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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrom The Housetops - Chapter 7
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From The Housetops - Chapter 7 Post by :Slic47 Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2241

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From The Housetops - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

A fortnight passed. Preparations for the wedding went on in the Tresslyn home with little or no slackening of the tension that had settled upon the inmates with the advent of the disturber. Anne was now sullenly determined that nothing should intervene to prevent the marriage, unless an unkind Providence ordered the death of Templeton Thorpe. She was bitter toward Braden. Down in her soul, she knew that he was justified in the stand he had taken, and in that knowledge lay the secret of her revolt against one of the commands of Nature. He had treated her with the scorn that she knew she deserved; he had pronounced judgment upon her, and she confessed to herself that she was guilty as charged. That was the worst of it; she could pronounce herself guilty, and yet resent the justice of her own decision.

In her desperation, she tried to hold old Mr. Thorpe responsible for the fresh canker that gnawed at her soul. But for that encounter in his library, she might have proceeded with confidence instead of the uneasiness that now attended her every step. She could not free herself of the fear that Braden might after all succeed in his efforts to persuade the old man to change his mind. True, the contract was signed, but contracts are not always sacred. They are made to be broken. Moreover, by no stretch of the imagination could this contract be looked upon as sacred and it certainly would not look pretty if exposed to a court of law. Her sole thought now was to have it all safely over with. Then perhaps she could smile once more.

In the home of the bridegroom, preparations for the event were scant and of a perfunctory nature. Mr. Templeton Thorpe ordered a new suit of clothes for himself—or, to be quite precise, he instructed Wade to order it. He was in need of a new suit anyway, he said, and he had put off ordering it for a long, long time, not because he was parsimonious but because he did not like going up town for the "try-on." He also had a new silk hat made from his special block, and he would doubtless be compelled to have his hair trimmed up a bit about the nineteenth or twentieth, if the weather turned a trifle warmer. Of course, there would be the trip to City Hall with Anne, for the licence. He would have to attend to that in person. That was one thing that Wade couldn't do for him. Wade bought the wedding-ring and saw to the engraving; he attended to the buying of a gift for the best man,—who under one of the phases of an all-enveloping irony was to be George Dexter Tresslyn!—and in the same expedition to the jewellers' purchased for himself a watch-fob as a self-selected gift from a master who had never given him anything in all his years of service except his monthly wage and a daily malediction.

Braden Thorpe made the supreme effort to save his grandfather. Believing himself to be completely cured of his desire for Anne, he took the stand that there was no longer a necessity for the old gentleman to sacrifice himself to the greed of the Tresslyns. But Mr. Thorpe refused to listen to this new and apparently unprejudiced argument. He was firm in his determination to clip Anne's claws; he would take no chances with youth, ultimate propinquity, and the wiles of a repentant sinner.

"You can guard against anything," said he in his wisdom, "except the beautiful woman who repents. You never can tell what she'll do to make her repentance satisfactory to everybody concerned. So we'll take no chances with Anne. We'll put her in irons, my boy, so to speak."

And so it was that Braden, worn and disspirited, gave up in despair and prepared for his return to London. He went before an examining board in New York first and obtained his licence to become a practising physician and surgeon, and, with a set expression in his disillusioned eyes, peered out into the future in quest of the fame that was to take the place of a young girl's love.

He met his first patient in the Knickerbocker Café. Lunching alone there one day, a week before the date selected for sailing, he was accosted by an extremely gay and pretty young woman who came over from a table of four in a distant corner of the room.

"Is this Dr. Braden Thorpe?" she inquired, placing her hands on the back of the chair opposite and leaning forward with a most agreeable, even inviting smile.

Her face was familiar. "Since day before yesterday," he replied, rising with a self-conscious flush.

"May I sit down? I want to talk to you about myself." She sat down in the chair that an alert waiter pulled out for her.

"I am afraid you are labouring under a misapprehension," he said. "I—I am not what you would call a practising physician as yet."

"Aren't you looking for patients?" she inquired. "Sit down, please."

"I haven't even an office, so why should I feel that I am entitled to a patient?" he said. "You see, I've just got my licence to practice. As things go, I shouldn't have a client for at least two years. Are you looking for a doctor?"

"I saw by the papers this morning that the grandson of Mr. Templeton Thorpe was a regular doctor. One of my friends over there pointed you out to me. What is your fee for an appendicitis operation, Dr. Thorpe?"

"Good—ahem! I beg your pardon. You really startled me. I—"

"Oh, that's all right. I quite understand. Hard to grasp at first, isn't it? Well, I've got to have my appendix out sooner or later. It's been bothering me for a year, off and on. Everybody tells me I ought to have it out sometime when it isn't bothering me and—"

"But, my dear young lady, I'm not the man you want. You ought to go to some—"

"You'll do just as well as any one, I'm sure. It's no trick to take out an appendix in these days. The fewer a doctor has snipped off, the less he charges, don't you know. So why shouldn't I, being quite poor, take advantage of your ignorance? The most intelligent surgeon in New York couldn't do any more than to snip it off, now could he? And he wouldn't be one-tenth as ignorant as you are about prices."

