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   Chapter 3 “I HAVE FOUGHT WITH BEASTS AT EPHESUS”

Wild Youth, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 14163

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


The old man led the way outside the house, as though to be rid of his visitor as soon as possible. This was so obvious that, for an instant, the Young Doctor was disposed to try conclusions with the old slaver, and summon him back to the dining-room. The Mazarine sort of man always roused fighting, masterful forces in him. He was never averse to a contest of wills, and he had had much of it; it was inseparable from his methods of healing. He knew that nine people out of ten never gave a true history of their physical troubles, never told their whole story: first because they had no gift for reporting, no observation; and also because the physical ailments of many of them were aggravated or induced by mental anxieties. Then it was that he imposed himself; as it were, fought the deceiver and his deceit, or the ignorant one and his ignorance; and numbers of people, under his sympathetic, wordless inquiry, poured their troubles into his ears, as the girl-wife upstairs had tried to do.

When the old man turned to face him in the sunlight, his boots soiled with dust and manure, his long upper lip feeling about over the lower lip and its shaggy growth of beard like some sea-monster feeling for its prey, the Young Doctor had a sensation of rancour. His mind flashed to that upstairs room, where a comely captive creature was lying not an arm's length from the coats and trousers and shabby waistcoats of this barbarian. Somehow that row of tenantless clothes, and the top-boots, greased with tallow, standing against the wall, were more characteristic of the situation than the old land-leviathan himself, blinking his beady, greenish eyes at the Young Doctor. That blinking was a repulsive characteristic; it was like serpents gulping live things.

"What's the matter with her?" the old man asked, jerking his head towards the upper window.

The Young Doctor explained quickly the immediate trouble, and then added:

"But it would not have taken hold of her so if she was not run down. She is not in a condition to resist. When her system exhausts, it does not refill, as it were."

"What sort of dictionary talk is that? Run down-here?" The old man sniffed the air like an ancient sow. "Run down-in this life, with the best of food, warm weather, and more ozone than a sailor gets at sea! It's an insult to Jehovah, such nonsense."

"Mr. Mazarine," rejoined the Young Doctor with ominous determination in his eye, "you know a good deal, I should think, about spring wheat and fall ploughing, about making sows fat, or burning fallow land-that's your trade, and I shouldn't want to challenge you on it all; or you know when to give a horse bran-mash, or a heifer salt-petre, but-well, I know my job in the same way. They will tell you, about here, that I have a kind of hobby for keeping people from digging and crawling into their own graves. That's my business, and the habit of saving human life, because you're paid for it, becomes in time a habit of saving human life for its very own sake. I warn you-and perhaps it's a matter of some concern to you-Mrs. Mazarine is in a bad way."

Resentful and incredulous, the old man was about to speak, but the Young Doctor made an arresting gesture, and added:

"She has very little strength to go on with. She ought to be plump; her pulses ought to beat hard; her cheeks ought to be rosy; she should walk with a spring and be strong and steady as a soldier on the march; but she is none of these things, can do none of these things. You've got a thousand things to do, and you do them because you want to do them. There is something making new life in you all the time, but Mrs. Mazarine makes no new life as she goes on. Every day is taking something out of her, and there's nothing being renewed. Sometimes neither good food nor ozone is enough; and you've got to take care, or you'll lose Mrs. Mazarine." He could not induce himself to speak of her as "wife."

For a moment the unwholesome mouth seemed to be chewing unpleasant herbs, and the beady eyes blinked viciously.

"I'm not swallowin' your meaning," Mazarine said at last. "I never studied Greek. If a woman has a disease, there it is, and you can deal with it or not; but if she hasn't no disease, then it's chicanyery-chicanyery. Doctors talk a lot of gibberish these here days. What I want to know is, has my wife got a disease? I haven't seen any signs. Is it Bright's, or cancer, or the lungs, or the liver, or the kidneys, or the heart, or what's its name?"

The Young Doctor had an impulse to flay the heathen, but for the girl-wife's sake he forbore.

