Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 6

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The Hum of Preparation.

Miss Whitmore ran down to the blacksmith shop, waving an official-looking paper in her hand.

“I’ve got it, J. G.!”

“Got what—smallpox?” J. G. did not even look up from the iron he was welding.

“No, my license. I’m a really, truly doctor now, and you needn’t laugh, either. You said you’d give a dance if I passed, and I did. Happy Jack brought it just now.”

“Brought the dance?” The Old Man gave the bellows a pull which sent a shower of sparks toward the really, truly doctor.

“Brought the license,” she explained, patiently. “You can see for yourself. They were awfully nice to me—they seemed to think a girl doctor is some kind of joke out here. They didn’t make it any easier, though; they acted as if they didn’t expect me to pass—but I did!”

The Old Man rubbed one smutty hand down his trousers leg and extended it for the precious document. “Let me have a look at it,” he said, trying to hide his pride in her.

“Well, but I’ll hold it. Your hands are dirty.” Dr. Whitmore eyed the hands disapprovingly.

The Old Man read it slowly through, growing prouder every line.

“You’re all right, Dell—I’ll be doggoned if you ain’t. Don’t you worry about the dance—I’ll see’t yuh get it. You go tell the Countess to bake up a lot of cake and truck, and I’ll send some uh the boys around t’ tell the neighbors. Better have it Friday night, I guess—I’m goin t’ start the round-up out early next week. Doggone it! I’ve gone and burned that weldin’. Go on and stop your botherin’ me!”

In two minutes the Little Doctor was back, breathless.

“What about the music, J. G.? We want good music.”

“Well, I’ll tend t’ that part. Say! You can rig up that room off the dining room for your office—I s’pose you’ll have to have one. You make out a list of what dope you want—and be sure yuh get a-plenty. I look for an unhealthy summer among the cow-punchers. If I ain’t mistook in the symptoms, Dunk’s got palpitation uh the heart right now—an’ got it serious.”

The Old Man chuckled to himself and went back to his welding.

“Oh, Louise!” The Little Doctor hurried to where the Countess was scrubbing the kitchen steps with soft soap and sand and considerable energy. “J. G. says I may have a dance next Friday night, so we must hurry and fix the house—only I don’t see much fixing to be done; everything is so clean.”

“Oh, there ain’t a room in the house fit fer comp’ny t’ walk into,” expostulated the Countess while she scrubbed. “I do like t’ see a house clean when folks is expected that only come t’ be critical an’ make remarks behind yer back the minit they git away. If folks got anything t’ say I’d a good deal ruther they said it t’ my face an’ be done with it. ‘Yuh can know a man’s face but yuh can’t know his heart,’ as the sayin’ is, an’ it’s the same way with women—anyway, it’s the same way with Mis’ Beckman. You can know her face a mile off, but yuh never know who she’s goin’ t’ rake over the coals next. As the sayin’ is: ‘The tongue of a woman, at last it biteth like a serpent an’ it stingeth like an addle,’ an’ I guess it’s so. Anyway, Mis’ Beckman’s does. I do b’lieve on my soul—what’s the matter, Dell? What yuh laughin’ at?”

The Little Doctor was past speech for the moment, and the Countess stood up and looked curiously around her. It never occurred to her that she might be the cause of that convulsive outburst.

“Oh—he—never mind—he’s gone, now.”

“Who’s gone?” persisted the Countess.

“What kinds of cake do you think we ought to have?” asked the Little Doctor, diplomatically.

The Countess sank to her knees and dipped a handful of amber, jelly-like soap from a tin butter can.

“Well, I don’t know. I s’pose folks will look for something fancy, seein’ you’re givin’ the dance. Mis’ Beckman sets herself up as a shinin’ example on cake, and she’ll come just t’ be critical an’ find fault, if she can. If I can’t bake all around her the best day she ever seen, I’ll give up cookin’ anything but spuds. She had the soggiest kind uh jelly roll t’ the su’prise on Mary last winter. I know it was hern, fer I seen her bring it in, an’ I went straight an’ ondone it. I guess it was kinda mean uh me, but I don’t care—as the sayin’ is: ‘What’s sass fer the goose is good enough sass fer anybody’—an’ she done the same trick by me, at the su’prise at Adamses last fall. But she couldn’t find no kick about my cake, an’ hers—yuh c’d of knocked a cow down with it left-handed! If that’s the best she c’n do on cake I’d advise ‘er to keep the next batch t’ home where they’re used to it. They say’t ‘What’s one man’s meat ’s pizen t’ the other feller,’ and I guess it’s so enough. Maybe Mame an’ the rest uh them Beckman kids can eat sech truck without comin’ down in a bunch with gastakutus, but I’d hate t’ tackle it myself.”

The Little Doctor gurgled. This was a malady which had not been mentioned at the medical college.

“Where shall we set the tables, if we dance in the dining room?” she asked, having heard enough of the Beckmans for the present.