She was so gay and naïve about it that he curbed his amazement, and, to some extent, his embarrassment.

"I suppose that it is also ignorance on my part that supplies me with office hours in a public restaurant from one to three o'clock," he said, with a very unprofessional grin.

"What hospital do you work in?" she demanded, in a business-like tone.

Humouring her, he mentioned one of the big hospitals in which he had served as an interne.

"That suits me," she said. "Can you do it to-morrow?"

"For heaven's sake, madam, I—are you in earnest?"

"Absolutely. I want to have it done right away. You see, I do a good deal of dancing, and—now, listen!" She leaned farther across the table, a serious little line appearing between her brows. "I want you to do it because I've always heard that you are one of the most earnest, capable and ambitious young men in the business. I'd sooner trust you than any one else, Dr. Thorpe. It has to be done by some one, so if I'm willing to take a chance with you, why shouldn't you take one with me?"

"I have been in Europe for nearly three years. How could you possibly have heard all this about me?"

"See that fellow over there facing us? The funny little chap with the baby moustache? He—"

"Why, it's Simmy Dodge," cried Braden. "Are—are you—"

"Just a friend, that's all. He's one of the finest chaps in New York. He's a gentleman. That's Mr. and Mrs. Rumsey Fenn,—the other two, I mean. You can't see them for the florist shop in between. They know you too, so—"

"May I inquire why one of my friends did not bring you over and introduce me to you, Miss—er—"

"Miss, in a sort of way, Doctor, but still a Missus," she said amiably. "Well, I told them that I knew you quite well and I wouldn't let them come over. It's all right, though. We'll be partially related to each other by marriage before long, I understand; so it's all right. You see, I am Mrs. George Dexter Tresslyn."

"You—you are?" he gasped. "By Jove, I thought that your face was familiar. I—"

"One of the best advertised faces in New York about two years ago," she said, and he detected a plaintive note in the flippant remark. "Not so well-known nowadays, thank God. See here, Dr. Thorpe, I hope you won't think it out of place for me _to congratulate you."

"Congratulate me? My dear Mrs. Tresslyn, it is not I who am to be married. You confuse me with—"

"I'm congratulating you because you're not the one," said she, her eyes narrowing. "Bless your soul, I know what I'm talking about. But say no more. Let's get back to the appendix. Will you do the job for me?"

"Now that we are acquainted with each other," he said, suppressing a natural excitement, "may we not go over and join Simmy and the Fenns? Don't you think you'd better consult with them before irrevocably committing yourself to me?"

"Fine! We'll talk it over together, the whole lot of us. But, I say, don't forget that I've known you for years—through the family, of course. I want to thank you first for one thing, Dr. Thorpe. George used to tell me how you took my part in the—the smash-up. He said you wrote to him from Europe to be a man and stand by me in spite of everything. That's really what I've been wanting to say to you, more than the other. Still, I've got to have it out, so come on. Let's set a day. Mrs. Fenn will go up to the hospital with me. She's used to hospitals. Says she loves them. She's trying her best to have Mr. Fenn go in next week to have his out. She's had five operations and a baby. I'm awfully glad to know you, Dr. Thorpe. I've always wanted to. I'd like better than anything I know of to be your first regular patient. It will always be something to boast about in years to come. It will be splendid to say to people, 'Oh, yes, I am the first person that ever had her appendix removed by the celebrated Dr. Thorpe.' It will—"

"But I have removed a great many," he said, carried away by her sprightly good humour. "In my training days, so to speak."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," she cried, disappointed. Then her face brightened: "Still, I suppose you had to learn just where the thing is. It wouldn't do to go about stabbing people in the wrong place, just as if the appendix might be any little old where, would it?"

"I should say not," said he, arising and bowing very profoundly. Then he followed close behind her trim, smart figure as they threaded their way among the tables.

So this was the "pretty little mustard girl" that all fashionable New York had talked about in the past and was dancing with in the present. This was the girl who refused to go to the dogs at the earnest behest of the redoubtable Mrs. Tresslyn. Somehow he felt that Fate had provided him with an unexpected pal!

And, to his utter astonishment, he was prevailed upon to perform the operation! The Fenns and Simeon Dodge decided the matter for him.

"I shall have to give up sailing next week," he said, as pleased as Punch but contriving to project a wry face. "I can't go away and leave my first bona-fide patient until she is entirely out of the woods."

"I have engagements for to-morrow and Wednesday," said Mrs. Rumsey Fenn, after reflection. She was a rather pallid woman of thirty-five who might have been accused of being bored with life if she had not made so many successful efforts to prolong it.

