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Wild Youth, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 13528

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

As the Young Doctor had said, Orlando Guise did not look like a real, simon-pure "cowpuncher." He had the appearance of being dressed for the part, like an actor who has never mounted a cayuse, in a Wild West play. Yet on this particular day,-when the whole prairie country was alive with light, thrilling with elixir from the bottle of old Eden's vintage, and as comfortable as a garden where upon a red wall the peach-vines cling-he seemed far more than usual the close-fitting, soil-touched son of the prairie. His wide felt hat, turned up on one side like a trooper's, was well back on his head; his pinkish brown face was freely taking the sun, and his clear, light-blue eyes gazed ahead unblinking in the strong light. His forehead was unwrinkled-a rare thing in that prairie country where the dry air corrugates the skin; his light-brown hair curled loosely on the brow, graduating back to closer, crisper curls which in their thickness made a kind of furry cap. It was like the coat of a French poodle, so glossy and so companionable was it to the head. A bright handkerchief of scarlet was tied loosely around his throat, which was even a little more bare than was the average ranchman's; and his thick, much-pocketed flannel shirt, worn in place of a waistcoat and coat, was of a shade of red which contrasted and yet harmonized with the scarlet of the neckerchief. He did not wear the sheepskin leggings so common among the ranchmen of the West, but a pair of yellowish corduory riding-breeches, with boots that laced from the ankle to the knee. These boots had that touch of the theatrical which made him more fantastic than original in the eyes of his fellow-citizens.

Also he wore a ring with a star-sapphire, which made him incongruous, showy and foppish, and that was a thing not easy of forgiveness in the West. Certainly the West would not have tolerated him as far as it did, had it not been for three things: the extraordinary good nature which made him giggle; the fact that on more than one occasion he had given conclusive evidence that he was brave; and the knowledge that he was at least well-to-do. In a kind of vague way people had come to realize that his giggles belonged to a nature without guile and recklessly frank.

"He beats the band," Jonas Billings, the livery-stable keeper, had said of him; while Burlingame, the pernicious lawyer of shady character, had remarked that he had the name of an impostor and the frame of a fop; but he wasn't sure, as a lawyer, that he'd seen all the papers in the case-which was tantamount to saying that the Orlando nut needed some cracking.

It was generally agreed that his name was ridiculous, romantic and unreasonable. It seemed to challenge public opinion. Most names in the West were without any picturesqueness or colour; they were commonplace and almost geometric in their form, more like numbers to represent people than things of character in themselves. There were names semi-scriptural and semi-foreign in Askatoon, but no name like Orlando Guise had ever come that way before, and nothing like the man himself had ever ridden the Askatoon trails. One thing had to be said, however; he rode the trail like a broncho-buster, and he sat his horse as though he had been born in the saddle.-On this particular day, in spite of his garish "get-up," he seemed to belong to the life in which he was lightheartedly whistling a solo from one of Meyerbeer's operas. Meyerbeer was certainly incongruous to the prairie, but it and the whistling were in keeping with the man himself.

Over on Slow Down Ranch there lived a curious old lady who wore a bonnet of Sweet Sixteen of the time of the Crimea, and with a sense of colour which would wreck the reputation of a kaleidoscope. She it was who had taught her son Orlando the tunefulness of Meyerbeer and Balfe and Offenbach, and the operatic jingles of that type of composer. Orlando Guise had come by his outward showiness naturally. Yet he was not like his mother, save in this particular. His mother was flighty and had no sense, while he, behind the gaiety of his wardrobe and his giggles, had very much sense of a quite original kind. Even as he whistled Meyerbeer, riding towards Tralee, his eyes had a look of one who was trying to see into things; and his lips, when the whistling ceased, had a cheerful pucker which seemed to show that he had seen what he wanted.

"Wonder if I'll get a glimpse of the so-called Mrs. Mazarine," he said aloud. "Bad enough to marry a back-timer, but to marry Mazarine-they don't say she's blind, either! Money-what won't we do for money, Mary? But if she's as young as they say, she could have waited a bit for the oof-bird to fly her way. Lots of men have money as well as looks. Anyhow, I'm ready to take his cattle off his hands on a fair, square deal, and if his girl-missis is what they say, I wouldn't mind-"

Having said this, he giggled and giggled again at his unspoken impertinence. He knew he had almost said something fatuous, but the suppressed idea appealed to him, nevertheless; for whatever he did, he always had a vision of doing something else; and wherever he was, he was always fancying himself to be somewhere else. That was the strain of romance in him which came from his mixed ancestry. It was the froth and bubble of a dreamer's legacy, which had made his mother, always unconsciously theatrical, have a vision of a life on the prairies, with the white mountains in the distance, where her beloved son would be master of a vast domain, over which he should ride like one of Cortez' conquistadores. Having "money to burn," she had, at a fortunate moment, bought the ranch which, by accident, had done well from the start, and bade fair, through the giggling astuteness of her spectacular son, to do far better still by design.

On the first day of their arrival at Slow Down Ranch, the mother had presented Orlando with a most magnificent Mexican bridle and head-stall covered with silver conchs, and a saddle with stirrups inlaid with silver. Wherefore, it was no wonder that most people stared and wondered, while some sneered and some even hated. On the whole, however, Orlando Guise was in the way of making a place for himself in the West in spite of natural drawbacks.

Old Mazarine did not merely sneer as he saw the gay cavalier approach, he snorted; and he would have blasphemed, if he had not been a professing Christian.

"Circus rider!" he said to himself. "Wants taking down some, and he's come to the right place to get it."

On his part, Orlando Guise showed his dislike of the repellent figure by a brusque giggle, and further expressed what was in his mind by the one word "Turk!"