"I don't think it is any of those troubles," he replied smoothly. "She needs a thorough examination. But one thing is clear: she is wasting; she is losing ground instead of going ahead. There's a malignant influence working. She's standing still, and to stand still in youth is fatal. I can imagine you don't want to lose her, eh?"

The Young Doctor's gray-blue eyes endeavoured to hold the blinking beads under the shaggy eyebrows long enough to get control of a mind which had the cunning and cruelty of an animal. He succeeded.

The old man would a thousand times rather his wife lived than died. In the first place, to lose her was to sacrifice that which he had paid for dearly-a mortgage of ten thousand dollars torn up. Louise Mazarine represented that to him first-ten thousand dollars. Secondly, she was worth it in every way. He had what hosts of others would be glad to have-men younger and better looking than himself. She represented the triumph of age. He had lived his life; he had buried two wives; he had had children; he had made money; and yet here, when other men of his years were thinking of making wills, and eating porridge, and waiting for the Dark Policeman to come and arrest them for loitering, he was left a magnificent piece of property like Tralee; and he had all the sources of pleasure open to a young man walking the primrose path. He was living right up to the last. Both his wives were gray-headed when they died-it turned them gray to live with him; both had died before they were fifty; and here he was the sole owner of a wonderful young head, with hair that reached to the waist, with lips like cool fruit from an orchard-tree, and the indescribable charm of youth and loveliness which the young themselves never really understood. That was what he used to say to himself; it was only age could appreciate youth and beauty; youth did not understand.

Thus the Young Doctor's question roused in him something at once savage and apprehensive. Of course he wanted Louise to live. Why should she not live?

"Doesn't any husband want his wife to live!" he answered sullenly. "But I want to know what ails her. What medicine you going to give her?"

"I don't know," the Young Doctor replied meditatively. "When she is quite rid of this attack, I'll examine her again and let you know."

Suddenly there shot into the greenish old eyes a reddish look of rage; jealousy, horrible, gruesome jealousy, took possession of Joel Mazarine.

This young man to come in and go out of his wife's bedroom, to-Why weren't there women doctors? He would get one over from the Coast, or from Winnipeg, or else there was old Doctor Gensing, in Askatoon-who was seventy-five at least. He would call him in and get rid of this offensive young pill-maker.

"I don't believe there's anything the matter with her," he declared stubbornly. "She's been healthy as a woman can be, living this life here. What's her disease? I've asked you. What is it?"

The other laid a hand on himself, and in the colourless voice of the expert, said: "Old age-that's her trouble, so far as I can see."

He paused, foreseeing the ferocious look which swept into the repulsive face, and the clenching of the big hands. Then in a soothing, reflective kind of voice he added:

"Senile decay-you know all about that. Well, now, it happens sometimes-not often, but it does happen-that a very young person for some cause or another suffers from senile decay. Some terrible leakage of youth occurs. It has been cured, though, and I've cured one or two cases myself."

He was almost prevaricating-but in a good cause. "Mrs. Mazarine's is a case which can be cured, I think," he continued. "As you've remarked, Mr. Mazarine,"-his voice was now persuasive,-"here is fine air, and a good, comfortable home-"

Suddenly he broke off, and as though in innocent inquiry said: "Now, has she too much to do? Has she sufficient help in the house for one so young?"

"She doesn't do more than's good for her," answered the old man, "and there's the half-breed hired critter-you've seen her-and Li Choo, a Chinaman, too. That ought to be enough," he added scornfully.

The Young Doctor seemed to reflect, and his face became urbane, because he saw he must proceed warily, if he was to be of service to his new patient.

"Yes," he said emphatically, "she appears to have help enough. I must think over her case and see her again to-morrow."

The old man's look suddenly darkened. "Ain't she better:"' he asked.

"She's not so much better that there's no danger of her being worse," the Young Doctor replied decisively. "I certainly must see her to-morrow."

"Why," the old man remarked, waving his splayed hand up and down in a gesture of emphasis, "she's never been sick. She's in and out of this house all day. She goes about with her animals like as if she hadn't a care or an ache or pain in the world. I've heard of women that fancied they was sick because they hadn't too much to do, and was too well off, and was treated too well. Highsterics, they call it. Lots of women, lots and lots of them, would be glad to have such a home as this, and would stay healthy in it."

