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- Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 3/12 -
when she was alone, the sterile presence of Joel Mazarine, his merciless eyes, his hopeless religious tyranny, had worn upon her as his past violence had never done.
"Wicked!" Did this man, then, believe her guilty? Did he, of all men, think that the night upon the prairie alone with Orlando had been her undoing? Had not the brother of Rigby the chemist borne witness with his own eyes to her complete innocence? If the Young Doctor disbelieved, then indeed she was undone.
"You don't think that of me--of me!" she gasped, her lips all white again. She got to her feet excitedly. "You shall not believe it of me."
"No, I did not say I believed that," the other remarked almost casually. "But if I did believe it, I don't know that it would make much difference to me. Fate, or God Almighty, or whatever it was, had stacked the cards against you. When I said it was wicked, I meant you did wrong in rushing away from your husband and coming to me. I suppose you have definitely left your husband--eh? You've 'left' him, as they say?"
He had an incorrigible sense of humour, as well as an infinite common sense. He wanted to break this spell of tense emotion which possessed her. So he pursued a new course.
"Don't you think it's rather hard on me?" he continued. "I'm a lone man in this house, with only one old woman to protect me, and I'm unmarried. I've a reputation to lose, and there are lots of mothers and daughters hereabouts. Besides, a medical practice is hard to get and not easy to keep. What do you mean by making a refuge of me, when there's nothing for me in it, not even the satisfaction of going into the Divorce Court with you? You wicked Mrs. Mazarine!"
"Oh, don't speak like that!" Louise interjected. "Please don't. Don't scold me. I had to come. I was going mad."
The Young Doctor had the case well in hand. He had eased the terrible tension; he was slowly reducing her to the normal. It was the only thing to do.
"What did Mazarine do or say to you that made you run away? Come now, didn't you first make up your mind to go to Slow Down Ranch--to Orlando?"
She flushed. "Yes, but only for a minute. Then I thought of you, because I knew you could help me as no one else could. Everybody believes in you. But then Li Choo--"
"Oh, Li Choo! So Li Choo comes into this, eh? So he said fly to Orlando, eh? Well, that's what he would do. But why Li Choo-- a Chinaman? Tell me, what does Li Choo know?"
Quickly she told him the story of the day when Joel Mazarine had almost surprised her in Orlando's room; how Li Choo had saved the situation by falling down the staircase with the priceless porcelain, and how Mazarine had kicked him--"manhandled" him, as they say in the West.
"Chinamen don't like being kicked, especially Chinamen of Li Choo's station," remarked the Young Doctor meditatively. "You don't know, of course, that Li Choo was a prince or a big bug of some sort in his own country. Why he left China I don't know, but I do chance to know that if another Chinky meets Li Choo carrying a basket on his shoulders, or a package in his hand, he kow-tows, and takes it away from him, and carries it himself. . . . No, I don't know why Li Choo is here in Askatoon, or why he's such a slave to Mrs. Mazarine; but I do know that he's a different-looking man when a Chinky runs up against him than when he's choring at Tralee. A sick Chinaman told me only a week ago that Li Choo was 'once big high boss Chinaman in Pekin.' . . . And so the mandarin advised you to fly to Orlando, did he? I wonder if it's a way they have in China."
"But I wouldn't go. I've come to you--Patsy Kernaghan brought me," Louise urged.
"Yes, I see you've come to me," remarked the Young Doctor dryly, "and you've stayed about long enough for me to feel your pulse and diagnose your case. And now you're going back with Patsy Kernaghan to your own home."
She trembled; then she seemed to strengthen herself in defiance. What a change it was from the child of a few weeks ago--indeed, of a few moments ago! The same passionate determination which seized her when she faced Mazarine with Orlando, possessed her again. With her whole being palpitating, she said: "I will not go back. I will not go back. I will kill myself first."
"That would be a useless sacrifice of yourself and others," the Young Doctor answered quietly. Seeing that the new thing in her was not to be conquered in a moment, he quickly made up his mind what to do.
"See," he continued, "you needn't go back to Tralee to-night, but you're not going to stay here, dear child. I'll take you over to Nolan Doyle's ranch, to Mrs. Doyle. You'll spend the night there, and we'll think about to-morrow when to-morrow comes. You certainly can't stay here. I'm not going to have it.
"Bless you, you're neither so young nor so old as all that!"
