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- Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 1/12 -
By Gilbert Parker
X. THE MOON WAS NOT ALONE XI. LOUISE XII. MAN UNNATURAL XIII. ORLANDO GIVES A WARNING XIV. FILION AND FIONA--ALSO PATSY KERNAGHAN XV. OUTWARD BOUND XVI. AT THE CROSS TRAILS XVII. THE SUPERIOR MAN XVIII. YOUTH HAS ITS WAY
THE MOON WAS NOT ALONE
Out on the prairie under the light of the stars a man had fought the first great battle of his life, and had emerged victorious. There are no drawn battles in the struggles of the soul. As Orlando fought, he was tortured by the thought that none would believe the truth to-morrow when it was told; and that there would be penalty though there was no crime.
As for Louise, she could have returned, almost blindly defiant, to her world, hand in hand with Orlando; and yet, when morning came, and her eyes opened on the prairie at day-break, with life stirring everywhere, she was glad of the victory--though the shadow of a great trouble to come was showing in her eyes.
She knew what she had to face at Tralee, and that she had no proof of her perfect innocence. It was of little use for them to call upon Heaven to witness what the night had been; and Joel Mazarine, who distrusted every man and woman, would distrust her with a sternness which guilt only could effectively defy!
Orlando's enforced gaiety as he invited her to a breakfast of a couple of biscuits, left from yesterday's broncho-busting, heartened her; yet both were conscious of the make-believe. They realized they were helpless in the grip of harsh circumstance. It was almost enough to make them take advantage of calumny and the traps set for them by Fate, and join hands for ever.
As they looked into each other's eyes, the same hopeless yet reckless thought flickered--flickered, and vanished. Yet as they looked out over the prairie towards Tralee, to which Louise must presently return, a rebellious sort of joy possessed them.
The discord of their thoughts was like music beside what had passed at Tralee. There nothing relieved the black, sullen rage of Joel Mazarine. He had returned to the house where his voice had always been able to summon his slaves, and to know that they would come--Chinaman, half- breed, wife. Now he called, and the wife did not come. On the new chestnut she had ridden away on the prairie, so the halfbreed woman had said, as hard as he could go. He had scanned the prairie till night came, without seeing a sign of her.
His black imagination instantly conceived the worst that Louise might do. It was not in him ever to have the decent alternative. He questioned the half-breed woman closely; he savagely interrogated the Chinaman; and then he declared that they lied to him, that they knew more than they said; and when he was unable to bear it any longer, he mounted his horse and galloped over to Slow Down Ranch. As he went, he kept swearing to himself that Louise had flown thither; and anger made his brain malignant. He could scarcely frame his words intelligibly when he arrived at Slow Down Ranch.
There he was presently convinced that his worst suspicions were true, for Orlando also had not returned. He saw it all. They had agreed to meet; they had met; they had eloped and were gone! His beady eyes were those of serpents watching for the instant to strike, and his words burst over the head of Orlando's mother like shrapnel.
For once, however, the futile, fantastic mother rose higher than herself, and declared that her son had never run away from, or with, anything in his life; that he--Joel Mazarine--had never had anything worth her son's running away with; and that her son, when he came back, would make him ask forgiveness as he had never asked it of his God.
Indeed, the gaudy little lady stood in her doorway and chattered her maledictions after him, as he rode back again towards Tralee muttering curses which no class leader in the Methodist Church ought even to quote for pious purposes.
Joel Mazarine had flattered himself that he had everything life could give--money, property and a garden of youth in which his old age could loiter and be glad; and that he should be defied suddenly and his garden made desolate, that the lines of his good fortune should be crossed, caused him to rage like any heathen. His monstrous egotism made him like some infuriated bull in the arena, with the banderillos sticking in his hot hide.
The two people whom he cursed were in Elysium compared to the place where he tortured himself. There are desert birds that silently surround a rattlesnake, as he sleeps, with little bundles of cactus-heads and their million needles, so that, when the reptile wakes, it cannot escape through the palisade of bristling weapons by which it is surrounded; and in ghoulish anger it strikes its fangs into its own body until it dies. Just such a helpless rage held Joel Mazarine, and his religion did not suggest seeking comfort at that Throne of Grace to which he had so publicly prayed on occasions.
