THE LADY DOC
Author of "The Man from Bitter Roots," "The Fighting Shepherdess"
Frontispiece by Gayle Hoskins
A. L. Burt Company Publishers New York Published by arrangement with J. B. Lippincott Company
Copyright, 1912, by J. B. Lippincott Company
Published September, 1912
CHAPTER PAGE I. The "Canuck" That Saved Flour Gold 9 II. The Humor of the Fate Lachesis 17 III. A Mesalliance 31 IV. "The Ground Floor" 43 V. Another Case in Surgery 56 VI. "The Church Racket" 70 VII. The Sheep From the Goats 77 VIII. "The Chance of a Lifetime" 90 IX. The Ways of Polite Society 99 X. Essie Tisdale's Enforced Abnegation 110 XI. The Opening Wedge 120 XII. Their First Clash 127 XIII. Essie Tisdale's Colors 139 XIV. "The Ethics of the Profession" 147 XV. Symes's Authority 165 XVI. The Top Wave 172 XVII. The Possible Investor 179 XVIII. "Her Supreme Moment" 188 XIX. "Down And Out" 213 XX. An Unfortunate Affair 234 XXI. Turning a Corner 248 XXII. Crowheart's First Murder Mystery 259 XXIII. Symes Meets the Homeseekers 271 XXIV. The Dago Duke And Dan Treu Exchange Confidences 280 XXV. Crowheart Demands Justice 288 XXVI. Latin Methods 294 XXVII. Essie Tisdale's Moment 303 XXVIII. The Sweetest Thing in the World 312 XXIX. "The Bitter End" 325 XXX. "Thicker Than Water" 332
THE LADY DOC
THE "CANUCK" THAT SAVED FLOUR GOLD
"A fellow must have something against himself—he certainly must—to live down here year in and year out and never do a lick of work on a trail like this, that he's usin' constant. Gettin' off half a dozen times to lift the front end of your horse around a point, and then the back end—there's nothin' to it!"
Grumbling to himself and talking whimsically to the three horses stringing behind him, Dick Kincaid picked his way down the zigzag, sidling trail which led from the saddleback between two peaks of the Bitter Root Mountains into the valley which still lay far below him.
"Quit your crowdin', can't you, Baldy!" He laid a restraining hand upon the white nose of the horse following close at his heels. "Want to jam me off this ledge and send me rollin' two thousand feet down onto their roof? Good as I've been to you, too!"
He stopped and peered over the edge of the precipice along which the faint trail ran.
"Looks like smoke." He nodded in satisfaction. "Yes, 'tis smoke. Long past dinner time, but then these squaws go to cookin' whenever they happen to think about it. Lord, but I'm hungry! Wish some good-lookin' squaw would get took with me and follow me off, for I sure hates cookin' and housework."
Still talking to himself he resumed the descent, slipping and sliding and digging his heels hard to hold himself back.
"They say she sticks like beeswax, Dubois's squaw, never tries to run off but stays right to home raisin' up a batch of young 'uns. You take these Nez Perces and they're good Injuns as Injuns go. Smarter'n most, fair lookers, and tolerable clean. Will you look at that infernal pack slippin' again, and right here where there's no chance to fix it!
"Say, but I'd like to get my thumb in the eye of the fellow that made these pack-saddles. Too narrow by four inches for any horse not just off grass and rollin' fat. Won't fit any horse that packs in these hills. Doggone it, his back'll be as raw as a piece of beefsteak and if there's anything in this world that I hate it's to pack a sore-backed horse.
"You can bet I wouldn't a made this trip for money if I wasn't so plumb anxious to see how Dubois saves that flour gold. You take one of these here 'canucks' and he's blamed near as good if not a better placer miner than a Chink; more ingenious and just as savin'. Say, Baldy, will you keep off my heels? If I have to tell you again about walkin' up my pant leg I aim to break your head in. It's bad enough to come down a trail so steep it wears your back hair off t'hout havin' your clothes tore off you into the bargain."
And so, entertaining himself with his own conversation and scolding amiably at his saddle and pack horses, the youthful prospector slid for another hour down the mountain trail, though, as a rock would fall, the log house of the French Canadian was not more than a thousand yards below.
It was the middle of May and the deep snows of winter still lay in the passes and upon the summit, but in the valley the violets made purple blotches along the stream now foaming with the force of the water trickling from the melting drifts above. The thorn bushes were white with blossoms and the service-berry bushes were like fragrant banks of snow. Accustomed as he was to the beauty of valleys and the grandeur of peaks, something in the peaceful scene below him stirred the soul of young Dick Kincaid, and he stopped to look before he made the last drop into the valley.
"Ain't that a young paradise?" He breathed deep of the odorous air. "Ain't it, now?"
The faint blue smoke rising straight among the white blossoms reminded him again of his hunger, so, wiping the perspiration from his snow-burned face, he started on again, but when he came to the ditch which carried water from the stream through a hundred and fifty feet of sluice-boxes he stopped and examined with eager interest the methods used for saving fine gold, for, keen as was his hunger, the miner's instinct within him was keener.
