A texas ranger, p.23
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       A Texas Ranger, p.23

           William MacLeod Raine
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  Arlie knew nothing of wounds or their treatment. All she could do wasto wash the shoulder in cold water and bind it with strips torn from herwhite underskirt. When his face and hands grew hot with the fever, shebathed them with a wet towel. How badly he was hurt--whether he mightnot even die before Dick's return--she had no way of telling. Hisinconsequent babble at first frightened her, for she had never beforeseen a person in delirium, nor heard of the insistence with which oneharps upon some fantasy seized upon by a diseased mind.

  "She thinks you're a skunk, Steve. So you are. She's dead right--deadright--dead right. You lied to her, you coyote! Stand up in the corner,you liar, while she whangs at you with a six-gun! You're a skunk--deadright."

  So he would run on in a variation of monotony, the strong, supple,masterful man as helpless as a child, all the splendid virility strickenfrom him by the pressure of an enemy's finger. The eyes that she hadknown so full of expression, now like half-scabbarded steel, and nowagain bubbling from the inner mirth of him, were glazed and unmeaning.The girl had felt in him a capacity for silent self-containment; andhere he was, picking at the coverlet with restless fingers, prattlingfoolishly, like an infant.

  She was a child of impulse, sensitive and plastic. Because she had beenhard on him before he was struck down, her spirit ran open-armed to makeamends. What manner of man he was she did not know. But what availedthat to keep her, a creature of fire and dew, from the clutch ofemotions strange and poignant? He had called himself a liar anda coyote, yet she knew it was not true, or at worst, true in somequalified sense. He might be hard, reckless, even wicked in someways. But, vaguely, she felt that if he were a sinner he sinned withself-respect. He was in no moral collapse, at least. It was impossibleto fit him to her conception of a spy. No, no! Anything but that!

  So she sat there, her fingers laced about her knee, as she leanedforward to wait upon the needs she could imagine for him, the dumbtragedy of despair in her childish face.

  The situation was one that made for terror. To be alone with a woundedman, his hurt undressed, to hear his delirium and not to know whetherhe might not die any minute--this would have been enough to causeapprehension. Add to it the darkness, her deep interest in him, thestruggle of her soul, and the dread of unseen murder stalking in thesilent night.

  Though her thought was of him, it was not wholly upon him. She sat whereshe could watch the window, Dick's revolver in another chair beside her.It was a still, starry night, and faintly she could see the hazy purple,mountain line. Somewhere beneath those uncaring stars was the man whohad done this awful thing. Was he far, or was he near? Would he come tomake sure he had not failed? Her fearful heart told her that he wouldcome.

  She must have fought her fears nearly an hour before she heard thefaintest of sounds outside. Her hand leaped to the revolver. She satmotionless, listening, with nerves taut. It came again presently, adeadened footfall, close to the door. Then, after an eternity, the latchclicked softly. Some one, with infinite care, was trying to discoverwhether the door was locked.

  His next move she anticipated. Her eyes fastened on the window, whileshe waited breathlessly. Her heart was stammering furiously. Momentspassed, in which she had to set her teeth to keep from screaming aloud.The revolver was shaking so that she had to steady the barrel with herleft hand. A shadow crossed one pane, the shadow of a head in profile,and pushed itself forward till shoulders, arm, and poised revolvercovered the lower sash. Very, very slowly the head itself crept intosight.

  Arlie fired and screamed simultaneously. The thud of a fall, the scuffleof a man gathering himself to his feet again, the rush of retreatingsteps, all merged themselves in one single impression of fierce,exultant triumph.

  Her only regret was that she had not killed him. She was not even surethat she had hit him, for her bullet had gone through the glass withinan inch of the inner woodwork. Nevertheless, she knew that he had had ashock that would carry him far. Unless he had accomplices with him--andof that there had been no evidence at the time of the attack from BaldKnob--he would not venture another attempt. Of one thing she was sure.The face that had looked in at the window was one she had never seenbefore, In this, too, she found relief--for she knew now that the faceshe had expected to see follow the shadow over the pane had been that ofJed Briscoe; and Jed had too much of the courage of Lucifer incarnatein him to give up because an unexpected revolver had been fired in hisface.

  Time crept slowly, but it could hardly have been a quarter of an hourlater that she heard the galloping of horses.

  "It is Dick!" she cried joyfully, and, running to the door, she unboltedand unlocked it just as France dragged Teddy to a halt and flung himselfto the ground.

  The young man gave a shout of gladness at sight of her.

  "Is it all right, Arlie?"

  "Yes. That is--I don't know. He is delirious. A man came to the window,and I shot at him. Oh, Dick, I'm so glad you're back."

  In her great joy, she put her arms round his neck and kissed him. OldDoctor Lee, dismounting more leisurely, drawled his protest.

  "Look-a-here, Arlie. I'm the doctor. Where do I come in?"

  "I'll kiss you, too, when you tell me he'll get well." Thehalf-hysterical laugh died out of her voice, and she caught him fiercelyby the arm. "Doc, doc, don't let him die," she begged.

  He had known her all her life, had been by the bedside when she cameinto the world, and he put his arm round her shoulders and gave her alittle hug as they passed into the room.

