Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 11
“Mr. Davidson, have you nerve enough to help me replace this ankle? The Countess is too nervous, and J. G. is too awkward.”
Chip was lying oblivious to his surroundings or his hurt in the sunny, south room which Dunk Whitaker chose to call his.
“I’ve never been accused of wanting nerve,” grinned Weary. “I guess I can stand it if you can.” And a very efficient assistant he proved himself to be.
When the question of a nurse arose, when all had been done that could be done and Weary had gone, the Little Doctor found herself involved in an argument with the Countess. The Countess wanted them to send for Bill. Bill just thought the world and all of Chip, she declared, and would just love to come. She was positive that Bill was the very one they needed, and the Little Doctor, who had conceived a violent dislike for Bill, a smirky, self-satisfied youth addicted to chewing tobacco, red neckties and a perennial grin, was equally positive he was the very one they did not want. In despair she retrenched herself behind the assertion that Chip should choose for himself.
“I just know he’ll choose Bill,” crowed the Countess after the flicker of the doctor’s skirts.
Chip turned his head rebelliously upon the pillow and looked up at her. Something in his eyes brought to mind certain stormy crises in the headstrong childhood of the Little Doctor-crises in which she was forced to submission very much against her will. It was the same mutinous surrender to overwhelming strength, the same futile defiance of fate.
“I came to ask you who you would rather have to nurse you,” she said, trying to keep the erratic color from crimsoning her cheeks. You see, she had never had a patient of her very own before, and there were certain embarrassing complications in having this particular young man in charge.
Chip’s eyes wandered wistfully to the window, where a warm, spring breeze flapped the curtains in and out.
“How long have I got to lie here?” he asked, reluctantly.
“A month, at the least—more likely six weeks,” she said with kind bluntness. It was best he should know the worst at once.
Chip turned his face bitterly to the wall for a minute and traced an impossible vine to its breaking point where the paper had not been properly matched. Twenty miles away the boys were hurrying through their early dinner that they might catch up their horses for the afternoon’s work. And they had two good feet to walk on, two sound arms to subdue restless horseflesh and he was not there! He could fairly smell the sweet, trampled sod as the horses circled endlessly inside the rope corral, and hear them snort when a noose swished close. He wondered who would get his string to ride, and what they would do with his bed.
He didn’t need it, now; he would lie on wire springs, instead of on the crisp, prairie grass. He would be waited on like a yearling baby and——
“The Countess just knows you will choose Bill,” interrupted a whimsical girl voice.
Chip said something which the Little Doctor did not try to hear distinctly. “Don’t she think I’ve had enough misery dealt me for once?” he asked, without taking his eyes from the poor, broken vine. He rather pitied the vine—it seemed to have been badly used by fate, just as he had been. He was sure it had not wanted to stop right there on that line, as it had been forced to do. He had not wanted to stop, either. He——
“She says Bill would just love to come,” said the voice, with a bit of a laugh in it.
Chip, turning his head back suddenly, looked into the gray eyes and felt inexplicably cheered. He almost believed she understood something of what it all meant to him. And she mercifully refrained from spoken pity, which he felt he could not have borne just then. His lips took back some of their curve.
“You tell her I wouldn’t just love to have him,” he said, grimly.
“I’d never dare. She dotes on Bill. Whom do you want?”
“When it comes to that, I don’t want anybody. But if you could get Johnny Beckman to come——”
“Oh, I will—I’ll go myself, to make sure of him. Which one is Johnny?”
“Johnny’s the red-headed one,” said Chip.
“Yes, but his head is several shades redder than any of the others,” interrupted he, quite cheerfully.
The Little Doctor, observing the twinkle in his eyes, felt her spirits rise wonderfully. She could not bear that hurt, rebellious, lonely look which they had worn.
“I’ll bring him—but I may have to chloroform the Countess to get him into the house. You must try to sleep, while I’m gone—and don’t fret—will you? You’ll get well all the quicker for taking things easily.”
Chip smiled faintly at this wholesome advice, and the Little Doctor laid her hand shyly upon his forehead to test its temperature, drew down the shade over the south window, and left him in dim, shadowy coolness to sleep.
She came again before she started for Johnny, and found him wide awake and staring hungrily at the patch of blue sky visible through the window which faced the East.
