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   Chapter 5 ORLANDO HAS AN ADVENTURE

Wild Youth, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 21774

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


Burlingame had the best practice of any lawyer in Askatoon, although his character had its shady side. The prairie standards were not low; but tolerance is natural where the community is ready-made; where people from all points of the compass come together with all sorts of things behind them; where standards have at first no organized sanction. Financially Burlingame was honest enough, his defects being associated with those ancient sources of misconduct, wine and women-and in his case the morphia habit as well. It said much for his physique that, in spite of his indulgences, he not only remained a presentable figure but a lucky and successful lawyer.

Being something of a philosopher, the Young Doctor looked upon Burlingame chiefly as one of those inevitable vintages from a vineyard which, according to the favour or disfavour of Heaven, yields from the same soil both good and bad. He had none of that Puritanism which would ruthlessly root out the vines yielding the bad wine. To his mind that could only be done by the axe, the rope or the bullet. It seemed of little use, and very unfair, to drive the wolf out of your own garden into that of your neighbour. Therefore Burlingame must be endured.

The day after the Young Doctor had paid his professional visit to Tralee, and Orlando Guise had first seen the girl-wife of, the behemoth, the Young Doctor visited Burlingame's office. Burlingame had only recently returned from England, whither he had gone on important legal business, which he had agreeably balanced by unguarded adventures in forbidden paths. He was in an animated mood. Three things had just happened which had given him great pleasure.

In the morning he had gained a verdict of acquittal in the case of one of the McMahon Gang for manslaughter connected with jumping a claim; and this meant increased reputation.

He had also got a letter from Orlando Guise, and a cheque for six thousand dollars, with instructions to pay the amount in cash to Joel Mazarine; and this meant a chance of meeting Mazarine and perhaps getting a new client.

Likewise he had received a letter of instructions from a client in Montreal, a kinsman and legatee of old Michael Turley, the late owner of Tralee, in connection with a legacy. This would involve some legal proceedings with considerable costs, and also contact with Joel Mazarine, whom he had not yet seen; for Mazarine had come while he was away in England.

His interest in Mazarine, however, was really an interest in Mrs. Mazarine, concerning whom he had heard things which stimulated his imagination. To him a woman was the supreme interest of existence, apart from making a necessary living. He was the primitive and pernicious hunter. He had been discreet enough not to question people too closely where Mazarine's wife was concerned, but there was, however, one gossip whom Burlingame questioned with some freedom. This was Patsy Kernaghan.

Before the Young Doctor arrived at his office this particular morning, Patsy, who had followed him from the Court-house, was put under a light and skillful cross-examination. He had been of service to Burlingame more than once; and he was regarded as a useful man to do odd jobs for his office, as for other offices in Askatoon.

"Aw, him-that murderin' moloch at Tralee!" exclaimed Patsy when the button was pressed. "That Methodys' fella with the face of a pirate! If there wasn't a better Protistan' than him in the world, the Meeting Houses'd be used for kindlin'-wood. Joel, they call him-a dacint prophet's name misused!

"I h'ard him praying once, as I stood outside the Meetin' House windys. To hear that holy hyena lift up his voice to the skies! Shure, I've never been the same man since, for the voice of him says wan thing, and the look of him another. Sez I to meself, Mr. Burlingame, y'r anner, the minute I first saw him, sez I, 'Askatoon's no safe place for me.' Whin wan like that gits a footin' in a place, the locks can't be too manny to shut ye in whin ye want to sleep at night. That fella's got no pedigree, and if it wouldn't hurt some dacent woman, maybe, I'd say he was misbegotten. But still, I'll tell ye: out there at Tralee there's what'd have saved Sodom and Gomorrah-aye, that'd have saved Jerusalem, and there wouldn't ha' been a single moan from Jeremiah. Out at Tralee there's as beautiful a little lady as you'd want to see. Just a girl she is, not more than nineteen or twenty years of age. She's got a face that'd make ye want to lift the chorals an' the antiphones to her every marnin'. She's got the figure of one that was never to grow up, an' there she is the wedded wife of that crocodile great-grandfather.

"Aw, I know all about it, Mr. Burlingame, y'r anner. How do I know? Didn't Michael Turley tell me before he died what sort o' man his cousin was? Didn't he tell me Joel Mazarine married first whin he was eighteen years of age; an' his daughter was married whin she was seventeen; an' her son was married whin he was eighteen-an' Joel's a great-grandfather now. An' see him out there with her that looks as if the kindergarten was the place for her."

"Do you go to Tralee often?" asked Burlingame. "Aw yis. There's a job now and then to do. I'm ridin' an old moke on errands for him whin his hired folks is busy. A man must live, and there's that purty lass with the Irish eyes! Man alive, but it goes to me heart to luk at her."

