Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 18

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Dr. Cecil Granthum.

The Little Doctor leaned from the window and called down the hill to her recovered patient—more properly, her nearly recovered patient; for Chip still walked with the aid of a cane, though by making use of only one stirrup he could ride very well. He limped up the hill to her, and sat down on the top step of the porch.

“What’s the excitement now?” he asked, banteringly.

“I’ve got the best, the most splendid news—you couldn’t guess what in a thousand years!”

“Then I won’t try. It’s too hot.” Chip took off his hat and fanned himself with it.

“Well, can’t you look a little bit excited? Try and look the way I feel! Anybody as cool as you are shouldn’t suffer with the heat.”

“I don’t know—I get pretty hot, sometimes. Well, what is the most splendid news? Can’t you tell a fellow, after calling him up here in the hot sun?”

“Well, listen. The Gilroy hospital—you know, where Cecil is”—Chip knew—“has a case of blighted love and shattered hopes”—Chip’s foolish, man-heart nearly turned a somersault. Was it possible?—“and it’s the luckiest thing ever happened.”

“Yes?” Chip wished to goodness she would get to the point. She could be direct enough in her statements when what she said was going to hurt a fellow. His heart was thumping so it hurt him.

“Yes. A doctor there was planning to get married and go away on his honeymoon, you know——

Chip nodded, half suffocated with crowding, incredulous hopes.

“Well, and now he isn’t. His ladylove was faithless and loves another, and his honeymoon is indefinitely postponed. Do you see now where the good news comes in?”

Chip shook his head once and looked away up the grade. Funny, but something had gone wrong with his throat. He was half choked.

“Well, you are dull! Now that fellow isn’t going to have any vacation, so Cecil can come out, right away! Next week! Think of it!”

Chip tried to think of it, but he couldn’t think of anything, just then. He was only conscious of wishing Whizzer had made a finish of the job, up there on the Hog’s Back that day. His heart no longer thumped—it was throbbing in a tired, listless fashion.

“Why can’t you look a little bit pleased?” smiled the torturer from the window. “You sit there like a—an Indian before a cigar store. You’ve just about the same expression.”

“I can’t help it. I never was fierce to meet strangers, somehow.”

“Judging from my own experience, I think you are uncommonly fierce at meeting strangers. I haven’t forgotten how unmercifully you snubbed me when I came to the ranch, or how you risked my neck on the grade, up there, trying to make me scared enough to scream. I didn’t, though! I wanted to, I’ll admit, when you made the horses run down the steepest part—but I didn’t, and so I could easily forgive you.”

“Could you?” said Chip, in a colorless tone.

“If you had gained your object, I couldn’t have,” remarked she.

“I did, though.”

“You did? Didn’t you do it just to frighten me?”

Chip gave her a glance of weary tolerance. “You must think I’ve about as much sense as a jack rabbit; I was taking long chances to run that hill.”

“Well, for pity’s sake, what did you do it for?”

“It was the only thing to do. How do you think we’d have come out of the mix-up if we had met Banjo on the Hog’s Back, where there isn’t room to pass? Don’t you think we’d have been pretty well smashed up, both of us, by the time we got to the bottom of that gully, there? A runaway horse is a nasty thing to meet, let me tell you—especially when it’s as scared as Banjo was. They won’t turn out; they just go straight ahead, and let the other fellow get out of the way if he can.”

“I—I thought you did it just for a joke,” said the Little Doctor, weakly. “I told Cecil you did it to frighten me, and Cecil said——

“I don’t think you need to tell me what Cecil said,” Chip remarked, with the quiet tone that made one very uncomfortable.

“It wasn’t anything so dreadful, you know——

“I don’t want to know. When is he coming, did you say?”

“Next Wednesday—and this is Friday. I know you’ll like Cecil.”

Chip made him a cigarette, but he hadn’t heart enough to light it. He held it absently in his fingers.

“Everybody likes Cecil.”

“Yes?” Secretly, Chip had his doubts. He knew one that didn’t—and wouldn’t.

“We’ll have all kinds of fun, and go everywhere and do everything. As soon as the round-up is over, I think I’ll make J. G. give another dance, but I’ll take care that the drug store is safely locked away. And some day we’ll take a lunch and go prowling around down in the Bad Lands—you’ll have to go, so we won’t get lost—and we’ll have Len Adams and Rena and the schoolma’am over here often, and—oh, my brain just buzzes with plans. I’m so anxious for Cecil to see the Countess and—well, everybody around here. You, too.”

“I’m sure a curiosity,” said Chip, getting on his feet again. “I’ve always had the name of being something of a freak—I don’t wonder you want to exhibit me to your—friends.” He went down the hill to the bunk house, holding the unlighted cigarette still in his fingers.

When Slim opened the door to tell him supper was ready, he found Chip lying on his bed, his face buried in his arms.

If Chip never had understood before how a man can stand up straight on the gallows, throw back his shoulders and smile at his executioner, he learned the secret during that twenty-two mile drive to Dry Lake with the Little Doctor. He would have shirked the ordeal gladly, and laid awake o’ nights planning subterfuges that would relieve him, but the Little Doctor seemed almost malignantly innocent and managed to checkmate every turn. She could not trust anyone else to manage the creams; she was afraid Slim might get drunk while they waited for the train, or forget his duties in a game. She hated J. G.’s way of fussing over trifles, and wouldn’t have him along. Chip was not able to help much with the ranch work, and she knew he could manage the horses so much better than anyone else—and Cecil had been in a runaway once, and so was dreadfully nervous behind a strange team—which last declaration set Chip’s lips a-curl.