"Will you look at the lumber he's whip-sawed!" Astonishment was in his voice! "Whip-sawin' lumber is the hardest work a man ever did. I'll bet the squaw was on the other end of that saw; I never heard of Dubois hiring help. Uh-huh, he uses the Carriboo riffles. Look at the work he's been to—punchin' all those holes in that sheet-iron. And here's two boxes of pole riffles, and a set of Hungarian riffles, not to mention three distributin' boxes and a table. Say, he isn't takin' any chances on losin' anything, is he? But it's all right—you gotta be careful with this light gold and heavy sand. I'm liable to learn something down here. Lord I'm hungry! Come on, Baldy!"
As he pulled his saddle horse in the direction of the smoke he noticed that there were no footprints in the trail and a stillness which impressed him as peculiar pervaded the place. There was something which he missed—what was it? To be sure—dogs! There were no barking dogs to greet him. It was curious, he thought, for these isolated families always had plenty of dogs and no "breed" or "Injun" outfit ever kept fewer than six. There were no shrill voices of children at play, no sound of an axe or a saw or a hammer.
"Blamed funny," he muttered, yet he knew where there was smoke there must be human beings.
He stopped short at some sound and listened attentively. A whimpering minor wail reached him faintly. It was unlike any sound he ever had heard, yet he knew it was a woman's voice. There was something in the cadence which sent a chill over him. He dropped the bridle reins and walked softly down the trail. Suddenly he halted and his lips parted in a whispered ejaculation of astonishment and horror. He was young then, Dick Kincaid, but the sight which met his eyes stayed with him distinct in every detail, through all his adventurous life.
Two children, boys of eleven and thirteen or thereabouts, were roasting a ground squirrel in the smouldering embers of what had been a cabin. A dead baby lay on a ragged soogan near a partially dug grave. Cross-legged on the ground beside it was a woman wailing unceasingly as she rocked her gaunt and nearly naked body to and fro. The eagerness of famished animals gleamed in the boys' eyes as they tore the half-cooked squirrel in two, yet each offered his share to his mother, who seemed not to see the proffered food.
"Just a little piece, mother," coaxed the elder, and he extended an emaciated arm from which hung the rags of a tattered shirt sleeve.
Both children were dressed in the remnants of copper-riveted overalls and their feet were bound in strips of canvas torn from a "tarp." Their straight black hair hung over faces sunken and sallow and from the waist up they were naked.
The boy held the food before her as long as he could endure it, then he tore it with his teeth in the ferocity of starvation.
"Can you beat it! Can you beat that!" The boys did not hear Kincaid's shocked exclamation.
It was not until he cleared his throat and called in a friendly, reassuring voice that they learned they were not alone. Then they jumped in fright and scurried into a near-by thicket like two scared rabbits, each holding tight his food. But Dick Kincaid's face was one to inspire confidence, and as he approached they came forth timidly. Their first fright gave place to delirious joy. The smaller threw his arms about Kincaid's long legs and hugged them in an ecstasy of delight while the elder clung to his hand as though afraid he might vanish. The woman merely glanced at him with vacant eyes and went on wailing.
While he took cold biscuits and bacon from his pack they told him what had happened—briefly, simply, without the smallest attempt to color the story for his sympathy.
"We couldn't have held out much longer, m'sieu, we're so weak." The elder boy was the spokesman.
"And the strawberries and sarvis-berries won't be ripe for a long time yet. It wasn't so bad till the cabin burned. We could keep warm. But we went off in the woods to see if we could kill something, and when we came back the cabin was burned and the baby dead. Mother went crazy more than a month ago, I guess it was. She wouldn't let us bury the baby till yesterday, and when we started to dig we found we could only dig a little at a time. We got tired so quick, and besides, we had to try and keep a fire, for we have no more matches."
"I could dig longer nor you," chimed in the younger boy boastfully. The other smiled wanly.
"I know it, Petie, but you had more to eat. You had two trout and a bird more nor me."
"You have a gun, then? and fish-hooks?"
"Not now. We lost our hooks and shot our shells away long ago. We kill things with rocks but it takes muscle, m'sieu, to throw hard enough. The dog was starvin' and we killed and ate him. We couldn't try to get out because mother wouldn't leave and she'd a been dead before we got back. We couldn't have wallered through the snow anyhow. We'd never have made it if we'd gone. There wasn't anything to do but to try and hang on till spring; then we hoped somebody would come down like you have."
The boy did not cry as he told the story nor did his lip so much as quiver at the recollection of their sufferings. He made no effort to describe them, but the hollows in his cheeks and the dreadful thinness of his arms and little body told it all more eloquently than words.
Kincaid noticed that he had not mentioned his father's name, so he asked finally:
"Where's Dubois? Where's your father? I came to see him."
The childish face hardened instantly.
"I don't know. He cleaned up the sluice-boxes late last fall after the first freeze. Mother helped him clean up. He got a lot of gold—the most yet—and he took it with him and all the horses. He said he was going out for grub but he never came back. Then the big snows came in the mountains and we knew he couldn't get in. We ate our bacon up first, then the flour give out, and the beans. The baby cried all the time 'cause 'twas hungry and Petie and me wore our shoes out huntin' through the hills. It was awful, m'sieu."
