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- Beverly of Graustark - 10/51 -


"Take care--your dress--"

"Oh, I'm so glad to hear you speak! Never mind the dress! You are torn to pieces! You must be frightfully hurt. Oh, isn't it terrible--horrible! Aunt Fanny! Come here this minute!"

Forgetting the beast and throwing off the paralysis of fear, she pushed one of the men away and grasped the arm of the injured man. He winced perceptibly and she felt something warm and sticky on her hands. She knew it was blood, but it was not in her to shrink at a moment like this.

"Your arm, too!" she gasped. He smiled, although his face was white with pain. "How brave you were! You might have been--I'll never forget it--never! Don't stand there, Aunt Fanny! Quick! Get those cushions for him. He's hurt."

"Good Lawd!" was all the old woman could say, but she obeyed her mistress.

"It was easier than it looked, your highness," murmured Baldos. "Luck was with me. The knife went to his heart. I am merely scratched. His leap was short, but he caught me above the knees with his claws. Alas, your highness, these trousers of mine were bad enough before, but now they are in shreds. What patching I shall have to do! And you may well imagine we are short of thread and needles and thimbles--"

"Don't jest, for heaven's sake! Don't talk like that. Here! Lie down upon these cushions and--"

"Never! Desecrate the couch of Graustark's ruler? I, the poor goat-hunter? I'll use the lion for a pillow and the rock for an operating table. In ten minutes my men can have these scratches dressed and bound--in fact, there is a surgical student among them, poor fellow. I think I am his first patient. Ravone, attend me."

He threw himself upon the ground and calmly placed his head upon the body of the animal.

"I insist upon your taking these cushions," cried Beverly.

"And I decline irrevocably." She stared at him in positive anger. "Trust Ravone to dress these trifling wounds, your highness. He may not be as gentle, but he is as firm as any princess in all the world."

"But your arm?" she cried. "Didn't you say it was your legs? Your arm is covered with blood, too. Oh, dear me, I'm afraid you are frightfully wounded,"

"A stray bullet from one of my men struck me there, I think. You know there was but little time for aiming--?"

"Wait! Let me think a minute! Good heavens!" she exclaimed with a start. Her eyes were suddenly filled with tears and there was a break in her voice. "I shot you! Don't deny it--don't! It is the right arm, and your men could not have hit it from where they stood. Oh, oh, oh!"

Baldos smiled as he bared his arm. "Your aim was good," he admitted. "Had not my knife already been in the lion's heart, your bullet would have gone there. It is my misfortune that my arm was in the way. Besides, your highness, it has only cut through the skin--and a little below, perhaps. It will be well in a day or two, I am sure you will find your bullet in the carcass of our lamented friend, the probable owner of this place."

Ravone, a hungry-looking youth, took charge of the wounded leader, while her highness retreated to the farthest corner of the cavern. There she sat and trembled while the wounds were being dressed. Aunt Fanny bustled back and forth, first unceremoniously pushing her way through the circle of men to take observations, and then reporting to the impatient girl. The storm had passed and the night was still, except for the rush of the river; raindrops fell now and then from the trees, glistening like diamonds as they touched the light from the cavern's mouth. It was all very dreary, uncanny and oppressive to poor Beverly. Now and then she caught herself sobbing, more out of shame and humiliation than in sadness, for had she not shot the man who stepped between her and death? What must he think of her?

"He says yo' all 'd betteh go to baid, Miss Bev--yo' highness," said Aunt Fanny after one of her trips.

"Oh, he does, does he?" sniffed Beverly. "I'll go to bed when I please. Tell him so. No, no--don't do it, Aunt Fanny! Tell him I'll go to bed when I'm sure he is quite comfortable, not before."

"But he's jes' a goat puncheh er a--"

"He's a man, if there ever was one. Don't let me hear you call him a goat puncher again. How are his legs?" Aunt Fanny was almost stunned by this amazing question from her ever-decorous mistress. "Why don't you answer? Will they have to be cut off? Didn't you see them?"

"Fo' de Lawd's sake, missy, co'se Ah did, but yo' all kindeh susprise me. Dey's p'etty bad skun up, missy; de hide's peeled up consid'ble. But hit ain' dang'ous,--no, ma'am. Jes' skun, 'at's all."