"Well, I think I must have a 'luk' at her then," was Burlingame's half satirical remark.

Not long after Patsy Kernaghan had left Burlingame's office, the Young Doctor came. His business was brief, and he was about to leave when Burlingame said:

"The Mazarines out at Tralee-you know them? They came while I was away. Queer old goat, isn't he?"

"His exact place in natural history I'm not able to select," answered the Young Doctor dryly, "but I know him."

"And his wife-you know her?" asked Burlingame casually.

The other nodded. "Yes-in a professional way."

"Has she been sick?"

"She is ill now."

"What's the matter?"

"What's the truth about that McMahon claim-jumper who was acquitted this morning?" asked the Young Doctor with a quizzical eye and an acid note to his voice. "You've got your verdict, but you know the real truth, and you mustn't and won't tell it. Well?"

Burlingame saw. "Well, I'll have to ask the old goat myself," he said. "He's coming here to-day." He took up Orlando Guise's letter from the table, glanced at it smilingly, and threw it down again. "He must be a queer specimen," Burlingame continued. "He wouldn't take Orlando Guise's cheque yesterday. He says he'll only be paid in hard cash. He's coming here this afternoon to get it. He's a crank, whatever else he is. They tell me he doesn't keep a bank account. If he gets a cheque, he has it changed into cash. If he wants to send a cheque away, he buys one for cash from somebody. He pays for everything in cash, if he can. Actually, he hasn't a banking account in the place. Cash-nothing but cash! What do you think of that?"

The Young Doctor nodded: "Cash as a habit is useful. Every man must have his hobby, I suppose. Considering the crimes tried at the court in this town, Mazarine's got unusual faith in human nature; or else he feels himself pretty safe at Tralee."

"Thieves?" asked Burlingame satirically.

"Yes, I believe that's still the name, though judging from some of your talk in the Court-house, it's a word that gives opportunity to take cover. I hope your successful client of to-day, and his brothers, are not familiar with the ways of Mr. Mazarine. I hope they don't know about this six thousand dollars in cold cash."

A sneering, sour smile came to Burlingame's lips. The medical man's dry allusions touched him on the raw all too often.

"Oh, of course, I told them all about that six thousand dollars! Of course! A lot of people suspect those McMahons of being crooked. Well, it has never been proved. Until it's proved, they're entitled-" Burlingame paused.

"To the benefit of the doubt, eh?"

"Why not? I've heard you hold the balance pretty fair 'twixt your patients and the undertaker."

Quite unmoved, the Young Doctor coolly replied: "In your own happy phrase-of course! I get a commission from the undertaker when the patient's a poor man; when he's a rich man, I keep him alive! It pays. The difference between your friends the criminals and me is that probably nobody will ever be able to catch me out. But the McMahons, we'll get them yet,"-a stern, determined look came into his honest eye,-"yes, we'll get them yet. They're a nasty fringe on the skirts of Askatoon.

"But there it is as it is," he continued. "You take their dirty money, and I don't refuse pay when I'm called in to attend the worst man in the West, whoever he may be. Why, Burlingame, as your family physician, I shouldn't hesitate even to present my account against your estate if, in a tussle with the devil, he got you out of my hands."

Now a large and friendly smile covered his face. He liked hard hitting, but he also liked to take human nature as it was, and not to quarrel. Burlingame, on his part, had no desire for strife with the Young Doctor. He would make a very dangerous enemy. His return smile was a great effort, however. Ruefulness and exasperation were behind it.

The Young Doctor had only been gone a few minutes when Joel Mazarine entered Burlingame's office. "I've come about that six thousand dollars Mr. Guise of Slow Down Ranch owes me," the old man said without any formal salutation. He was evidently not good-humoured.

At sight of Mazarine, Burlingame at once accepted the general verdict concerning him. That, however, would not prejudice him greatly. Burlingame had no moral sense. Mazarine's face might revolt him, but not his character.

"I've got the cash here for you, and I'll have in a witness and hand the money over at once," he said: "The receipt is ready. I assume you are Joel Mazarine," he added, in a weak attempt at being humorous.

"Get on with the business, Mister," said the old man surlily.

In a few moments he had the six thousand dollars in good government notes in two inner pockets of his shirt. It made him feel very warm and comfortable. His face almost relaxed into a smile when he bade Burlingame good-day.

Burlingame had said nothing about the letter from the late Michael Turley's kinsman in Montreal and the question of the legacy. This was deliberate on his part. He wanted an excuse to visit Tralee and see its mistress with his own eyes. He had attempted to pluck many flowers in his day, and had not been unsuccessful. Out at Tralee was evidently a rare orchid carefully shielded by the gardener.

