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- Wild Youth, Volume 1. - 10/13 -


minister from Askatoon came to offer prayer for Orlando, Joel joined in it with all the unction of a class-leader, while every word of the prayer trembled in an atmosphere of hatred. As Patsy Kernaghan said, he himself watched, and he paid the Chinaman to watch, in the vain belief that money would secure faithful service.

The Young Doctor had told him that his powerful medicine had brought back the bloom to his young wife's cheeks and the light to her eyes, but how much he believed, he could not himself have said. One thing he did know: it was that Orlando seemed quite indifferent to everything except his mother, the state of the crops and the reports on his own cattle. Also Orlando had made a good impression when he resented with a funny little oath and a funnier little giggle, but with some heat in his cheek, Joel's ostentatious proposal to pay the Young Doctor's bill for attendance.

The offer had been made when Louise was standing in the doorway; but the old man did not notice that Louise coloured in sympathy with the flush in Orlando's face. It was as though a delicate nerve had been touched in each of them; but it was a nerve that had never been sensitive until they had met each other for the first time. Orlando's mother dealt with the situation in her own way. She said in a somewhat awkward pause, following the old man's proposal, that a doctor's bill was a personal thing, and she would as soon allow some one else to pay it as to pay for her washing. At this Orlando giggled again, and ventured the remark that no doctor could dispense enough medicine in a year to pay her laundry bill for a month--which pleased the old lady greatly and impelled her to swing her skirt kittenishly.

It was at this point that Li Choo came knocking at the open door with a message for Mazarine. It related to a horse-accident at what was known as One Mile Spring; and Mazarine, having frowned his wife out of the doorway, made his way downstairs and prepared for his short journey to the Spring. Before he left, however, he called Li Choo aside, and what he said caused Li Choo to answer: "Me get money, me do job. Me keep eyes open. Me tell you."

From a window Louise had watched the colloquy, and she knew, as well as though she stood beside them, what was being said. Li Choo had told the truth: he had got the cash, and he would do the job. But not alone from Joel Mazarine did he get money. Only two mornings before, Louise, for all the extra work he had had to do during Orlando's illness and without thought of bribery, had given him a beautiful gold ten-dollar-piece with a hole in it. If the piece had been minus the hole, Li Choo would have returned it to her, for he would have served her for nothing till the end of his days, had it been possible. Because there was a hole in it, however, and he could put a string through it and wear it round his neck inside his waistcoat, he took it, blinking his beady eyes at her; and he said:

"Me watch most petic'ler, mlissy. Me tell boss Mazaline ev'lytling me see!" And he giggled almost as Orlando might have done.

After which Li Choo slip-slopped away to his work behind the kitchen. When he saw Orlando's mother in the garden and the Young Doctor drive to Askatoon, and Patsy Kernaghan mount an aged cayuse and ride off, he clucked with his tongue and then went into the kitchen and prepared a tray on which he placed several pieces of a fine old set of China, which had belonged to Mazarine's grandmother and was greatly prized by the old man. Then he clucked to the half-breed woman, and she made ready as sumptuous a tea as ever entered the room of a convalescent.

Like a waiter at a seaside hotel, Li Choo carried the tray above his head on three fingers to the staircase, and as he mounted to the landing, called out, "Welly good tea me bling gen'l'man." This was his way of warning Orlando Guise, and whoever might be with him, of his coming.

He need not have done so, for though Louise was in Orlando's room, she was much nearer to the door than she was to Orlando. She hastened to place a table near to Orlando, for the tray which Li Choo had brought, and, as she did so, remarked with a shock at the cherished china upon the tray.

"Li Choo! Li Choo!" she gasped, reprovingly, for it was as though the Ark of the Covenant had been burgled. But Li Choo, clucking, slip- slopped out of the room and down the stairs as happy as an Oriental soul could be. What was in the far recesses of that soul, where these two young people were concerned, must remain unrevealed; but Li Choo and the halfbreed woman in their own language--which was almost without words-- clucked and grunted their understanding.

Left alone again, Louise found herself seated with only the table between herself and Orlando, pouring him tea and offering him white frosted cake like that dispensed at weddings; while Orlando chuckled his thanks and thought what a wonderful thing it was that a bullet in a man's side could bring the unexpected to pass and the heart's desire of a man within the touch of his fingers.

Their conversation was like that of two children. She talked of her bird Richard, which she had sent to him every morning that it might sing to him; of her black cat Nigger, which sat on his lap for many an hour of the day; of the dog Jumbo, which said its prayers for him to get well, for a piece of sugar-that was a trick Louise had taught it long ago. Orlando talked of his horses and of his mother--who, he declared, was the most unselfish person on the whole continent; how she only thought of him, and spent her money for him, and gave to him, never thinking of herself at all.