The woman usually does have her own way in the end, and so Chip marched to the gallows with his chin well up, smiling at his executioner.

The train was late. The Little Doctor waited in the hotel parlor, and Chip waited in the hotel saloon, longing to turn a deluge of whisky down his throat to deaden that unbearable, heavy ache in his heart—but instead he played pool with Bert Rogers, who happened to be in town that day, and took cigars after each game instead of whiskey, varying the monotony occasionally by lemon soda, till he was fairly sick.

Then the station agent telephoned up that the train was coming, and Chip threw down his billiard cue, swallowed another glass of lemon soda and gagged over it, sent Bert Rogers to tell the Little Doctor the train was coming, and went after the team.

He let the creams lope in the harness all the way to the depot, excusing himself on the plea that the time was short; the fact was, Chip wanted the agony over as soon as possible; nothing so wears a man’s patients as to have a disagreeable duty drag. At the depot he drove around to the back where freight was unloaded, with the explanation that the creams were afraid of the train—and the fact of that matter was, that Chip was afraid Dr. Cecil might greet the Little Doctor with a kiss—he’d be a fool if he didn’t—and Chip did not want to witness the salute.

Sitting with his well foot in the brake, he pictured the scene on the other side of the building when the train pulled in and stopped. He could not hear much, on account of the noise the engine made pumping air, but he could guess about what was taking place. Now, the fellow was on the platform, probably, and he had a suit case in one hand and a light tan overcoat over the other arm, and now he was advancing toward the Little Doctor, who would have grown shy and remained by the waiting-room door. Now he had changed his suit case to the other hand, and was bending down over—oh, hell! He’d settle up with the Old Man and pull out, back across the river. Old Blake would give him work on his ranch over there, that was a cinch. And the Little Doctor could have her Cecil and be hanged to him. He would go to-morrow—er—no, he’d have to wait till Silver was able to make the trip, for he wouldn’t leave him behind. No, he couldn’t go just yet—he’d have to stay with the deal another month. He wouldn’t stay a day longer than he had to, thought you could gamble on that.

There—the train was sliding out—say, what if the fellow hadn’t come, though? Such a possibility had not before occurred to Chip—wouldn’t the Little Doctor be fighty, though? Serve her right, the little flirt—er—no, he couldn’t think anything against the Little Doctor, no matter what she did. No, he’d sure hate to see her disappointed—still, if the fellow hadn’t come, Chip wouldn’t be to blame for that, and Dr. Cecil——

“Can’t you drive around to the platform now, to load in the trunk?”

“Sure,” said Chip, with deceitful cheerfulness, and took his foot off the brake, while the Little Doctor went back to her Cecil.

The agent had the trunk on the baggage truck and trundled it along the platform, and Chip’s eyes searched for his enemy. They were in the waiting room; he could hear that laugh of the Little Doctor’s—Lord, how he hated to hear it—directed at some other fellow, that is. Yes, there was the suit case—it looked just as he had expected it would—and there was a glimpse of tan cloth just inside the door. Chip turned to help the agent push the suit case under the seat, where it was an exceeding tight fit getting it there, with the trunk taking up so much room.

When he straightened up the Little Doctor stood ready to get into the buggy, and behind her stood Dr. Cecil Granthum, smiling in a way that disclosed some very nice teeth.

“Cecil, this is Mr. Bennett—the ‘Chip’ that I have mentioned as being at the ranch. Chip, allow me to present Dr. Cecil Granthum.”

Dr. Cecil advanced with hand out invitingly. “I’ve heard so much about Chip that I feel very well acquainted. I hope you won’t expect me to call you Mr. Bennett, for I shan’t, you know.”

Too utterly at sea to make reply, Chip took the offered hand in his. Hate Dr. Cecil? How could he hate this big, breezy, blue-eyed young woman? She shook his hand heartily and smiled deep into his troubled eyes, and drew the poison from his wounds in that one glance.

The Little Doctor plumped into the seat and made room for Cecil, like the spoiled little girl that she was, compared with the other.

“I’m going to sit in the middle. Cecil, you’re the biggest and you can easily hang on—and, beside, this young man is so fierce with strangers that he’d snub you something awful if we’d give him a chance. He’s been scheming, ever since I told him you were coming, to get out of driving in to meet you. He tried to make me take Slim. Slim!”

Dr. Cecil smiled at Chip behind the Little Doctor’s back, and Chip could have hugged her then and there, for he knew, somehow, that she understood and was his friend.

I should like very much to say that it seemed to Chip that the sun shone brighter, and that the grass was greener, and the sky several shades bluer, on that homeward drive—but I must record the facts, which are these:

Chip did not know whether the sun shone or the moon, and he didn’t care—just so there was light to see the hair blowing about the Little Doctor’s face, and to watch the dimple come and go in the cheek next him. And whether the grass was green and the sky blue, or whether the reverse was the case, he didn’t know; and if you had asked him, he might have said tersely that he didn’t care a darn about the grass—that is, if he gave you sufficient attention to reply at all.