"And his arm--where I shot him?"

"Puffec'ly triflin', ma'am,--yo' highness. Cobwebs 'd stop de bleedin' an' Ah tole 'em so, but 'at felleh couldn' un'stan' me. Misteh what's-his-names he says something to de docteh, an' den dey goes afteh de cobwebs, suah 'nough. 'Tain' bleedin' no mo', missy. He's mostes' neah doin' we'y fine. Co'se, he cain' walk fo' sev'l days wiv dem laigs o' his'n, but--"

"Then, in heaven's name, how are we to get to Edelweiss?"

"He c'n ride, cain't he? Wha's to hindeh him?"

"Quite right. He shall ride inside the coach. Go and see if I can do anything for him."

Aunt Fanny returned in a few minutes.

"He says yo'll do him a great favoh if yo' jes' go to baid. He sends his 'spects an' hopes yo' slumbeh won' be distubbed ag'in."

"He's a perfect brute!" exclaimed Beverly, but she went over and crawled under the blankets and among the cushions the wounded man had scorned.

CHAPTER VII

SOME FACTS AND FANCIES

There was a soft, warm, yellow glow to the world when Beverly Calhoun next looked upon it. The sun from his throne in the mountain tops was smiling down upon the valley the night had ravaged while he was on the other side of the earth. The leaves of the trees were a softer green, the white of the rocks and the yellow of the road were of a gentler tint; the brown and green reeds were proudly erect once more.

The stirring of the mountain men had awakened Aunt Fanny, and she in turn called her mistress from the surprisingly peaceful slumber into which perfect health had sent her not so many hours before. At the entrance to the improvised bedchamber stood buckets of water from the spring.

"We have very thoughtful chambermaids," remarked Beverly while Aunt Fanny was putting her hair into presentable shape. "And an energetic cook," she added as the odor of broiled meat came to her nostrils.

"Ah cain' see nothin' o' dat beastes, Miss Beverly--an'--Ah--Ah got mah suspicions," said Aunt Fanny, with sepulchral despair in her voice.

"They've thrown the awful thing into the river," concluded Beverly.

"Dey's cookin' hit!" said Aunt Fanny solemnly.

"Good heaven, no!" cried Beverly. "Go and see, this minute. I wouldn't eat that catlike thing for the whole world." Aunt Fanny came back a few minutes later with the assurance that they were roasting goat meat. The skin of the midnight visitor was stretched upon the ground not far away.

"And how is he?" asked Beverly, jamming a hat pin through a helpless bunch of violets.

"He's ve'y 'spectably skun, yo' highness."

"I don't mean the animal, stupid."

"Yo' mean 'at Misteh Goat man? He's settin' up an' chattin' as if nothin' happened. He says to me 'at we staht on ouah way jes' as soon as yo' all eats yo' b'eakfus'. De bosses is hitched up an'--"

"Has everybody else eaten? Am I the only one that hasn't? "cried Beverly.

"'Ceptin' me, yo' highness. Ah'm as hungry as a poah man's dawg, an'--"

"And he is being kept from the hospital because I am a lazy, good-for-nothing little--Come on, Aunt Fanny; we haven't a minute to spare. If he looks very ill, we do without breakfast."

But Baldos was the most cheerful man in the party. He was sitting with his back against a tree, his right arm in a sling of woven reeds, his black patch set upon the proper eye.

"You will pardon me for not rising," he said cheerily, "but, your highness, I am much too awkward this morning to act as befitting a courtier in the presence of his sovereign. You have slept well?"

"Too well, I fear. So well, in fact, that you have suffered for it. Can't we start at once?" She was debating within herself whether it would be quite good form to shake hands with the reclining hero. In the glare of the broad daylight he and his followers looked more ragged and famished than before, but they also appeared more picturesquely romantic.

"When you have eaten of our humble fare, your highness,--the last meal at the Hawk and Raven."

"But I'm not a bit hungry."

"It is very considerate of you, but equally unreasonable. You must eat before we start."


Beverly of Graustark - 10/51

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