"It doesn't happen to be your appendix, my dear," said her husband.

"Goodness, I wish it were," said she, regretfully. "What I mean is that I can't go to the hospital with Lutie before,—let me see,—before Thursday. Can you wait that long, dear?"

"Ask Dr. Thorpe," said young Mrs. Tresslyn. "He is my doctor, you know."

"Of course, you all understand that I cannot go ahead and perform an operation without first determining—"

"Don't you worry," said the patient. "My physician has been after me for a year to have it out. He'll back me up. I'll telephone him as soon as I get back home, and I'll have him call you up, Dr. Thorpe. Thanks ever so much. And, before I forget it, what is the fee to be? You see, I pay my own bills, so I've got to know the—the worst."

"My fee will be even more reasonable than you hope, Mrs. Tresslyn," said Braden, smiling. "Just guess at the amount you'd feel able to pay and then divide it by two, and you'll have it."

"Dear me," cried Mrs. Fenn, "how perfectly satisfactory! Rumsey, you _must have yours out this week. You're always talking about not being able to afford things, and here's a chance to save money in a way you never would have suspected."

"Good Lord, Madge," exclaimed her husband, "I've never had a pain in my life. I wish you wouldn't keep nagging at me all the time to have an operation performed, whether I need it or not. Let my appendix alone. It's always treated me with extreme loyalty and respect, so why the deuce should I turn upon the poor thing and assassinate it?"

"See here, Rumsey," said Simmy Dodge sagely, "if I were in your place I'd have a perfectly sound tooth pulled some time, just to keep it from aching when you're an old man. Or you might have your left leg amputated so that it couldn't be crushed in a railroad accident. You ought to do something to please Madge, old chap. She's been a thoughtful, devoted wife to you for twelve or thirteen years, and what have you ever done to please her? Nothing! You've never so much as had a crick in your neck or a pain that you couldn't account for, so do be generous, Rumsey. Besides, maybe you haven't got an appendix at all. Just think how you could crow over her if they couldn't find one, even after the most careful and relentless search over your entire system."

"She's always wanting me to die or something like that," growled Fenn; "but when I talked of going to the Spanish War she went into hysterics."

"We'd only been married a month, Rumsey," said his wife reproachfully.

"But how could I have known that war was to be declared so soon?" he demanded.

Braden and Simeon Dodge left the restaurant together. They were old friends, college-mates, and of the same age. Dodge had gone into the law- school after his academic course, and Thorpe into the medical college. Their ways did not part, however. Both were looked upon as heirs to huge fortunes, and to both was offered the rather doubtful popularity that usually is granted to affluence. Thorpe accepted his share with the caution of the wise man, while Dodge, not a whit less capable, took his as a philanderer. He now had an office in a big down-town building, but he never went near it except when his partner took it into his head to go away for a month's vacation at the slack season of the year. At such periods Mr. Dodge, being ages younger than the junior member of the firm, made it his practice to go down to the office and attend to the business with an earnestness that surprised every one. He gave over frolicking and stuck resolutely to the "knitting" that Johnson had left behind. Possessed of a natural though thrifty intelligence,—one that wasted little in public,—and a latent energy that could lift him occasionally above a perfectly normal laziness, he made as much of his opportunities as one could expect of a young man who has two hundred thousand a year and an amiable disposition.

No one in the city was more popular than Simmy Dodge, and no one more deservedly so, for his bad qualities were never so bad that one need hesitate about calling him a good fellow. His habits were easy but genteel. When intoxicated he never smashed things, and when sober,—which was his common condition,—he took extremely good care of other people's reputations. Women liked him, which should not be surprising; and men liked him because he was not to be spoiled by the women who liked him, which is saying a great deal for an indolent young man with money. He had a smile that always appeared at its best in the morning, and survived the day with amazing endurance. And that also is saying a great deal for a young man who is favoured by both sexes and a _supposedly neutral Dame Fortune at the same time. He had broken many of the laws of man and some of those imposed by God, but he always paid without apology. He was inevitably pardoned by man and paroled by his Maker,—which is as much as to say that he led a pretty decent sort of existence and enjoyed exceedingly good health.

He really wasn't much to look at. Being a trifle under medium height, weighing less than one hundred and twenty pounds stripped, as wiry as a cat and as indefatigable as a Scotch terrier, and with an abnormally large pair of ears that stood out like oyster shells from the sides of a round, sleek head, he made no pretentions to physical splendour,—unless, by chance, you would call the perky little straw-coloured moustache that adorned his long upper lip a tribute to vanity. His eyes were blue and merry and set wide apart under a bulging, intellectual looking forehead, and his teeth were large and as white as snow. When he laughed the world laughed with him, and when he tried to appear downcast the laughter went on just the same, for then he was more amusing than ever.

