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- Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 2/12 -
The other three men--two in the wagon and one beside his horse-stared at him as though they had seen him for the first time. They were unready for the passion that possessed him. Not a muscle of his body appeared to move; he was as motionless as the trunk of a tree. But in his eyes and his voice there was, as one of the ranchers said afterwards, "Hell--and then some more."
"Listen to me," he said again, and his voice was low and husky now. "Yesterday I was broncho-busting--"
Thereupon he told the whole story of what had happened since he had seen Louise thrown from her chestnut on the prairie. He told how Louise was too shaken and ill to attempt the journey back to Tralee, and how they had camped where they were, near the dead horse.
As Orlando talked, the old man was seized by terrible hatred and jealousy. "You needn't tell me the rest," he broke in, his hands savagely opening and shutting. "I guess I understand everything."
The words had scarcely left his mouth when from the wagon a man said: "Wait--wait, Mister. I got something to say."
He sprang to the ground, and ran between Mazarine and Orlando.
"This is where I come in," he said, as Louise's face appeared at an upper window, and she listened. "You don't know me. Well, I know you. Everybody knows you, and nobody likes you. I know what happened last night. I'm a brother of your fellow Christian Rigby, the druggist, over there in Askatoon. He's a Methodist. I'm not. I'm only good. I been a lot o' things, and nothing in the end. Well, you hearken to my tale.
"I was tramping with my bundle on my back acrost the prairie to Askatoon from Waterway. I'm a sundowner, as they say in Australia. When the sun goes down, I down to my bed wherever I be on the prairie. I was asleep- I'd been half drunk--when the chestnut threw your wife and broke its leg; but I was awake when he rode up." He pointed to Orlando. "I was awake, and so I watched. I knew who she was; I knew who he was." He pointed to Orlando again. "I guessed I'd see something. I did.
"I watched them two people all night. There was a moon. I could see. I wasn't fifteen feet from her all night, and I jined the others when they come to rescue. I guess I got the truth, and I guess if you want any evidence about me you can get it. Lots of people know me out here. I ain't got any house or any home, and I get drunk sometimes, and I ain't got money to buy meals with, lots of times, but nobody ever knowed me lie. That's what ruined me--I been too truthful. Well, I'm not lying now, Mister. I'm telling you the God-help-me truth. He's a gentleman." He pointed again to Orlando. "He's a gentleman from away back in God's country, wherever that is, and she's the best of the best of the very best.
"You can bet your greasy old boots and ugly face that you've got a bigger fortune in that wife of yours than you've any right to. Say, she's a queen, Mister, and don't you forget it, and"--he drawled out his words-- "you go inside your house and get down on your knees, same as you do in the Meeting House, and thank the Lord you love so well for all his blessings. As my friend here said a little while back"--he pointed to Orlando again--"'Damn you, Mazarine!' Go and hide yourself."
The old man stood for a moment dumbfounded; then, without a word, he turned and hunched inside the house.
"He raised his horsewhip ag'in' a woman, did he?" said one of Orlando's ranchmen. "Ain't that a matter we got to take notice of?"
"Boys," said Orlando as he motioned them to be off, "Mrs. Mazarine can take care of herself. You'll forget what's happened, if you want to play up to her. If she needs you, she'll be sure to let you know."
A moment afterwards they were all on their way on the road leading to Slow Down Ranch.
"He didn't giggle much that time," said one of the ranchmen of Orlando, as they moved on.
The Young Doctor had had a trying day. Certain of his cases had given him anxiety; his drives had been long and fatiguing; he had had little sleep for several nights; and he was what Patsy Kernaghan had called "brittle"; for when Patsy was in a vexed condition, he used to say, "I'm so brittle I'll break if you look at me." As the Young Doctor drew his chair up to the supper-table and looked at his food with a critical air, he was very brittle.
For one born in Enniskillen he had an even nature, but its evenness was more the result of mental control than temperament. He sighed as he looked at the marrow bones which, as a rule, gave him joy when their turn came in the weekly menu; he eyed askance the baked potatoes; and the salad waiting for his skilled hand only gave him an extra feeling of fatigue.
Most men in a like state say, "I don't know what's the matter with me," and yet many a one has been stimulated out of it, away from it, by the soft voice and friendly hand of a woman.
