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- UNDER THE REDWOODS - 20/35 -
Something in his manner impressed her into silence again. He cut whole locks away ruthlessly; he was determined to draw the edges of the wound together with the strip of plaster and stop the bleeding-- if he cropped the whole head. His excessive caution for her physical condition did not extend to her superficial adornment. Her yellow tresses lay on the floor, her neck and shoulders were saturated with water from the sponge which he continually applied, until the heated strips of plaster had closed the wound almost hermetically. She whimpered, tears ran down her cheeks; but so long as it was not blood the young man was satisfied.
In the midst of it he heard the shop door open, and presently the sound of rapping on the counter. Another customer!
Mr. Kane called out, "Wait a moment," and continued his ministrations. After a pause the rapping recommenced. Kane was just securing the last strip of plaster and preserved a preoccupied silence. Then the door flew open abruptly and a figure appeared impatiently on the threshold. It was that of a miner recently returned from the gold diggings--so recently that he evidently had not had time to change his clothes at his adjacent hotel, and stood there in his high boots, duck trousers, and flannel shirt, over which his coat was slung like a hussar's jacket from his shoulder. Kane would have uttered an indignant protest at the intrusion, had not the intruder himself as quickly recoiled with an astonishment and contrition that was beyond the effect of any reproval. He literally gasped at the spectacle before him. A handsomely dressed woman reclining in a chair; lace and jewelry and ribbons depending from her saturated shoulders; tresses of golden hair filling her lap and lying on the floor; a pail of ruddy water and a sponge at her feet, and a pale young man bending over her head with a spirit lamp and strips of yellow plaster!
"'Scuse me, pard! I was just dropping in; don't you hurry! I kin wait," he stammered, falling back, and then the door closed abruptly behind him.
Kane gathered up the shorn locks, wiped the face and neck of his patient with a clean towel and his own handkerchief, threw her gorgeous opera cloak over her shoulders, and assisted her to rise. She did so, weakly but obediently; she was evidently stunned and cowed in some mysterious way by his material attitude, perhaps, or her sudden realization of her position; at least the contrast between her aggressive entrance into the shop and her subdued preparation for her departure was so remarkable that it affected even Kane's preoccupation.
"There," he said, slightly relaxing his severe demeanor with an encouraging smile, "I think this will do; we've stopped the bleeding. It will probably smart a little as the plaster sets closer. I can send my partner, Dr. Sparlow, to you in the morning."
She looked at him curiously and with a strange smile. "And zees Doctor Sparrlow--eez he like you, M'sieu?"
"He is older, and very well known," said the young man seriously. "I can safely recommend him."
"Ah," she repeated, with a pensive smile which made Kane think her quite pretty. "Ah--he ez older--your Doctor Sparrlow--but YOU are strong, M'sieu."
"And," said Kane vaguely, "he will tell you what to do."
"Ah," she repeated again softly, with the same smile, "he will tell me what to do if I shall not know myself. Dat ez good."
Kane had already wrapped her shorn locks in a piece of spotless white paper and tied it up with narrow white ribbon in the dainty fashion dear to druggists' clerks. As he handed it to her she felt in her pocket and produced a handful of gold.
"What shall I pay for zees, M'sieu?"
Kane reddened a little--solely because of his slow arithmetical faculties. Adhesive plaster was cheap--he would like to have charged proportionately for the exact amount he had used; but the division was beyond him! And he lacked the trader's instinct.
"Twenty-five cents, I think," he hazarded briefly.
She started, but smiled again. "Twenty-five cents for all zees--ze medicine, ze strips for ze head, ze hair cut"--she glanced at the paper parcel he had given her--"it is only twenty-five cents?"
He selected from her outstretched palm, with some difficulty, the exact amount, the smallest coin it held. She again looked at him curiously--half confusedly--and moved slowly into the shop. The miner, who was still there, retreated as before with a gaspingly apologetic gesture--even flattening himself against the window to give her sweeping silk flounces freer passage. As she passed into the street with a "Merci, M'sieu, good a'night," and the hackman started from the vehicle to receive her, the miner drew a long breath, and bringing his fist down upon the counter, ejaculated,--
"B'gosh! She's a stunner!"
Kane, a good deal relieved at her departure and the success of his ministration, smiled benignly.
