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- Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 4/12 -


"He was here a minute ago," answered Mazarine gruffly.

Then he turned away, going swiftly toward the kitchen, and calling to Li Choo. As he went, he was conscious of low, cackling laughter, but when he turned to look, the two Chinamen stood where he had left them, blinking and immobile.

The uncanny feeling possessing him increased; the thing was unnatural. He lurched on, however, looking for Li Choo. The Chinaman was not to be found in the kitchen, in the woodshed, in the cellar, in the loft, or in his own attic room; and the half-breed, Rada, declared she had not seen him. He could not be at the stables, for they were too far away to be reached in the time; and there were no signs of him between the house and the stables. When Mazarine returned to the front of the house, the two Chinamen also had vanished; there were no signs of them anywhere. Search did not discover them.

Mingled anger and fear now possessed Mazarine. He would search no longer. No doubt the other two Chinamen had joined Li Choo in his hiding-place, wherever it was. Why had the Chinamen come? What were they after? It did not matter for the moment. What he wanted was Louise, his bad child-wife, who had broken from her cage and flown from him. Where would she go? Where, but to Slow Down Ranch? Where, but to her lover, the circus-rider, the boy with the head of brown curls, with the ring on his finger and the Cupid mouth! Where would she go but to the man with whom she had spent the night on the prairie!

Now he believed altogether that she was guilty, that everybody had conspired to deceive him, that he was in a net of dark deception. Even the two Chinamen, mysteriously coming and going, had laughed at him like two heathen gods, and had vanished suddenly like heathen gods.

A weakness came over him, and the skin of his face became creased and clammy like that of a drowned man; his limbs trembled, so desperate was his passion. He stumbled into the house and into the dining-room, where he kept a little black-bound Bible once belonging to his great- grandfather. He had thumbed it well in past years, searching it for passages of violence and denunciation. Now holy superstition seized him in the midst of the work of the devil, surrounding him with an almost medieval instinct. He seized the ancient book, as it were to deliver its incantations against everyone destroying his peace, stealing from him that which he prized beyond all earthly things.

Take this woman away from him, this child-wife from his sixty-five years, and what was left for him? She was the garden of spring in which his old age roamed at ease luxuriously. She was the fruit of the tree of pleasure. She was that which made him young again, renewed in him youth and the joys of youth. Take her away, the flower that smelled so sweet and luscious, the thing that he had held so often to his lips and to his breast? Take away what was his, by every holy right, because it was all according to the law of the land and of the Holy Gospel, and what was left? Only old age, the empty house bereft of a fair young mistress, something to smile at and to curse, if need be, since it was his own by the laws of God and man.

Take her away, and the two wives that he had buried long years ago, with their gray heads and lank, sour faces, from which the light of youth had fled with the first child come to them--their ghosts would seek him out. They would sit at his table, and taunt him with his vanished Louise, asking him if he thought she was anything more than one of the trolls that tempted men aforetime; one of the devil's wenches that lured him into the secret garden, only at last to leave him scorned and alone.

Where had she gone, his troll, with the face of an angel? Where had she gone? Where would she go, except to her devil's lover at Slow Down Ranch?

He had just started for Slow Down Ranch armed with his greasy, well- thumbed Bible like a weapon in his pocket, when he heard a voice call him. It was full of the devil's laughter. It was the voice of Burlingame, the lawyer, on his horse. Burlingame had had a weary day and was refreshing himself by a canter on the prairie.

"Where are you going?" asked Burlingame, as he cantered up to Mazarine's wagon.

"To Slow Down Ranch?"

He saw the look of the drowned man in the face of Mazarine, over whom the flood of disaster had passed, and he guessed at once the cause of it; for Burlingame had the philosophy of a Satanic mind, and he knew the things that happen to human nature.

"So, she's gone again, has she?" he added deliberately, with intent to put a knife into the old man's feelings and to turn it in the thick of them. He wanted to hurt, because Mazarine had only a short time before dispensed with his services as a lawyer, and had blocked the way to that intimacy which he had hoped to establish with Tralee and its mistress. Besides, his pride as a professional man had been hurt, and he had been deprived of income which now went to his most hated professional rival. Mazarine's jealous soul had cut him off, on coming to know Burlingame's dark reputation. He had not liked the look Burlingame had given Louise when they met.