"I didn't know you were a friend of hers," said he as they stood in front of the hotel waiting for the taxi that was to take Thorpe to a hospital.

Thorpe remembered the admonition. "I tried to put a little back-bone into George Tresslyn at the time of the rumpus, if that's what you'd call being a friend to her," he said evasively.

"She's a nice little girl," said Simmy, "and she's been darned badly treated. Mrs. Tresslyn has never gotten over the fact that Lutie made her pay handsomely to get the noble Georgie back into the smart set. Plucky little beggar, too. Lot of people like the Fenns and the Roush girls have taken her up, primarily, I suppose, because the Tresslyns threw her down. She's making good with them, too, after a fashion all her own. Must be something fine in a girl like that, Brady,—I mean something worth while. Straight as a string, and a long way from being a disgrace to the name of Tresslyn. Quaint, isn't she?"

"Amazingly so. I think George would marry her all over again if she'd have him, mother or no mother."

"Well, she's quaint in another respect," said Dodge. "She still considers herself to be George Tresslyn's wife."

"Religion?"

"Not a bit of it. She just says she is, that's all, and what God joined together no woman can put asunder. She means Mrs. Tresslyn, of course. By the way, Brady, I wonder if I'm still enough of a pal to be allowed to say something to you." The blue eyes were serious and there was a sort of caressing note in his voice.

"We've always been pals, Simmy."

"Well, it's just this: I'm darned sorry things have turned out as they have for you. It's a rotten shame. Why don't you choke that old grandparent of yours? Put him out of his misery. Anne has told me of your diabolical designs upon the hopelessly afflicted. She used to talk about it for hours while you were in London,—and I had to listen with shivers running up and down my back all the time. Nobody on earth could blame you for putting the quietus on old Templeton Thorpe. He is about as hopelessly afflicted as any one I know,—begging your pardon for treading on the family toes."

"He's quite sane, Simmy," said Braden, with a smile that was meant to be pleasant but fell short of the mark.

"He's an infernal old traitor, then," said Simmy hotly. "I wouldn't treat a dog as he has treated you,—no kind of a dog, mind you. Not even a Pekinese, and I hate 'em worse than snakes. What the devil does Anne mean? Lordy, Lordy, man, she's always been in love with you. She—but, forgive me, old chap, I oughtn't to run on like this. I didn't mean to open a sore—"

"It's all right, Simmy. I understand. Thanks, old boy. It was a pretty stiff blow, but—well, I'm still on my pins, as you see."

Dodge was hanging onto the door of the taxi, impeding his friend's departure. "She's too fine a girl to be doing a rotten thing like this. I don't mind telling you I've always been in—er—that is, I've always had a tender spot for Anne. I suppose you know that?"

"I know that, Simmy."

"Hang it all, I never dreamed that she'd look at any one else but you, so I never even peeped a word to her about my own feelings. And here she goes, throwing you over like a shot, and spilling everything. Confound it, man, if I'd thought she could possibly want to marry anybody else but you, I'd have had my try. The good Lord knows I'm not much, but by thunder, I'm not decrepit. I—I suppose it was the money, eh?"

"That's for you to say, Simmy; certainly not for me."

"If it's money she's after and not an Adonis, I don't see why the deuce she didn't advertise. I would have answered in a minute. I can't help saying it, old man, but I feel sorry for Anne, 'pon my soul, I do. I don't think she's doing this of her own free will. See what her mother did to George and that little girl in there? I tell you there's something nasty and—"

"I may as well tell you that Anne _is doing this thing of her own free will," said Braden gravely.

"I don't believe it," said Dodge.

"At any rate, Simmy, I'm grateful to you for standing clear while there was still a chance for me. So long! I must be getting up to the hospital, and then around to see her doctor."

"So long, Brady. See you on Thursday." He meant, good soul, that he would be at the hospital on that day.

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CHAPTER VIIIAn hour later, Mr. Simeon Dodge appeared at the home of Anne Tresslyn. In place of his usual care-free manner there now rested upon him an air of extreme gravity. This late afternoon visit was the result of an inspiration. After leaving Thorpe he found himself deeply buried in reflection which amounted almost to abstraction. He was disturbed by the persistency of the thoughts that nagged at him, no matter whither his aimless footsteps carried him. For the life of him, he could not put from his mind the conviction that Anne Tresslyn was not responsible for her actions. He
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CHAPTER VIMr. Thorpe was as good as his word. He arranged for the meeting between Braden and Anne, but with characteristic astuteness laid his plans so that they were to come upon each other unexpectedly. It happened on the second day after his talk with Braden. Mr. Thorpe's plan involved other people as well as the two most vitally interested. There was to be a meeting at his house late in the afternoon for the purpose of signing the ante-nuptial contract already agreed upon. Five o'clock was the hour set for the gathering. Lawyers representing both parties were to be there,
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