Night held him prowling in his own coverts; morning found him yellow and mottled, malicious, but now silent. He somehow felt that he would know the truth and the whole truth soon. He ate his pork and beans for breakfast with the appetite of a ravenous animal. He put pieces of the pork chop in his mouth with his fingers; he gulped his coffee; but all the time he kept his eyes on the open door, as though he expected some messenger to announce that Providence had stricken his rebellious wife by sudden death. It seemed to him that Nature and Jehovah must unite to avenge him.
After three hours of further waiting he determined to go into Askatoon. He would have bills printed advertising for Louise as he had done for stray cattle; he would have notices put in the newspapers proclaiming that his wife was strayed or stolen and must be put in pound when discovered. At the moment he decided thus, he caught sight of a wagon approaching from the north. It was near enough for him to see that there was a woman in it; and the eyes of the half-breed hired woman, possessing the Indian far-sight, saw that it was Louise, and told her master so.
Ten minutes later Louise stood in front of the Master of Tralee, and the Master of Tralee filled the doorway. "What you want here?" he asked of her with blurred rage in his voice.
"I want to go to my room," Louise answered quietly but firmly. "Please stand aside."
Now that Louise was face to face with her foe, a new spirit had suddenly possessed her; and standing beside his broncho, a hand on its neck, Orlando almost smiled, for this was Louise with a new nature. There was defiance and courage in her face, not the apprehension which had almost overwhelmed her as they started back to Tralee, having been rescued by the search-party from Slow Down Ranch. The night had done something to Louise which was making itself felt.
"You think you can come back here after what you've done--after where you've been--the likes of you!" Mazarine snarled unmoving. "You think you can!"
Louise turned swiftly to look at Orlando and the three men, one riding and two in the wagon, as though to call them in evidence of her innocence; but there came to her eyes a sudden fire of courage, and she turned again to Mazarine and said:
"I'm your wife by the law--just as much your wife to-day as yesterday. You treat me before strangers as if I were a criminal. I'm not going to be treated that way. I've got my rights. Stand back and let me in-- stand back, Joel Mazarine," she said, and she took a step forward, child though she was, as if she would strike him. Something had transformed her.
To Orlando she seemed scarcely real. The shrinking, colourless child of a few weeks had suddenly become a woman--and such a woman!
"I'll tell you in my own time where I've been and what I've done," she continued. "I want to go upstairs. Stand out of the doorway."
There was a movement behind her. A man in the wagon and the one on his horse seemed to grow angry and threatening. The ranchman dropped from his horse. Only Orlando stood cool, quiet and ominously watchful. Mazarine did not fail to notice the movement of the two men.
Presently Orlando's voice said slowly and calmly: "Stand back, Mazarine. Let her go to her room. This is a free country, and she's free in her own house. It's her house until you've proved she's got no right there." Then he added with sharp insistence and menace: "Stand back--damn you, Mazarine!"
Orlando did not move as he spoke, but there was a look in his face which an enemy would not care to see. Mazarine, in spite of his rage, quailed before the sharp, menacing voice so little in tune with its reputation for giggling, and stepping back, he let Louise pass. Then he plunged forward out of the doorway.
"That's right. Come outside," said Orlando scornfully. "Come out into the open." His voice became lower. There was something deadly in it, boy as he was. "Come out, you hypocrite, and listen to what I've got to say. Listen to the truth I've got to tell you. If you don't listen, I'll horsewhip you, that'd horsewhip a woman, till you can't stand--you loathsome old dog. . . . Yes, he took his horsewhip to her yesterday," he added to the spectators, who muttered angrily, for the West is chivalrous towards women.
Something near to madness possessed Orlando. No one had ever seen him as he was at that moment. Down through generations had come to him some iron thing that suddenly revealed itself in him, as something had just suddenly revealed itself in Louise.
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