The Young Doctor felt he had made headway, and he let it go at that. It was clear he was to be permitted to come to-morrow. "Yes, it's a fine place," he replied convincingly. "Three thousand acres is a mighty big place when you've got farm-land as well as cattle-grazing."

"It's nearly all good farm-land," answered the old man with decision. "I don't believe much in ranching or cattle. I'm for the plough and the wheat. There's more danger from cattle disease than from bad crops. I'm getting rid of my cattle. I expect to sell a lot of 'em to-day." An avaricious smile of satisfaction drew down the corners of his lips. "I've got a good customer. He ought to be on the trail now." He drew out a huge silver watch. "Yes, he's due. The party's a foreigner, I believe. He lives over at Slow Down Ranch-got a French name."

"Oh, Giggles!" said the Young Doctor with a quick smile.

The old man shook his head: "No, that ain't the name. It's Guise-Orlando Guise is the name."

"Same thing," remarked the Young Doctor. "They call him Giggles for short. You've seen him of course?"

"No, I've been dealing with him so far through a third party. Why's he called Giggles?" asked the Master of Tralee.

"Well, you'll know when you see him. He's not cut according to everybody's measure. If you're dealing with him, don't think him a fool because he chirrups, and don't size him up according to his looks. He's a dude. Some call him The Duke, but mostly he's known as Giggles."

"Fools weary me," grumbled the other.

"Well, as I said, you mustn't begin dealing with him on the basis of his looks. Looks don't often tell the truth. For instance, you're known as a Christian and a Methodist!" He looked the old man slowly up and down, and in anyone else it would have seemed gross insolence, but the urbane smile at his lips belied the malice of his words. "Well, you know you don't look like a Methodist. You look like,"-innocence showed in his eye; there was no ulterior purpose in his face, "you look like one of the bad McMahon lot of claim-jumpers over there in the foothills. I suppose that seems so, only because ranchman aren't generally pious. Well, in the same way, Giggles doesn't really look like a ranchman; but he's every bit as good a ranchman as you are a Christian and a Methodist!"

The Young Doctor looked the old man in the face with such a semblance of honesty that he succeeded in disarming a dangerous suspicion of mockery-dangerous, if he was to continue family physician at Tralee. "Ah," he suddenly remarked, "there comes Orlando now!" He pointed to a spot about half a mile away, where a horseman could be seen cantering slowly towards Tralee.

A moment afterwards, from his buggy, the Young Doctor said: "Mrs. Mazarine must be left alone until I see her again. She must not be disturbed. The half-breed woman can look after her. I've told her what to do. You'll keep to another room, of course."

"There's a bunk in that room where I could sleep," said the other, with a note of protest.

"I'm afraid that, in our patient's interest, you must do what I say," the other insisted, with a friendly smile which caused him a great effort. "If I make her bloom again, that will suit you, won't it?"

A look of gloating came into the other's eyes: "Let it go at that," he said. "Mebbe I'll take her over to the sea before the wheat-harvest."

Out on the Askatoon trail, the Young Doctor ruminated over what he had seen and heard at Tralee. "That old geezer will get an awful jolt one day," he said to himself. "If that girl should wake! Her eyes-if somebody comes along and draws the curtains! She hasn't the least idea of where she is or what it all means. All she knows is that she's a prisoner in some strange, savage country and doesn't know its language or anybody at all-as though she'd lost her memory. Any fellow, young, handsome and with enough dash and colour to make him romantic could do it.... Poor little robin in the snow!" he added, and looked back towards Tralee.

As he did so, the man from Slow Down Ranch cantering towards Tralee caught his eye. "Louise-Orlando," he said musingly; then, with a sudden flick of the reins on his horse's back, he added abruptly, almost sternly, "By the great horn spoons, no!"

Thus when his prophecy took concrete form, he revolted from it. A grave look came into his face.

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