"Gone again, has she?" Burlingame repeated sarcastically. "Well, you needn't go to Slow Down Ranch to find her. She isn't there, and you won't find him there either, for I saw him come by the Lark River Trail into Askatoon as I left, and a lady was with him. He booked this morning for the sleeper of the express going East to-night; so, if I were you, I'd turn my horse's nose to Askatoon, Mr. Mazarine. I don't know why I tell you this, as you're not my client now, but I go about the world doing good, Mr. Mazarine--only doing good."

There was a look in Burlingame's face which Heaven would not have accepted as goodness, and there was that in his voice which did not belong to the Courts of the Lord. Malice, though veiled, showed in face and sounded in voice. Even as he spoke, Joel Mazarine turned his horse's head towards Askatoon.

"You're sure a woman was with him? You're sure she was with him?" he asked in chaos of passion.

"I couldn't see her face; it was too far away," answered Burlingame suggestively, "but you can form your own conclusions--and the express is due in thirty minutes!"

He looked at his watch complacently. "What's the good, Mazarine? Why don't you say, 'Go and sin no more?' Or why don't you divorce her with the evidence about that night on the prairie? I could have got you a verdict and damages. Yes, I could have got you plenty of damages. He's rich. You took her back and condoned; you condoned, Mazarine, and now you'll neither have damages nor wife--and the express goes in thirty minutes!"

"The express won't take Mrs. Mazarine away tonight," the old man said, a look of jungle fierceness filling his face.

Burlingame laughed unpleasantly. "Yes, you'll foul your own nest, Mazarine, and then bring her back to live in it. I know you. It isn't the love of God in your heart, because you'll never forgive her; but you'll bring her back to the nest you fouled, just because you want her --'You damned and luxurious mountain goat,' as Shakespeare called your kind."

With another laugh, which somewhat resembled that of the two strange vanished Chinamen, Burlingame flicked his horse and cantered away. A little time afterwards, however, he turned and looked toward Askatoon, and he saw the old man whipping his horse into a gallop to reach Askatoon railway station before the express went East.

"It's true, Mazarine," he said aloud. "Orlando booked for the sleeper going East in thirty minutes; but the sleeper was for one only, and that one was his mother, you old hippopotamus. . . . But I wonder where she is--where the divine Louise is? She hasn't levanted with her Orlando. . . . Now, I wonder!" he added.

Then, with a sudden impulse, he dug heels into his horse's sides, and galloped back towards Askatoon. He wanted to see what would happen before the express went East.

CHAPTER XIII

ORLANDO GIVES A WARNING

Askatoon had never lost its interest for Mazarine and his wife since the day the Mayor had welcomed them at the railway station. Askatoon was not a petty town. Its career had been chequered and interesting, and it had given haven to a large number of uncommon people. Unusual happenings had been its portion ever since it had been the rail-head of the Great Transcontinental Line, and many enterprising men, instead of moving on with the railway, when it ceased to be the rail-head, settled there and gave the place its character. The town had never been lawless, although some lawless people had sojourned there.

It was too busy a place to be fussing about little things, or tearing people's characters to pieces, or gossiping even to the usual degree; yet in its history it had never gossiped so much as it had done since the Mazarines had come.

From the first the vast majority of folk had sided with Louise and denounced Mazarine. They knew well she had married too young to be self- seeking or intriguing; and, in any case, no woman in Askatoon or yet in the West, could have conceived of a girl marrying "the ancient one from the jungle," as Burlingame had called him.

Burlingame could never have been on the side of the Ten Commandments himself, even with a sure and certain hope of happiness on earth, and in Heaven also, guaranteed to him. Nothing could have condemned Mazarine so utterly as the coalition between the "holy good people," as Burlingame called them, and himself; and between the holy good people and himself were many who in their secret hearts would never have shunned Louise if, after the night on the prairie with Orlando, release had been found for her in the Divorce Court. Jonas Billings had put the matter in a nutshell when he said:

"It ain't natural, them two, at Tralee. For marrying her he ought to be tarred and feathered, and for the way he treats her he ought to be let loose in the ha'nts of the grizzlies. What he done to that girl is a crime ag'in' the law. If there was any real spunk in the Methodists, they'd spit him out like pus."

That was exactly what the Methodist body had decided to do on the very day that Louise had fled from Tralee and the old man pursued her in the wrong direction. The Methodist body had determined to discipline Mazarine, to eject him from their communion, because he had raised a whip against his wife; because he had maltreated Li Choo; and because he had used language unbecoming a Christian. They had decided that Mazarine had not shown the righteous anger of a Christian man, but of one who had


Wild Youth, Volume 2. - 4/12

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