The stranger again stared after the retreating carriage, looked around the shop, and even into the deserted surgery, and approached the counter confidentially. "Look yer, pardner. I kem straight from St. Jo, Mizzorri, to Gold Hill--whar I've got a claim--and I reckon this is the first time I ever struck San Francisker. I ain't up to towny ways nohow, and I allow that mebbe I'm rather green. So we'll let that pass! Now look yer!" he added, leaning over the counter with still deeper and even mysterious confidence, "I suppose this yer kind o' thing is the regular go here, eh? nothin' new to YOU! in course no! But to me, pard, it's just fetchin' me! Lifts me clear outer my boots every time! Why, when I popped into that thar room, and saw that lady--all gold, furbelows, and spangles--at twelve o'clock at night, sittin' in that cheer and you a-cuttin' her h'r and swabbin' her head o' blood, and kinder prospectin' for 'indications,' so to speak, and doin' it so kam and indifferent like, I sez to myself, 'Rube, Rube,' sez I, 'this yer's life! city life! San Francisker life! and b'gosh, you've dropped into it! Now, pard, look yar! don't you answer, ye know, ef it ain't square and above board for me to know; I ain't askin' you to give the show away, ye know, in the matter of high-toned ladies like that, but" (very mysteriously, and sinking his voice to the lowest confidential pitch, as he put his hand to his ear as if to catch the hushed reply), "what mout hev bin happening, pard?"
Considerably amused at the man's simplicity, Kane replied good- humoredly: "Danced among some champagne bottles on a table at a party, fell and got cut by glass."
The stranger nodded his head slowly and approvingly as he repeated with infinite deliberateness: "Danced on champagne bottles, champagne! you said, pard? at a pahty! Yes!" (musingly and approvingly). "I reckon that's about the gait they take. SHE'D do it."
"Is there anything I can do for you? sorry to have kept you waiting," said Kane, glancing at the clock.
"O ME! Lord! ye needn't mind me. Why, I should wait for anythin' o' the like o' that, and be just proud to do it! And ye see, I sorter helped myself while you war busy."
"Helped yourself?" said Kane in astonishment.
"Yes, outer that bottle." He pointed to the ammonia bottle, which still stood on the counter. "It seemed to be handy and popular."
"Man! you might have poisoned yourself."
The stranger paused a moment at the idea. "So I mout, I reckon," he said musingly, "that's so! pizined myself jest ez you was lookin' arter that high-toned case, and kinder bothered you! It's like me!"
"I mean it required diluting; you ought to have taken it in water," said Kane.
"I reckon! It DID sorter h'ist me over to the door for a little fresh air at first! seemed rayther scaldy to the lips. But wot of it that GOT THAR," he put his hand gravely to his stomach, "did me pow'ful good."
"What was the matter with you?" asked Kane.
"Well, ye see, pard" (confidentially again), "I reckon it's suthin' along o' my heart. Times it gets to poundin' away like a quartz stamp, and then it stops suddent like, and kinder leaves ME out too."
Kane looked at him more attentively. He was a strong, powerfully built man with a complexion that betrayed nothing more serious than the effects of mining cookery. It was evidently a common case of indigestion.
"I don't say it would not have done you some good if properly administered," he replied. "If you like I'll put up a diluted quantity and directions?"
"That's me, every time, pardner!" said the stranger with an accent of relief. "And look yer, don't you stop at that! Ye just put me up some samples like of anythin' you think mout be likely to hit. I'll go in for a fair show, and then meander in every now and then, betwixt times, to let you know. Ye don't mind my drifting in here, do ye? It's about ez likely a place ez I struck since I've left the Sacramento boat, and my hotel, just round the corner. Ye just sample me a bit o' everythin'; don't mind the expense. I'll take YOUR word for it. The way you--a young fellow--jest stuck to your work in thar, cool and kam as a woodpecker--not minding how high- toned she was--nor the jewelery and spangles she had on--jest got me! I sez to myself, 'Rube,' sez I, 'whatever's wrong o' YOUR insides, you jest stick to that feller to set ye right.'"
The junior partner's face reddened as he turned to his shelves ostensibly for consultation. Conscious of his inexperience, the homely praise of even this ignorant man was not ungrateful. He felt, too, that his treatment of the Frenchwoman, though successful, might not be considered remunerative from a business
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