Suddenly he grasped both her arms and looked her in the face. "My dear young lady," he said gently, "I'm not your only friend, but I'm a stout friend--so stout that there isn't a mount can carry us both together. When you ride, I walk; when I ride, you walk--you understand? We don't walk or ride together. I'm taking care of you. Your life is too good to be ruined by rashness. You're in a 'state,' as my old housekeeper would say, but you'll be all right presently. As soon as I've made a salad, and had a marrowbone, you and I and Patsy Kernaghan are going to Nolan Doyle's ranch. . . . My dear, you must do what I say, and if you do, you'll be happy yet. I don't see how, quite, but it is so; and meanwhile, you mustn't make any mistakes. You must play the game. And now come and have some supper."
She waved her hand in protest. "I can't eat," she said. "Indeed, I can't."
"Well, you can drink," he answered. "You shall not leave this house alive unless you have a pint of milk with a little dash of what Patsy calls 'oh-be-joyful' in it."
He left the room for a moment, while she sat watching the door as a prisoner might watch for the return of a friendly jailer. He had a curious influence over her. It was wholly different from that of Orlando. Presently he returned.
"It's all right," he said. "Patsy and you and I will be at Nolan Doyle's ranch in another hour. I've sent word to Mrs. Doyle. I've ordered your milk-punch too, and now I think I'll make my salad. You never saw me make a salad," he added, smiling. "I've done some successful operations in my day; I've played about with bones and sinews, proud of my work sometimes, but the making of a perfect salad is the proud achievement of a master-mind." He laughed like a boy. "'Come hither, come hither, my little daughter, and do not tremble so,'" he said so cheerfully as to be almost jeering.
His cheerfulness was not in vain, for a smile stole to her lips, though it only flickered for an instant and was gone. For all that, he knew he had saved the situation, and that another chapter of the life-history of Orlando and Louise had been ended. A fresh chapter would begin tomorrow; but sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof.
Mazarine discovered the flight of Louise soon after she had gone. He had not been five hundred yards from the house since she returned with Orlando after the night spent upon the prairie, save when he had been obliged to go in to Askatoon and had taken her with him, dumb and passive. She had been a prisoner, tied to the stirrups of her captor; and he had berated her, had preached at her. As Louise had said, once on the way to Askatoon, he had even tried to make her kneel down in the dust of the trail and plead with Heaven to convict her of sin.
On the evening of Louise's flight, however, he had been forced to go to a neighbouring ranch, and had commanded Li Choo to keep a strict watch at the windows of her room to see that she did not attempt escape. She could not escape by the door of the room because he had the key in his pocket. Li Choo was not a stern jailer, however. Mazarine had not been gone three minutes before the Chinaman had touch with Louise. He did more; he threw up into the open window of her room a screw-driver, with which she took the old-fashioned door off its hinges, after half an hour's work. Then, leaving a note on the table of the dining-room, to say that she could not bear it any longer, that she would never come back, and that she meant to be free, she summoned Patsy Kernaghan and fled to the Young Doctor.
When Mazarine returned and found her note, he plunged up the stairs to her bedroom, his pious wrath gurgling in his throat, only to find the door locked; for Li Choo had promptly restored it to its hinges after Louise had gone, afterwards dropping from the high window like a cat, without hurt.
Li Choo, blinking, opaque, immobile, save for his piercing and mysterious eyes, had no explanation to give. All he said was, "Me no see all sides house same time"; so suggesting that, as the room had windows on all three sides, Louise must have escaped while he made his supposed sentry- go, slip-slopping round the house. Mazarine showed what he thought by spitting in Li Choo's face, and then rushing into the house to get the raw-hide whip with which he had punished the Chinaman before, and with which he had threatened his wife.
When he returned a moment afterwards, Li Choo was nowhere to be seen; but in his place were two other Chinamen who had, as it were, fallen from the skies, standing where Li Choo had stood, immobile, blinking and passive like Li Choo, their hands lost in the long sleeves of their coats, their pigtails so tightly braided as, in seeming, to draw their slanting eyelids still to greater incline, and to give a look of petrified intentness to their faces.
Something in their attitude gave Mazarine apprehension. It was as though Li Choo had been transformed by some hellish magic into two other Chinamen. The rage of his being seemed to stupefy him; he could not resist the sensation of the unnatural.
"What do you want? How did you come here?" he asked of the two in a husky voice.
"We want speak Li Choo. We come see Li Choo," answered one of the Chinamen impassively.
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