“You’ll have to learn to obey orders better than this,” she said, severely, and took quiet possession of his wrist. “I told you not to fret about being hurt. I know you hate it——”
Chip flushed a little under her touch and the tone in which she spoke the last words. It seemed to mean that she hated it even more than he did, having him helpless in the house with her. It hadn’t been so long since she had told him plainly how little she liked him. He was not going to forget, in a hurry! “Why don’t you send me to the hospital?” he demanded, brusquely. “I could stand the trip, all right.”
The Little Doctor, the color coming and going in her cheeks, pressed her cool fingers against his forehead.
“Because I want you here to practice on. Do you think I’d let such a chance escape?”
After she was gone, Chip found some things to puzzle over. He felt that he was no match for the Little Doctor, and for the first time in his life he deeply regretted his ignorance of woman nature.
When the dishes were done, the Countess put her resentment behind her and went in to sit with Chip, with the best of intentions. The most disagreeable trait of some disagreeable people is that their intentions are invariably good. She had her “crochy work,” and Chip groaned inwardly when he saw her settle herself comfortably in a rocking-chair and unwind her thread. The Countess had worked hard all her life, and her hands were red and big-jointed. There was no pleasure in watching their clever manipulation of the little, steel hook. If it had been the Little Doctor’s hands, now—Chip turned again to the decapitated, pale blue vine with its pink flowers and no leaves. The Countess counted off “chain ’leven” and began in a constrained tone, such as some well-meaning people employ against helpless sick folk.
“How’re yuh feelin’ now? Yuh want a drink, or anything?”
Chip did not want a drink, and he felt all right, he guessed.
The Countess thought to cheer him a little.
“Well, I do think it’s too bad yuh got t’ lay here all through this purty spring weather. If it had been in the winter, when it’s cold and stormy outside, a person wouldn’t mind it s’ much. I know yuh must feel purty blew over it, fer yuh was always sech a hand t’ be tearin’ around the country on the dead run, seems like. I always told Mary ’t you’n Weary always rode like the sheriff wa’nt more’n a mile b’hind yuh. An’ I s’pose you feel it all the more, seein’ the round-up’s jest startin’ out. Weary said yuh was playin’ big luck, if yuh only knew enough t’ cash in yer chips at the right time, but he’s afraid yuh wouldn’t be watching the game close enough an’ ud lose yer pile. I don’t know what he was drivin’ at, an’ I guess he didn’t neither. It’s too bad, anyway. I guess yuh didn’t expect t’ wind up in bed when yuh rode off up the hill. But as the sayin’ is: ‘Man plans an’ God displans,’ an’ I guess it’s so. Here yuh are, laid up fer the summer, Dell says—the las’ thing on earth, I guess, that yuh was lookin’ fer. An’ yuh rode buckin’ bronks right along, too. I never looked fer Whizzer t’ buck yuh off, I must say—yuh got the name uh bein’ sech a good rider, too. But they say ’t the pitcher ’t’s always goin’ t’ the well is bound t’ git busted sometime, an’ I guess your turn come t’ git busted. Anyway——”
“I didn’t get bucked off,” broke in Chip, angrily. A “bronch fighter” is not more jealous of his sweetheart than of his reputation as a rider. “A fellow can’t very well make a pretty ride while his horse is turning a somersault.”
“Oh, well, I didn’t happen t’ se it—I thought Weary said ’t yuh got throwed off on the Hog’s Back. Anyway, I don’t know’s it makes much difference how yuh happened t’ hit the ground——”
“I guess it does make a difference,” cried Chip, hotly. His eyes took on the glitter of fever. “It makes a whole heap of difference, let me tell you! I’d like to hear Weary or anybody else stand up and tell me that I got bucked off. I may be pretty badly smashed up, but I’d come pretty near showing him where he stood.”
“Oh, well, yuh needn’t go t’ work an’ git mad about it,” remonstrated the Countess, dropping her thread in her perturbation at his excitement. The spool rolled under the bed and she was obliged to get down upon her knees and claw it back, and she jarred the bed and set Chip’s foot to hurting again something awful.
When she finally secured the spool and resumed her chair, Chip’s eyes were tightly closed, but the look of his mouth and the flush in his cheeks, together with his quick breathing, precluded the belief that he was asleep. The Countess was not a fool—she saw at once that fever, which the Little Doctor had feared, was fast taking hold of him. She rolled her half yard of “edging” around the spool of thread, jabbed the hook through the lump and went out and told the Old Man that Chip was getting worse every minute—which was the truth.