  "We'll do our level best, little girl."

  She lit a lamp, and drew the window curtain, so that none could see fromthe outside. While the old doctor arranged his instruments and bandageson chairs, she waited on him. He noticed how white she was, for he said,not unkindly:

  "I don't want two patients right now, Arlie. If you're going to keelover in a faint right in the middle of it, I'll have Dick help."

  "No, no, I won't, doc. Truly, I won't," she promised.

  "All right, little girl. We'll see how game you are. Dick, hold thelight. Hold it right there. See?"

  The Texan had ceased talking, and was silent, except for a low moan,repeated at regular intervals. The doctor showed Arlie how to administerthe anaesthetic after he had washed the wound. While he was searchingfor the bullet with his probe she flinched as if he had touched a barenerve, but she stuck to her work regardless of her feelings, until thelead was found and extracted and the wound dressed.

  Afterward, Dick found her seated on a rock outside crying hysterically.He did not attempt to cope with the situation, but returned to the houseand told Lee.

  "Best thing for her. Her nerves are overwrought and unstrung. She'll beall right, once she has her cry out. I'll drift around, and jolly heralong."

  The doctor presently came up and took a seat beside her.

  "Wha--what do you think, doctor?" she sobbed.

  "Well, I think it's tarnation hot operating with a big kerosene lamp sixinches from your haid," he said, as he mopped his forehead.

  "I mean--will he--get well?"

  Lee snorted. "Well, I'd be ashamed of him if he didn't. If he lets anice, clean, flesh wound put him out of business he don't deserve tolive. Don't worry any about him, young lady. Say, I wish I had zwei beerright now, Arlie."

  "You mean it? You're not just saying it to please me?"

  "Of course, I mean it," he protested indignantly. "I wish I had three."

  "I mean, are you sure he'll get well?" she explained, a faint smiletouching her wan face.

  "Yes, I mean that, too, but right now I mean the beer most. Now, honest,haven't I earned a beer?"

  "You've earned a hundred thousand, doc. You're the kindest and dearestman that ever lived," she cried.

  "Ain't that rather a large order, my dear?" he protested mildly. "Icouldn't really use a hundred thousand. And I'd hate to be better thanJob and Moses and Pharaoh and them Bible characters. Wouldn't I have togive up chewing? Somehow, a halo don't seem to fit my h
aid. It's mosttoo bald to carry one graceful.... You may do that again if you wantto." This last, apropos of the promised reward which had just been paidin full.

  Arlie found she could manage a little laugh by this time.

  "Well, if you ain't going to, we might as well go in and have a look atthat false-alarm patient of ours," he continued. "We'll have to sit upall night with him. I was sixty-three yesterday. I'm going to quit thisdoctor game. I'm too old to go racing round the country nights justbecause you young folks enjoy shooting each other up. Yes, ma'am, I'mgoing to quit. I serve notice right here. What's the use of having agood ranch and some cattle if you can't enjoy them?"

  As the doctor had been serving notice of his intention to quit doctoringfor over ten years, Arlie did not take him too seriously. She knew himfor what he was--a whimsical old fellow, who would drop in the saddlebefore he would let a patient suffer; one of the old school, who lovedhis work but liked to grumble over it.

  "Maybe you'll be able to take a rest soon. You know that young doctorfrom Denver, who was talking about settling here----"

  This, as she knew, was a sore point with him. "So you're tired of me,are you? Want a new-fangled appendix cutter from Denver, do you? Time toshove old Doc Lee aside, eh?"

  "I didn't say that, doc," she repented.

  "Huh! You meant it. Wonder how many times he'd get up at midnight andplow through three-foot snow for six miles to see the most ungrateful,squalling little brat----"

  "Was it me, doc?" she ungrammatically demanded.

  "It was you, Miss Impudence."

  They had reached the door, but she held him there a moment, while shelaughed delightedly and hugged him. "I knew it was me. As if we'd letour old doc go, or have anything to do with a young ignoramus fromDenver! Didn't you know I was joking? Of course you did."

  He still pretended severity. "Oh, I know you. When it comes to wheedlingan old fool, you've got the rest of the girls in this valley beat to afare-you-well."

  "Is that why you always loved me?" she asked, with a sparkle of mischiefin her eye.

  "I didn't love you. I never did. The idea!" he snorted. "I don't knowwhat you young giddy pates are coming to. Huh! Love you!"

  "I'll forgive you, even if you did," she told him sweetly.

  "That's it! That's it!" he barked. "You forgive all the young idiotswhen they do. And they all do--every last one of them. But I'm too oldfor you, young lady. Sixty-three yesterday. Huh!"

  "I like you better than the younger ones."

  "Want us all, do you? Young and old alike. Well, count me out."

  He broke away, and went into the house. But there was an unconquerablyyouthful smile dancing in his eyes. This young lady and he had made loveto each other in some such fashion ever since she had been a year old.He was a mellow and confirmed old bachelor, but he proposed to continuetheir innocent coquetry until he was laid away, no matter which of theyoung bucks of the valley had the good fortune to win her for a wife.

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