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- Wild Youth, Volume 1. - 4/13 -


stubbornly. "She's been healthy as a woman can be, living this life here. What's her disease? I've asked you. What is it?"

The other laid a hand on himself, and in the colourless voice of the expert, said: "Old age--that's her trouble, so far as I can see."

He paused, foreseeing the ferocious look which swept into the repulsive face, and the clenching of the big hands. Then in a soothing, reflective kind of voice he added:

"Senile decay--you know all about that. Well, now, it happens sometimes --not often, but it does happen--that a very young person for some cause or another suffers from senile decay. Some terrible leakage of youth occurs. It has been cured, though, and I've cured one or two cases myself."

He was almost prevaricating--but in a good cause. "Mrs. Mazarine's is a case which can be cured, I think," he continued. "As you've remarked, Mr. Mazarine,"--his voice was now persuasive,--"here is fine air, and a good, comfortable home--"

Suddenly he broke off, and as though in innocent inquiry said: "Now, has she too much to do? Has she sufficient help in the house for one so young?"

"She doesn't do more than's good for her," answered the old man, "and there's the half-breed hired critter--you've seen her--and Li Choo, a Chinaman, too. That ought to be enough," he added scornfully.

The Young Doctor seemed to reflect, and his face became urbane, because he saw he must proceed warily, if he was to be of service to his new patient.

"Yes," he said emphatically, "she appears to have help enough. I must think over her case and see her again to-morrow."

The old man's look suddenly darkened. "Ain't she better:"' he asked.

"She's not so much better that there's no danger of her being worse," the Young Doctor replied decisively. "I certainly must see her to-morrow."

"Why," the old man remarked, waving his splayed hand up and down in a gesture of emphasis, "she's never been sick. She's in and out of this house all day. She goes about with her animals like as if she hadn't a care or an ache or pain in the world. I've heard of women that fancied they was sick because they hadn't too much to do, and was too well off, and was treated too well. Highsterics, they call it. Lots of women, lots and lots of them, would be glad to have such a home as this, and would stay healthy in it."

The Young Docor felt he had made headway, and he let it go at that. It was clear he was to be permitted to come to-morrow. "Yes, it's a fine place," he replied convincingly. "Three thousand acres is a mighty big place when you've got farm-land as well as cattle-grazing."

"It's nearly all good farm-land," answered the old man with decision. "I don't believe much in ranching or cattle. I'm for the plough and the wheat. There's more danger from cattle disease than from bad crops. I'm getting rid of my cattle. I expect to sell a lot of 'em to-day." An avaricious smile of satisfaction drew down the corners of his lips. "I've got a good customer. He ought to be on the trail now." He drew out a huge silver watch. "Yes, he's due. The party's a foreigner, I believe. He lives over at Slow Down Ranch--got a French name."

"Oh, Giggles!" said the Young Doctor with a quick smile.

The old man shook his head: "No, that ain't the name. It's Guise-Orlando Guise is the name."

"Same thing," remarked the Young Doctor. "They call him Giggles for short. You've seen him of course?"

"No, I've been dealing with him so far through a third party. Why's he called Giggles?" asked the Master of Tralee.

"Well, you'll know when you see him. He's not cut according to everybody's measure. If you're dealing with him, don't think him a fool because he chirrups, and don't size him up according to his looks. He's a dude. Some call him The Duke, but mostly he's known as Giggles."

"Fools weary me," grumbled the other.

"Well, as I said, you mustn't begin dealing with him on the basis of his looks. Looks don't often tell the truth. For instance, you're known as a Christian and a Methodist!" He looked the old man slowly up and down, and in anyone else it would have seemed gross insolence, but the urbane smile at his lips belied the malice of his words. "Well, you know you don't look like a Methodist. You look like,"--innocence showed in his eye; there was no ulterior purpose in his face, "you look like one of the bad McMahon lot of claim-jumpers over there in the foothills. I suppose that seems so, only because ranchman aren't generally pious. Well, in the same way, Giggles doesn't really look like a ranchman; but he's every bit as good a ranchman as you are a Christian and a Methodist!"

The Young Doctor looked the old man in the face with such a semblance of honesty that he succeeded in disarming a dangerous suspicion of mockery --dangerous, if he was to continue family physician at Tralee. "Ah," he suddenly remarked, "there comes Orlando now!" He pointed to a spot about half a mile away, where a horseman could be seen cantering slowly towards Tralee.

A moment afterwards, from his buggy, the Young Doctor said: "Mrs. Mazarine must be left alone until I see her again. She must not be disturbed. The half-breed woman can look after her. I've told her what to do. You'll keep to another room, of course."

