Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 5

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CHAPTER V.

In Silver’s Stall.


“Oh, are you here? It’s a wonder you don’t have your bed brought down here, so you can sleep near Silver. How has he been doing since I left?”

Chip simply sat still upon the edge of the manger and stared. His gray hat was pushed far back upon his head and his dark hair waved and curled upon his forehead, very much as a girl’s might have done. He did not know that he was a very good-looking young man, but perhaps the Little Doctor did. She smiled and came up and patted Silver, who had forgotten that he ever had objected to her nearness. He nickered a soft welcome and laid his nose on her shoulder.

“You’ve been drawing a picture. Who’s the victim of your satirical pencil this time?” The Little Doctor, reaching out quickly, calmly appropriated the sketch before Chip had time to withdraw it, even if he had cared to do so. He was busy wondering how the Little Doctor came to be there at that particular time, and had forgotten the picture, which he had not quite finished labeling.

“Dr. Cecil——” Miss Whitmore turned red at first, then broke into laughter. “Oh—h, ha! ha! ha! Silver, you don’t know how funny this master of yours can be! Ha! ha!” She raised her head from Silver’s neck, where it had rested, and wiped her eyes.

“How did you know about Cecil?” she demanded of a very discomfited young man upon the manger.

“I didn’t know—and I didn’t want to know. I heard the boys talking and joshing about him, and I just drew—their own conclusions.” Chip grinned a little and whittled at his pencil, and wondered how much of the statement was a lie.

Miss Whitmore tamed red again, and ended by laughing even more heartily than at first.

“Their conclusions aren’t very complimentary,” she said. “I don’t believe Dr. Cecil would feel flattered at this. Why those bowed legs, may I ask, and wherefore that long, lean, dyspeptic visage? Dr. Cecil, let me inform you, has a digestion that quails not at deviled crabs and chafing-dish horrors at midnight, as I have abundant reason to know. I have seen Dr. Cecil prepare a welsh rabbit and—eat it, also, with much relish, apparently. Oh, no, their conclusions weren’t quite correct. There are other details I might mention—that cane, for instance—but let it pass. I shall keep this, I think, as a companion to ‘The old maid’s credential card.’”

“Are you in the habit of keeping other folk’s property?” inquired Chip, with some acerbity.

“Nothing but personal caricatures—and hearts, perhaps,” returned the Little Doctor, sweetly.

“I hardly think your collection of the last named article is very large,” retorted Chip.

“Still, I added to the collection to-day,” pursued Miss Whitmore, calmly. “I shared my seat in the train with J. G.‘s silent partner (I did not find him silent, however), Mr. Duncan Whitaker. He hired a team in Dry Lake and we came out together, and I believe—please don’t mention Dr. Cecil Granthum to him, will you?”

Chip wished, quite savagely, that she wouldn’t let those dimples dodge into her cheeks, and the laugh dodge into her eyes, like that. It made a fellow uncomfortable. He was thoroughly disgusted with her—or he would be, if she would only stop looking like that. He was in that state of mind where his only salvation, seemingly, lay in quarreling with some one immediately.

“So old Dunk’s come back? If you’ve got his heart, you must have gone hunting it with a microscope, for it’s a mighty small one—almost as small as his soul. No one else even knew he had one. You ought to have it set in a ring, so you won’t lose it.”

“I don’t wear phony jewelry, thank you,” said Miss Whitmore, and Chip thought dimples weren’t so bad after all.

The Little Doctor was weaving Silver’s mane about her white fingers and meditating deeply. Chip wondered if she were thinking of Dr. Cecil.

“Where did you learn to draw like that?” she asked, suddenly, turning toward him. “You do much better than I, and I’ve always been learning from good teachers. Did you ever try painting?”

Chip blushed and looked away from her. This was treading close to his deep-hidden, inner self.

“I don’t know where I learned. I never took a lesson in my life, except from watching people and horses and the country, and remembering the lines they made, you know. I always made pictures, ever since I can remember—but I never tried colors very much. I never had a chance, working around cow-camps and on ranches.”

“I’d like to have you look over some of my sketches and things—and I’ve paints and canvas, if you ever care to try that. Come up to the house some evening and I’ll show you my daubs. They’re none of them as good as ‘The Old Maid.’”

“I wish you’d tear that thing up!” said Chip, vehemently.

“Why? The likeness is perfect. One would think you were designer for a fashion paper, the way you got the tucks in my sleeve and the braid on my collar—and you might have had the kindness to tell me my hat was on crooked, I think!”

There was a rustle in the loose straw, a distant slam of the stable door, and Chip sat alone with his horse, whittling abstractedly at his pencil till his knife blade grated upon the metal which held the eraser.