There was, however, no woman to distract the overworked Young Doctor by her freshness, drawn from the reservoir of her vitality; and that was a pity, because, as Patsy Kernaghan many a time said: "Aw, Doctor dear, what's the good of a tongue to a wagon if there's only wan horse to draw it! Shure, you'll think a lot more of yourself whin you're able to stand at the head of your own table and say grace for two at least, and thanksgiving for manny, if it's the will of God."
The Young Doctor did not know why he was so brittle, but the truth is he was feeding on himself, and that is a poor business. Every dog knows it is good to feed on the knuckle of a goat if he hasn't got a beefbone, and every real man knows--though to know anything at all he must have been married--that any marriage is better than no marriage at all; because whether it's happy or unhappy, it makes you concerned for some one besides yourself, if you have any soul or sense at all.
The Young Doctor was under the delusion that he loved his lonely table and the making of a simple salad for a simple man, but then he came from Ireland and had imagination; and that is always a curse when it isn't a blessing, for there is nothing between the two. At the end of his troubled day he almost cursed the salad as it crinkled in the dish just slightly rubbed with garlic. He was turning away in apathy from it--from the bones with the marrow oozing out of the ends, from the bursting baked potatoes, from the beautiful crusts of brown bread, when he heard the door-bell ring. At the sound his face set as though it were mortar. He wanted no patients this night; but from the peremptory sound of the bell he was sure some one had come who needed medicine or the knife, and he could refuse neither; for was he not at everybody's beck and call, the Medicine Man whose door was everybody's door!
"Damnation!" he said aloud, and turned towards the door expectantly.
Then he bitted himself to wait; and he did not wait long. Presently he heard a voice say, "I must see him," and the door opened wide, and Louise Mazarine stepped into the room. Her face was pale and distraught; her blue eyes, with their long, melancholy lashes, stared at him in appealing apprehension. Her lips were almost white; her hands trembled out towards him.
"I've come--I've come!" she said. It had the finality of the last chapter of a book.
The Young Doctor closed the door, ignoring for the instant the hands held out to him. After all, he was a very sane Young Doctor, and he had the faculty of keeping his head, and his heart, and his own counsel. Also he knew there was an inquisitive old servant in the hallway.
When the door was closed, he turned round on Louise slowly, and then he held out his hands to her, for she was shrinking away, as though he had repulsed her. He pressed her trembling hands in the way that only faithful friendship shows, and said:
"Yes, I know you've come, but tell me what you've come for."
"I couldn't bear it any longer," she said brokenly. "I'm not made of steel or stone. It's been terrible. He doesn't speak to me except to order me to do this or that. I haven't done anything wrong, and I won't be treated so. I won't! When he made me kneel down by him in the trail and tried to make me pray to be forgiven of my sins, I couldn't stand it. I don't know what my sins are, and I won't be converted if I don't want to. I'm not a slave. I'm of age. I'm twenty."
There was no sign of fatigue now in the Young Doctor's face. Something had called him out of himself, and this human need had done what a wife's hand might have done, or the welcome of a child.
"No, you're not twenty," he declared, with a friendly smile. "You aren't ten. You are only one. In fact, I think you're only just born!"
He did not speak as lightly as the words read. In his voice there was that compassionate irony with which men shield those for whom they care. It means protection and defence. Somehow she seemed to him like a small bird on its first flight from the nest, or, as Patsy Kernaghan would have said, "a tame lamb loose in a zoolyogical gardin."
"So because you won't pray and can't bear it any longer, you run away from him, and come to me!" the other remarked with a sorry smile, pouring out a glass of wine from a decanter that stood on the table.
"Drink this," he said presently, pushing her down gently into a chair with one hand and holding the glass to her lips. "Drink it every drop. As I said, you've only run away from one master to fall into another master's hands. You're a wicked girl. Drink it--every drop. . . . That's right."
He took the empty glass from her, put it on the table, and then stood and looked at her meditatively, fastening her eyes with his own. More than her eyes were fastened, however. Her mind was also under control: but that was because she believed in him so.
"Yes, you're a wicked girl," he said decisively.
She shuddered and shrank back. In her eyes was a helpless look, very different from that which she had given not so many days before when, with Orlando Guise behind her, she had defied her aged husband in his doorway, and her defiance had moved him from her path. Then she had been inspired by the fact that the man she loved was near her, that she had been wrongfully accused and was ready to fight. Afterwards, however,
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