"She has the youngest heart of anyone in the world," said Orlando.

Louise did not even smile at that. No one with a heart that was not infantile could dress and talk as Orlando's mother dressed and talked; and so Louise said softly: "I am sure her heart is a thousand years younger than mine--or younger than mine was." And then she blushed, and Orlando blushed, for he understood what was in her mind--that until they two had met, she was, as the Young Doctor said, a victim to senile decay.

That was the nearest they had come as yet to saying anything which, being translated, as it were, through several languages, could mean love- making. Their love-making had only been by an inflection of the voice, by a soft abstraction, by a tuning of their spirits to each other. They were indeed like two children; and yet Li Choo was right when, in his dark soul, he conceived them to be lovers, and thought they would do what lovers do--hold hands and kiss and whisper, with never an end to a sentence, never a beginning.

It was not that these things were impossible to them. It was not that their beating pulses, and the throbbing in them, was not the ancient passion which has overturned an empire, or made a little spot of earth as dear as Heaven above. It was that these were forbidden things, and Louise and Orlando accepted that they were forbidden.

How long would this position last? What would the future bring? This was only the fluttering approach of two natures, from everlasting distances. The girl had been roused out of sleep; from her understanding the curtains had been flung back so that she might see. How long would it last, this simple, unsoiled story of two lives?

Orlando reached out his hand to put his cup back upon the tray. As her own hand was extended to take it, her fingers touched his. Then her face flushed, and a warm cloud seemed to bedim her eyes. There flashed into her mind the deep, overwhelming fact that for three long years a rough, heavy hand had held her captive by day, by night, in a pitiless ownership. She got to her feet suddenly; her breath came quickly, and she turned towards the door as though she meant to go.

At that instant Li Choo slid softly into the room, caught up the tray, poised it on his three fingers over his head and said: "Old Mazaline, he come. Be queeck!"

They heard the heavy footsteps of Joel Mazarine coming into the hall-way just below.

The old man, as though moved by some uncanny instinct, had come back from One Mile Spring by a roundabout trail. As the Chinaman came out upon the landing at the top of the stairs, Joel appeared at the bottom, in the doorway which gave upon the staircase. Two or three steps down shuffled the Chinaman; then, as it were by accident, he stumbled and fell, the tray with the beautiful china crashing down to the feet of Joel Mazarine, followed by the tumbling, chirruping Li Choo.

Oriental duplicity had made no wrong reckoning. The old man fell back into the hall-way from the crashing china and tumbling Oriental, who plunged out into the hall-way muttering and begging pardon, cursing his soul in good Chinese and bad English.

Looking down on the wreck, Mazarine saw his treasured porcelain shattered. With a growl of rage he stooped and seized Li Choo by the collar, flung him out of the door, and then with his heavy boot kicked him once, twice, thrice, a dozen times, anywhere, everywhere!

Li Choo, however, had done his work well. Joel Mazarine never knew the reason for the Chinaman's downfall on the stairway, for, in the turmoil, Louise had slipped away in safety. His rage had vented itself; but, if he had seen Li Choo's face an hour after, as he talked to the half-breed woman in the kitchen, he might have had some qualms for his cruel assault. Passion and hatred in the face of an Oriental are not lovely things to see.

CHAPTER IX

THE STARS IN THEIR COURSES

"It's been a great day--great."

Orlando Guise leaned lazily on the neck of the broncho he was riding, peering between its ears, over the lonely prairie, to the sunset which was making beautiful the western sky. It was as though there was a golden fire behind vast hills of mauve and pink, purple and saffron; but the glow was so soft as to suggest a flame which did not burn; which only shed radiance, colour and an ethereal mist. All the width of land and life between was full of peace as far as eye could see. The plains were bountiful with golden harvest, and the activities of men were lost among the corn. Horses and cattle in the distance were as insects, and in the great concave sky stars still wan from the intolerant light of their master, the Sun, looked timidly out to see him burn his way down to the under-world.

"Great--but it might have been greater!" added Orlando, gazing intently at the sunset.

Yet, as he spoke, his eyes gazed at something infinitely farther away than the sunset-even to the goal of his desire. He was thinking that, great as the day had been, with all he had done and seen, it lacked a glimpse of the face he had not seen for a whole month. The voice, he had not heard it since it softly cried, "Oh, Orlando!" when the Chinaman crashed down the staircase with the tray of cherished porcelain, and had been maltreated by the owner of Tralee.


Wild Youth, Volume 1. - 10/13

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