitly tried to extract information as to Gerard’s destination, but her father remained perversely obtuse.
She kissed him good-night with her curiosity unsatisfied.
During the next week Jean Maxwell puzzled over Peter Gerard’s extraordinary absence from his practice. She saw him at social functions, always at a distance, however. She began to seethe with indignant curiosity. On one of the rare days when her father had luncheon at home she made a foray into the enemies’ country.
“Has Doctor Peter retired from active practice?” she queried, airily and a bit sarcastically.
Miss Josephine Maxwell became absorbed in her plate to hide the treacherous twitching of her lips. Jean’s pretended indifference was elaborate to the last degree.
Maxwell looked absent-mindedly across the table at his daughter.
“Gerard? Oh no, he hasn’t retired. He’s doing research work for me.”
“Research work!” echoed Jean, in surprised disdain. “Then he must be doing it with charming females between the ages of eighteen and thirty! I have seen him at every affair I have attended this week, and he was always devoting himself to some girl with a You’ve-planted-a-rose-in-the-garden-of-love expression in his eyes. I didn’t suppose that he cared for such stupid things!”
“Stupid things! Girls–or affairs, Jean?” the doctor raised his eyebrows. “I thought that you preferred a man who had time for that sort of stupidity!”
Jean could have cheerfully bitten her tongue through.
“Oh, of course I do; but you medicos never stoop to that kind of thing,” flippantly; “so I was just a little surprised to see Peter Gerard dancing and teasing, that’s all. But of course–if he’s doing research work–” scathingly.
“He is,” insisted her father. “And it’s a very complicated, truly unique, very important case. He ought to have his report ready,” he looked at his diary. “Yes, he comes on duty to-night.”
“Dick Stanley is taking Aunt Jo and me to the Opera, this evening,” announced Jean, irrelevantly.
“Indeed,” said the doctor. There was a twinkle in his eyes as he looked at his dignified daughter. “Jo, do you think that you ought to encourage that youngster as flagrantly as you do?”
A flash of laughter passed between the two pairs of eyes so much alike, as Josephine Maxwell answered her brother.
“It is rather dangerous, Phil; but I assure you that Jean makes a very demure chaperone.”
Jean’s cheekes flushed. So they meant to tease her! Very well! She threw her bomb with a hold-your-breath daring.
“I am glad that I am so satisfactory to Aunt Jo, Dad; but I’ll tell you who just hates having me tagging about. It’s your old friend Curtis Langham!”
“Jo!” exclaimed the doctor in stupefied amazement. “Are you going to be good to old Curt at last?”
Josephine Maxwell’s face was beautiful as the color stained it. “And I a young thing of forty! Absurd isn’t it, Philly, dear?”
“Jo, come here!” As her aunt rose from the table the girl slipped from the room.
As Jean stood in her father’s study that evening waiting for her aunt and Stanley, the office-telephone rang. She heard Sampson answer it.
“Yes, boss! All right! What’s that? The Lawd save us, boss! Smashed? Dying? Good God, Boss! Dr. Gerard? Yes-s! I’ll go get it right away! Sure?”
Jean stood like a girl of stone. Then her senses seemed to crash. Her head felt light and empty. The room turned green. Peter dying! No! No! NO! It couldn’t be! She must find Sampson. She shut her eyes for a moment to steady herself and when she opened them she was staring into Gerard’s haggard face. With a little moan of mingled relief and longing she held out her hands:
“Oh!” she cried, “I thought that you had been–Sampson answered the phone–he said—” Horror strangled her and she shivered uncontrollably.
He took her hands tightly in one of his. “Steady, little girl.” He put an arm about her. “Your father is perfectly safe. It was Hale–poor Hale, who was so jubilant at his chance to make good!” Gerard gave an irrepressible shudder. “Dr. Maxwell is with him and I must go back to them both.” He looked at the girl searchingly. Her face was quite white and she was staring at his shoulder. He drew her toward him.
“Jean, did you think—?” he began huskily.
“Here’s de bag, Doctor Peter!” gasped Sampson as he hurried in…
Gerard took the bag. He looked at Jean anxiously as he released her.
“Find Miss Maxwell, Sampson,” he commanded, as he left the room. He hesitated, took a step back, “The chief’s waiting for me, I’ve got to go,” he muttered, and hurried to the street-door.
On the other side of it stood Dick Stanley, happy, radiant, debonair. His topcoat was thrown open, showing the immaculate perfection of his evening clothes. His yellow hair shone like gold. the silk hat and white gloves in his hand gave the last touch to his finished elegance.
Gerard had a sense of living in a totally different world from the man before him. He felt old and bruised and weighted down with the sorrows and tragedies of life.
“Don’t you ever stop work, old man?” called Dick gaily as they passed. Gerard muttered an unintelligible reply and went on.
A very lovely but very preoccupied girl sat beside Stanley at the Opera that night. Jean’s world seemed distorted and unreal. Her mind entered curious byways of thought. Wouldn’t it be better to have a person a little of the time than never at all? she wondered. She shuddered as she thought of those awful moments in her father’s room when she thought that Peter–but he hadn’t been, and she did not intend to marry a doctor! She clutched this determination tight, lest it slip away from her. She turned to Stanley with a gay little laugh. She was vivid, fascinating. When they reached home, she urged Dick to come in for a bit of supper.
Her aunt looked on in puzzled wonder. Jean was evidently in a state of intense excitement. At every sound in the hall her color changed. When Gerard appeared in the door the older woman understood. His eyes went straight to the girl and lingered in scrutinizing tenderness.
As he went into the office, Josephine Maxwell rose. “We’ve had a glorious evening, Dick. Good-night,” she said with a smile.
Stanley took his dismissal laughingly. “It is late,” he apologized. He held out his hand to the girl, “Good-night, Jean, see you tomorrow.”
She accompanied him to the threshold of the room, all her gaiety gone; watched him as he closed the outer door. She stood there for a moment before she said softly to herself.
“Not to-morrow, Dick. I’ve been selfish and cruel, but I know now.”
She turned back into the room. Her heart mounted to her throat and pounded there. Her aunt had disappeared. Peter Gerard stood watching her.
“Come here, Jean,” he said gently. When she went to him he took her two hands. “Did you think that it was I about whom your father telephoned to-night?” he asked huskily.
“Don’t!” she begged in a stifled voice.
He put an arm about her. “Jean, Jean, did you care? You can’t know how I love you, sweetheart! Will you marry me, will you?”
“I didn’t want to love you, Doctor Peter,” she smiled at him through a mist. “But somehow I can’t help it! I—“
“Why didn’t you want to love me, Jean? Why?” he asked gravely.
The telephone rang long and insistently. Gerard started to answer it.
“That’s the why,” said Jean whimsically.
Gerard was speaking.
“Yes, Dr. Maxwell, it is I, Gerard. I’ll come at once, sir. Good-bye!”
Peter came back to the girl. “You heard that?” he asked ruefully. “Even now, at this moment when I am mad to be with you, I must go!” He caught her in his arms, he kissed her hair, her eyes, the soft hollow at her white throat, then her lips. “Oh!” he whispered, “how can I leave you, how can I!”
Jean hid her flushed face on his shoulder. After a moment she looked up at him with shy yet adorably mischievous eyes.
“Perhaps,” she said softly, “Perhaps if you are going to take my breath away like that, it’s just as well that you are busy.”