“Why, we won’t set any tables. Folks always have a lap supper at ranch dances. At the su’prise on Mary——

“What is a lap supper?”

“Well, my stars alive! Where under the shinin’ sun was you brought up if yuh never heard of a lap supper? A lap supper is where folks set around the walls—or any place they can find—and take the plates on their laps and yuh pass ’em stuff. The san’wiches——

“You do make such beautiful bread!” interrupted the Little Doctor, very sincerely.

“Well, I ain’t had the best uh luck, lately, but I guess it does taste good after that bread yuh had when I come. Soggy was no name for——

“Patsy made that bread,” interposed Miss Whitmore, hastily. “He had bad luck, and——

“I guess he did!” sniffed the Countess, contemptuously. “As I told Mary when I come——

“I wonder how many cakes we’ll need?” Miss Whitmore, you will observe, had learned to interrupt when she had anything to say. It was the only course to pursue with anyone from Denson coulee.

The Countess, having finished her scrubbing, rose jerkily and upset the soap can, which rolled over and over down the steps, leaving a yellow trail as it went.

“Well, there, if that wasn’t a bright trick uh mine? They say the more yuh hurry the less yuh’ll git along, an’ that’s a sample. We’d ought t’ have five kinds, an’ about four uh each kind. It wouldn’t do t’ run out, er Mis’ Beckman never would let anybody hear the last of it. Down t’ Mary’s——

“Twenty cakes! Good gracious! I’ll have to order my stock of medicine, for I’ll surely have a houseful of patients if the guests eat twenty cakes.”

“Well, as the sayin’ is: ‘Patience an’ perseverance can git away with most anything,’” observed the Countess, naïvely.

The Little Doctor retired behind her handkerchief.

“My stars alive, I do b’lieve my bread’s beginnin’ t’ scorch!” cried the Countess, and ran to see. The Little Doctor followed her inside and sat down.

“We must make a list of the things we’ll need, Louise. You——

“Dell! Oh-h. Dell!” The voice of the Old Man resounded from the parlor.

“I’m in the kitchen!” called she, remaining where she was. He tramped heavily through the house to her.

“I’ll send the rig in, t’morrow, if there’s anything yuh want,” he remarked. “And if you’ll make out a list uh dope, I’ll send the order in t’ the Falls. We’ve got plenty uh saws an’ cold chisels down in the blacksmith shop—you can pick out what yuh want.” He dodged and grinned. “Got any cake, Countess?”

“Well, there ain’t a thing cooked, hardly. I’m going t’ bake up something right after dinner. Here’s some sponge cake—but it ain’t fit t’ eat, hardly. I let Dell look in the oven, ’cause my han’s was all over flour, an’ she slammed the door an’ it fell. But yuh can’t expect one person t’ know everything—an’ too many han’s can’t make decent soup, as the sayin’ is, an’ it’s the same way with cake.”

The Old Man winked at the Little Doctor over a great wedge of feathery delight. “I don’t see nothing the matter with this—only it goes down too easy,” he assured the Countess between mouthfuls. “Fix up your list, Dell, and don’t be afraid t’ order everything yuh need. I’ll foot the——

The Old Man, thinking to go back to his work, stepped into the puddle of soft soap and sat emphatically down upon the top step, coasting rapidly to the bottom. A carpet slipper shot through the open door and landed in the dishpan; the other slipper disappeared mysteriously. The wedge of cake was immediately pounced upon by an investigative hen and carried in triumph to her brood.

“Good Lord!” J. G. struggled painfully to his feet. “Dell, who in thunder put that stuff there? You’re a little too doggoned anxious for somebody t’ practice on, seems t’ me.” A tiny trickle of blood showed in the thin spot on his head.

“Are you hurt, J. G.? We—I spilled the soap.” The Little Doctor gazed solicitous, from the doorway.

“Huh! I see yuh spilled the soap, all right enough. I’m willin’ to believe yuh did without no affidavit. Doggone it, a bachelor never has any such a man-trap around in a fellow’s road. I’ve lived in Montana fourteen years, an’ I never slipped up on my own doorstep till you got here. It takes a woman t’ leave things around—where’s my cake?”

“Old Specie took it down by the bunk house. Shall I go after it?”

“No, you needn’t. Doggone it, this wading through ponds uh soft soap has got t’ stop right here. I never had t’ do it when I was baching, I notice.” He essayed, with the aid of a large splinter, to scrape the offending soap from his trousers.

“Certainly, you didn’t. Bachelors never use soap,” retorted Della.

“Oh, they don’t, hey? That’s all you know about it. They don’t use this doggoned, slimy truck, let me tell yuh. What d’yuh want, Chip? Oh, you’ve got t’ grin, too! Dell, why don’t yuh do something fer my head? What’s your license good f er, I’d like t’ know? You didn’t see Dell’s license, did yuh, Chip? Go and get it an’ show it to him, Dell. It’s good fer everything but gitting married—there ain’t any cure for that complaint.”