His repugnance, however, was balanced by something poss

essing the old man still more disagreeable. Like a malignant liquid, there crept up through Joel Mazarine's body to the roots of his hair the ancient virus of Cain. It was jealous, ravenous, grim: old age hating the rich, robust, panting youth of the man be fore him. Was it that being half man, half beast, he had some animal instinct concerning this young rough-rider before him? Did he in some vague, prescient way associate this gaudy newcomer with his girl-wife? He could not himself have said. Primitive passions are corporate of many feelings but of little sight.

As Orlando Guise slid from his horse, Joel Mazarine steadied himself and said: "Come about the cattle? Ready to buy and pay cash down?"

Orlando Guise giggled.

"What are you sniggering at?" snorted the old man.

"I thought it was understood that if I liked the bunch I was to pay cash," Orlando replied. "I've got a good report of the beasts, but I want to look them over. My head cattleman told you what I'd do. That's why I smiled. Funny, too: you don't look like a man who'd talk more than was wanted." He giggled again.

"Fool-I'll make you laugh on the other side of your mouth!" the Master of Tralee said to himself; and then he motioned to where a bunch of a hundred or so cattle were grazing in a little dip of the country between them and Askatoon. "I'll get my buckboard. It's all hitched up and ready, and we can get down and see them right now," he said aloud. "Won't you find it rough going on the buckboard? Better ride," remarked Orlando Guise.

"I don't ever notice rough going," grunted the old man. "Some people ride horses to show themselves off; I ride a buckboard 'cause it suits me."

Orlando Guise chirruped. "Say, we mustn't get scrapping," he said gaily. "We've got to make a bargain."

In a few moments they were sweeping across the prairie, and sure enough the buckboard bumped, tumbled and plunged into the holes of the gophers and coyotes, but the old man sat the seat with the tenacity of a gorilla clinging to the branch of a tree.

In about three-quarters of an hour the two returned to Tralee, and in front of the house the final bargaining took place. There was a difference of five hundred dollars between them, and the old man fought stubbornly for it; and though Orlando giggled, it was clear he was no fool at a bargain, and that he had many resources. At last he threw doubt upon the pedigree of a bull. With a snarl Mazarine strode into the house. He had that pedigree, and it was indisputable. He would show the young swaggerer that he could not be caught anywhere in this game.

As Joel Mazarine entered the doorway of the house Orlando giggled again, because he had two or three other useful traps ready, and this was really like baiting a bull. Every thrust made this bull more angry; and Orlando knew that if he became angry enough he could bring things to a head with a device by which the old man would be forced to yield; for he did not want to buy, as much as Mazarine wished to sell.

The device, however, was never used, and Orlando ceased giggling suddenly, for chancing to glance up he saw a face at a window, pale, exquisite, delicate, with eyes that stared and stared at him as though he were a creature from some other world.

Such a look he had never seen in anybody's eyes; such a look Louise Mazarine had never given in her life before. Something had drawn her out of her bed in spite of herself-a voice which was not that of old Joel Mazarine, but a new, fresh, vibrant voice which broke into little spells of inconsequent laughter. She loved inconsequent laughter, and never heard it at Tralee. She had crept from her bed and to the window, and before he saw her, she had watched him with a look which slowly became an awakening: as though curtains had been drawn aside revealing a new, strange, ecstatic world.

Louise Mazarine had seen something she had never seen before, because a feeling had been born in her which she had never felt. She had never fully known what sex was, or in any real sense what man meant. This romantic, picturesque, buoyant figure of youth struck her as the rock was struck by Moses; and for the first time in all her days she was wholly alive. Also, for the first time in his life, Orlando Guise felt a wonder which in spite of the hereditary romance in him had never touched him before. Like Ferdinand and Miranda in The Tempest, "they changed eyes."

A heavy step was heard coming through the hallway, and at once the exquisite, staring face at the window vanished-while Orlando Guise turned his back upon the open doorway and walked a few steps towards the gate in an effort to recover himself. When he turned again to meet Mazarine, who had a paper in his hand, there was a flush on his cheek and a new light in his eye. The old man did not notice that, however, for his avaricious soul was fixed upon the paper in his hand. He thrust it before Orlando's eyes. "What you got to say to that, Mister?" he demanded.

Orlando appeared to examine the paper carefully, and presently he handed it back and said slowly: "That gives you the extra five hundred. It's a bargain." How suddenly he had capitulated-

"Cash?" asked the old man triumphantly. How should he know by what means Orlando had been conquered!

"I've got a cheque in my pocket. I'll fill it in."

"A cheque ain't cash," growled the grizzly one.

"You can cash it in an hour. Come in to Askatoon, and I'll get you the cash with it now," said Orlando. "I can't. A man's coming for a stallion I want to sell. Give me a hundred dollars cash now to clinch the bargain, and I'll meet you at Askatoon to-morrow and get the whole of it in cash. I don't deal with banks. I pay hard money, and I get hard money. That's my rule."

"Well, you're in luck, for I've got a hundred dollars," answered Orlando. "I've just got that, and a dollar besides, in my pocket. To-morrow you go to my lawyer, Burlingame, at Askatoon, and you'll get the rest of the money. It will be there waiting for you."

"Cash?" pressed the old man.

"Certainly: Government hundred-dollar bills. Give me a receipt for this hundred dollars."

"Come inside," said the old man almost cheerfully. He loved having his own way. He was almost insanely self-willed. It did his dark soul good to triumph over this "circus rider."

As Joel Mazarine preceded him, Orlando looked up at the window again. For one instant the beautiful, pale face of the girl-wife appeared, and then vanished.

At the doorway of the house Orlando Guise stumbled. That was an unusual thing to happen to him. He was too athletic to step carelessly, and yet he stumbled and giggled. It was not a fatuous giggle, however. In it were all kinds of strange things.

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