The Old Map knocked the ashes out of his pipe and went in to look at him.
“Did Weary say I got bucked off?” demanded the sick man before the Old Man was fairly in the room. “If he did, he lied, that’s all. I didn’t think Weary’d do me dirt like that—I thought he’d stand by me if anybody would. He knows I wasn’t throwed. I——”
“Here, young fellow,” put in the Old Man, calmly, “don’t yuh git t’ rampagin’ around over nothin’! You turn over there an’ go t’ sleep.”
“I’ll be hanged if I will!” retorted Chip. “If Weary’s taken to lying about me I’ll have it out with him if I break all the rest of my bones doing it. Do you think I’m going to stand a thing like that? I’ll see——”
“Easy there, doggone it. I never heard Weary say’t yuh got bucked off. Whizzer turned over on his head, ‘s near as I c’d make out fer dust. I took it he turned a summerset.”
Chip’s befogged brain caught at the last word.
“Yes, that’s just what he did. It beats me how Weary could say, or even think, that I—it was the jack rabbit first—and I told her the supply was limited—and if we do furnish lots of amusement—but I guess I made her understand I wasn’t so easy as she took me to be. She——”
“Hey?” The Old Man could hardly be blamed for losing the drift of Chip’s rapid utterances.
“If we want to get them rounded up before the dance, I’ll—it’s a good thing it wasn’t poison, for seven dead kids at once——”
The Old Man knew something about sickness himself. He hurried out, returning in a moment with a bowl of cool water and a fringed napkin which he pilfered from the dining-room table, wisely intending to bathe Chip’s head.
But Chip would have none of him or his wise intentions. He jerked the wet napkin from the Old Man’s fingers and threw it down behind the bed, knocked up the bowl of water into the Old Man’s face and called him some very bad names. The Countess came and looked in, and Chip hurled a pillow at her and called her a bad name also, so that she retreated to the kitchen with her feelings very much hurt. After that Chip had the south room to himself until the Little Doctor returned with Johnny.
The Old Man, looking rather scared, met her on the porch. The Little Doctor read his face before she was off her horse.
“What’s the matter? Is he worse?” she demanded, abruptly.
“That’s fer you t’ find out. I ain’t no doctor. He got on the fight, a while back, an’ took t’ throwin’ things an’ usin’ langwidge. He can’t git out uh bed, thank the Lord, or we’d be takin’ t’ the hills by now.”
“Then somebody has it to answer for. He was all right when I left him, two hours ago, with not a sign of fever. Has the Countess been pestering him?”
“No,” said the Countess, popping her head out of the kitchen window and speaking in an aggrieved tone, “I hope I never pester anybody. I went an’ done all I could t’ cheer ’im up, an’ that’s all the thanks I git fer it. I must say some folks ain’t overburdened with gratitude, anyhow.”
The Little Doctor did not wait to hear her out. She went straight to the south room, pulling off her gloves on the way. The pillow on the floor told her an eloquent tale, and she sighed as she picked it up and patted some shape back into it. Chip stared at her with wide, bright eyes from the bed.
“I don’t suppose Dr. Cecil Granthum would throw pillows at anybody!” he remarked, sarcastically, as she placed it very gently under his head.
“Perhaps, if the provocation was great enough. What have they been doing to you?”
“Did Weary say I got bucked off?” he demanded, excitedly.
The Little Doctor was counting his pulse, and waited till she had finished. It was a high number—much higher than she liked.
“No, Weary didn’t. How could he? You didn’t, you know. I saw it all from the bluff, and I know the horse turned over upon you. It’s a wonder you weren’t killed outright. Now, don’t worry about it any more—I expect it was the Countess told you that. Weary hated dreadfully to leave you. I wonder if you know how much he thinks of you? I didn’t, till I saw how he looked when you—here, drink this, all of it. You’ve got to sleep, you see.”
There was a week when the house was kept very still, and the south room very cool and shadowy, and Chip did not much care who it was that ministered to him—only that the hands of the Little Doctor were always soft and soothing on his head and he wished she would keep them there always, when he was himself enough to wish anything coherently.