As Mazarine left the lawyer's office, he met in the doorway that member of the McMahon family for whom Burlingame had secured a verdict o

f acquittal a couple of hours before. As was his custom, Mazarine gave the other a sharp, scrutinizing look, but he saw no one he knew; and he passed on. The furtive smile which had betrayed his content at pocketing the six thousand dollars still lingered at the corners of his mouth.

Though he did not know the legally innocent McMahon whom he had just passed, McMahon was not so ignorant. There was no one in all the countryside whom the McMahons did not know. It was their habit-or something else-to be familiar with the history of everybody thereabouts, although they lived secluded lives at Arrowhead Ranch, which adjoined that belonging to Orlando Guise.

When Tom McMahon saw Mazarine leave Burlingame's office, his furtive eye lighted. Then it was true, what he had heard from the hired girl at Slow Down Ranch: that old Mazarine was to receive six thousand dollars in cash from Orlando Guise by the hands of Burlingame! Only that very morning, at the moment of his own release from jail, his brother Bill McMahon had told him of the conversation overheard between Orlando and his mother, by Milly Gorst, the hired girl.

He turned and watched Mazarine go down the street and enter a barber's shop. If Mazarine was going to have his hair cut, he would be in the barber's shop for some time. With intense reflection in his eyes, McMahon entered Burlingame's office. He had come to settle up accounts for a clever piece of court-room work on the part of Burlingame. It was very well worth paying for liberally.

When he entered the office, Burlingame was not there. A clerk, however, informed him that Burlingame would be free within a few moments-and would he take a chair? Thereupon, the clerk left the room. McMahon took a chair-not the one towards which the clerk pointed him, but one beside the desk whereon were lying a number of open letters.

The interrogation always in the mind of a natural criminal, prompted McMahon to take a seat near the open letters. As soon as the clerk left the room, a hairy hand reached out for the nearest letter, and a swift glance took in its contents.

A grimly cheerful, vicious smile lighted up the heavily bearded face. Placing the letter on the desk again, as soon as it was read, McMahon almost threw himself over to the chair at some distance from the desk, which the clerk had first offered him. There he sat with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands when Burlingame entered the room.

Ten minutes later, with a receipted bill in his pocket, Tom McMahon made for the barber's shop which Mazarine had entered. He found it full, but seated in the red-plush chair, tipped back at a convenient angle, was Mazarine undergoing the triple operations of shaving his upper lip, beard-trimming and haircutting. From that moment and for the rest of all the long day and evening, Joel Mazarine commanded the unvarying interest of two members of the McMahon family.

Orlando Guise had had a long day, but one that somehow made him whistle or sing to himself most of the time. In a way, half a lifetime had gone since the day before, when he had first seen what he called to himself "the captive maid." He had never been so happy in his life; and yet he knew that he had not the faintest right to be happy. The girl who had so upset his self-control as to make him stumble on her doorstep was the wife of another man. It was, of course, silly to call him "another man," because he seemed a million miles away from any sphere in which Orlando lived. Yet he was another man; and he was also the husband of the girl who had made Orlando feel for the very first time a strange singing in his veins. It actually was as though some wonderful, magnetic thing was making his veins throb and every nerve tingle and sing.

"It beats me," he said to himself fifty times that day. He had never been in love. He did not know what it was like, except that he had seen it make men do silly things, just as drink did. He did not know whether he was in love or not. It was absurd that a man should be in love with a face at a window-a face with the beauty of a ghost rather than of a real live woman.

Orlando had little evil in his nature; his eyes did not look towards Tralee as did Burlingame's eyes. Nothing furtive stirred in Orlando's intensely blue eyes. Whatever the feeling was, it was an open thing, which had neither motive nor purpose behind it-just a thing almost feminine in its nature. As yet it was like the involuntary adoration which girls at a certain period of their lives feel successively for one hero after another. What it would become, who could tell? What would happen to the young girl adoring the actor, or the hero of the North Pole, the battle-field or the sea, if the adored one was not far off, but very near? Indeed, who could tell?

But as it was, in the upper room where Louise sat all day looking out over the prairie, and on the prairie where business carried Orlando from ranch to ranch on this perfect day, no recreant thought or feeling existed. Each was a simple soul, as yet unspoiled and in one sense unsophisticated-the girl, however, with an instinctive caution, such as an animal possesses in the presence of a foe with which it is in truce; the man with an astuteness which belonged to a native instinct for finding a way of doing hard things in the battle of life.