"There's a bunk in that room where I could sleep," said the other, with a note of protest.

"I'm afraid that, in our patient's interest, you must do what I say," the other insisted, with a friendly smile which caused him a great effort. "If I make her bloom again, that will suit you, won't it?"

A look of gloating came into the other's eyes: "Let it go at that," he said. "Mebbe I'll take her over to the sea before the wheat-harvest."

Out on the Askatoon trail, the Young Doctor ruminated over what he had seen and heard at Tralee. "That old geezer will get an awful jolt one day," he said to himself. "If that girl should wake! Her eyes--if somebody comes along and draws the curtains! She hasn't the least idea of where she is or what it all means. All she knows is that she's a prisoner in some strange, savage country and doesn't know its language or anybody at all--as though she'd lost her memory. Any fellow, young, handsome and with enough dash and colour to make him romantic could do it. . . . Poor little robin in the snow!" he added, and looked back towards Tralee.

As he did so, the man from Slow Down Ranch cantering towards Tralee caught his eye. "Louise-Orlando," he said musingly; then, with a sudden flick of the reins on his horse's back, he added abruptly, almost sternly, "By the great horn spoons, no!"

Thus when his prophecy took concrete form, he revolted from it. A grave look came into his face.

CHAPTER IV

TWO SIDES TO A BARGAIN

As the Young Doctor had said, Orlando Guise did not look like a real, simon-pure "cowpuncher." He had the appearance of being dressed for the part, like an actor who has never mounted a cayuse, in a Wild West play. Yet on this particular day,--when the whole prairie country was alive with light, thrilling with elixir from the bottle of old Eden's vintage, and as comfortable as a garden where upon a red wall the peach-vines cling--he seemed far more than usual the close-fitting, soil-touched son of the prairie. His wide felt hat, turned up on one side like a trooper's, was well back on his head; his pinkish brown face was freely taking the sun, and his clear, light-blue eyes gazed ahead unblinking in the strong light. His forehead was unwrinkled--a rare thing in that prairie country where the dry air corrugates the skin; his light-brown hair curled loosely on the brow, graduating back to closer, crisper curls which in their thickness made a kind of furry cap. It was like the coat of a French poodle, so glossy and so companionable was it to the head. A bright handkerchief of scarlet was tied loosely around his throat, which was even a little more bare than was the average ranchman's; and his thick, much-pocketed flannel shirt, worn in place of a waistcoat and coat, was of a shade of red which contrasted and yet harmonized with the scarlet of the neckerchief. He did not wear the sheepskin leggings so common among the ranchmen of the West, but a pair of yellowish corduory riding-breeches, with boots that laced from the ankle to the knee. These boots had that touch of the theatrical which made him more fantastic than original in the eyes of his fellow-citizens.

Also he wore a ring with a star-sapphire, which made him incongruous, showy and foppish, and that was a thing not easy of forgiveness in the West. Certainly the West would not have tolerated him as far as it did, had it not been for three things: the extraordinary good nature which made him giggle; the fact that on more than one occasion he had given conclusive evidence that he was brave; and the knowledge that he was at least well-to-do. In a kind of vague way people had come to realize that his giggles belonged to a nature without guile and recklessly frank.

"He beats the band," Jonas Billings, the livery-stable keeper, had said of him; while Burlingame, the pernicious lawyer of shady character, had remarked that he had the name of an impostor and the frame of a fop; but he wasn't sure, as a lawyer, that he'd seen all the papers in the case-- which was tantamount to saying that the Orlando nut needed some cracking.

It was generally agreed that his name was ridiculous, romantic and unreasonable. It seemed to challenge public opinion. Most names in the West were without any picturesqueness or colour; they were commonplace and almost geometric in their form, more like numbers to represent people than things of character in themselves. There were names semi-scriptural and semi-foreign in Askatoon, but no name like Orlando Guise had ever come that way before, and nothing like the man himself had ever ridden the Askatoon trails. One thing had to be said, however; he rode the trail like a broncho-buster, and he sat his horse as though he had been born in the saddle. --On this particular day, in spite of his garish "get-up," he seemed to belong to the life in which he was lightheartedly whistling a solo from one of Meyerbeer's operas. Meyerbeer was certainly incongruous to the prairie, but it and the whistling were in keeping with the man himself.

Over on Slow Down Ranch there lived a curious old lady who wore a bonnet of Sweet Sixteen of the time of the Crimea, and with a sense of colour which would wreck the reputation of a kaleidoscope. She it was who had


Wild Youth, Volume 1. - 4/13

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