All day Orlando wondered when he should see that face again; all day the eyes of Louise pleaded for another look at the ranchman with the dress of a dandy, the laugh of a child, and the face of an Apollo-or so it seemed to her. It was the sort of day which ministers to human emotion, which stirs the sluggish blood, revives the drooping spirit. There was a curious, delicate blueness of the sky over which an infinitely more delicate veil of mist was softly drawn. At many places on the prairie the haymakers were loading the great wagons; here and there a fallow field was burning; yonder a house was building; cattle were being rounded up; and far off, like moving specks, ranchmen were climbing the hills where the wild bronchos were, for a day of the toughest, most thrilling sport which the world knows.

Night fell, and found Orlando making for the trail between what was known as the Company's Ranch and Tralee. To reach his own ranch, he had to cross it at an angle near the Tralee homestead. It was dark, with no moon, but the stars were bright.

As he crossed the Tralee trail, he suddenly heard a cry for help. Between him and where the sound came from was a fire burning. It was the camp-fire of some prairie pioneer making for a new settlement in the North; and beside it was a tent whose owner was absent in Askatoon.

Orlando dug heels into his horse and rode for the point from which the cry for help had come. Something was undoubtedly wrong. The voice was that of one in real trouble-a hoarse, strangled sort of voice.

As he galloped through the light of the camp-fire, a pistol-shot rang out, and he felt a sharp, stinging pain in his side. Still urging his horse, he cleared the little circle of light and presently saw a man rapidly mounting a horse, while two others struggled on the ground.

He dashed forward. As he did so, one of the men on the ground freed himself, sprang to his feet, mounted his horse, and was away into the night with his companion. Orlando slid to the ground beside the figure which was slowly raising itself from the ground.

"What's the matter? Are you all right? Have they hurt you?" he asked, as he stooped over and caught the shoulders of the victim of the two fleeing figures.

At that instant there were two more pistol-shots, and a bullet hit the ground beside Orlando. Then he saw dimly the face of the man whom he was helping to his feet.

"Mazarine! Good Lord-Mazarine!" he said in an anxious voice. "What have they done to you?"

"Nothing-I'm all right. The dogs, the rogues, the thieves-but they didn't get it! It was in the pockets of my shirt." The old man was almost hysterical. "You just come in time, Mr. Guise. You frightened 'em off. They'd have found it, if it hadn't been for you."

"Found what?" asked Orlando, as he helped the old man towards the camp-fire, himself in pain, and a dizziness coming over him.

"Found your six thousand dollars that Burlingame paid me to-day," gasped the old man, spasmodically; "but it's here-it's here!" He caught at his breast with devouring greed.

Somehow the agitated joy of the old man revolted Orlando. He had a sudden rush of repulsion; but he fought it down.

"Are you all right?" he asked. "Are you all right?" Somehow the sound of his own voice was very weak. "Yes, I'm all right," Mazarine said, and he called to his horse near by.

The horse did not stir, and the old man, whose breath came almost normally now, moved over and caught its bridle.

In a dazed kind of way, and with growing unsteadiness, Orlando walked towards the camp-fire. He was leaning against his horse, and opening his coat and waistcoat to find the wound in his side and staunch it with the kerchief from his neck, when Mazarine came up.

"What's that on your coat and breeches? Say, you're all bloody!" exclaimed Mazarine. "Why, they shot you!"

"Yes, they got me," was Orlando's husky reply, and he gave a funny little laugh. Giggling, people had called it.

"How are we going to get you home?" Mazarine asked. "You can't ride."

At that moment there was the rumbling jolt of a wagon. It was the pioneer-emigrant returning from Askatoon to his camp.

A few minutes later Orlando was lying on some bags in the emigrant's wagon, while Mazarine rode beside it. "It's only a few hundred yards to the house," said the emigrant sympathetically, as he looked down at the now unconscious figure in the wagon.

"It's four miles to his house," said Mazarine. "Well, I'm not taking him four miles to his house or any house," said the emigrant. "My horse has had enough to-day, and the sooner the lad's attended to, the better. He's going to the nearest house, and that's Tralee, as they call it, just here."

"That's my house," gruffly replied the old man. "Well, that's where you want him to go, ain't it?" asked the pioneer sharply. He could not understand the owner of Tralee.

"Yes, that's where I want him to go," replied Mazarine slowly.

"Then you ride ahead on the trail, and I'll follow," returned the other decisively.

"What's the matter? Who hurt him?" he presently called to Mazarine, riding in front.

"I'll tell you when we get to Tralee," answered the old man, with his eyes fixed on two lights in the near distance. One was in the kitchen, where a half-breed woman was giving supper to Li Choo, a faithful Chinaman roustabout; the other was in the room where a young wife sat with hands clasped, wondering why her husband did not return, yet glad that he did not.

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