Kincaid swallowed a lump in his throat.
"Do you think he'll come back?" the younger boy asked eagerly.
"He might have stayed outside longer than he intended and found he couldn't get in for the snow, or he might have tried and froze in the pass. It's deep there yet," was Kincaid's evasive reply.
"He'll never come back," said the older boy slowly, "and—he wasn't froze in the pass."
It was still May when Dick Kincaid climbed out of the valley with the whimpering squaw clinging to the horn of his saddle while the swarthy little "breeds" trudged manfully in the trail close to his heels. The violets still made purple blotches along the bank of the noisy stream, the thorn trees and the service-berry bushes were still like fragrant banks of snow, the grass in the valley was as green and the picture as serenely beautiful as when first he had stopped to gaze upon it, but it no longer looked like paradise to Dick Kincaid.
They stopped to rest and let the horses get their breath when they reached the edge of the snows, and for a time they stood in silence looking their last upon the valley below them. The older boy drew his thin hand from Kincaid's big palm and touched the gun swinging in its holster on his hip.
"Do they cost much, a gun like this?"
"Not much, boy. Why?"
The younger answered for him, smiling at the shrewdness of his guess.
"I know. He's goin' to hunt for father when he's big."
There was no answering smile upon his brother's face, the gravity of manhood sat strangely upon it as he answered without boastfulness or bitterness but rather in the tone of one who speaks of a duty:
"I'm goin' to find him, m'sieu, and when I do I'll get him sure!"
Dick Kincaid regarded him for a moment from the shadow of his wide-brimmed hat.
"If you do, boy, and I find it out, I don't know as I'll give you away."
THE HUMOR OF THE FATE LACHESIS
What possible connection, however remote, this tragedy of the Bitter Root Mountains could have with the future of Doctor Emma Harpe, who, nearly twenty years later, sat at a pine table in a forlorn Nebraska town filling out a death certificate, or what part it could play in the life of Essie Tisdale, the belle of the still smaller frontier town of Crowheart, in a distant State, who at the moment was cleaning her white slippers with gasoline, only the Fate Lachesis spinning the thread of human life from Clotho's distaff could foresee.
When Dr. Harpe, whose fingers were cold with nervousness, made tremulous strokes which caused the words to look like a forgery, the ugly Fate Lachesis grinned, and grinned again when Essie Tisdale, many hundred miles away, held the slipper up before her and dimpled at its arched smallness; then Lachesis rearranged her threads.
Dr. Harpe arose when the certificate was blotted and, thrusting her hands deep in the pockets of her loose, square-cut coat, made a turn or two the length of the office, walking with the long strides of a man. Unexpectedly her pallid, clear-cut features crumpled, the strained muscles relaxed, and she dropped into a chair, her elbows on her knees, her feet wide apart, her face buried in her hands. She was unfeminine even in her tears.
Alice Freoff was dead! Alice Freoff was dead! Dr. Harpe was still numb with the chilling shock of it. She had not expected it. Such a result had not entered into her calculations—not until she had seen her best friend slipping into the other world had she considered it; then she had fought frantically to hold her back. Her efforts had been useless and with a frightful clutching at her heart she had watched the woman sink. Alexander Freoff was away from home. What would he say when he learned that his wife had died of an operation which he had forbidden Dr. Harpe to attempt? Fear checked the tears of grief with which her cheeks were wet. He was a man of violent temper and he had not liked the intimacy between herself and his wife. He did not like her—Dr. Emma Harpe—and now that Alice was dead and the fact that she, as a physician, had blundered, was too obvious to be denied, the situation held alarming possibilities. Consternation replaced her grief and the tears dried on her cheeks while again she paced the floor.
She was tired almost to exhaustion when she stopped suddenly and flung her shoulder in defiance and self-disgust. "Bah! I'm going to pieces like a schoolgirl. I must pull myself together. Twenty-four hours will tell the tale and I must keep my nerve. The doctors will—they must stand by me!"
Dr. Harpe was correct in her surmise that her suspense would be short. The interview between herself and the husband of her dead friend was one she was not likely to forget. Then the coroner, himself a physician, sent for her and she found him waiting at his desk. All the former friendliness was gone from his eyes when he swung in his office chair and looked at her.
"It will not be necessary, I believe, to explain why I have sent for you, Dr. Harpe." His cool, impersonal voice was more ominous, more final than anger, and she found it hard to preserve her elaborate assumption of ease.
A dull red mounted slowly to her cheeks and faded, leaving them ashen.
"Two doors are open to you." He weighed his words carefully. "If you remain here, suit will be brought against you by Alexander Freoff; and since, in this case, you have acted in violation of all recognized methods of medical science, I will not uphold you. As a matter of fact, immediate action will be taken by the State Medical Board, of which I am a member, to disqualify you. If you leave town within twenty-four hours you will be permitted to go unmolested. This concession I am willing to make; not for your sake but for the sake of the profession which you have disgraced. You have my ultimatum; you may take your choice."
She gripped the arms of her chair hard, silent from an inability to speak. At last she arose uncertainly and said in a voice which was barely audible:
"I will go."
And so it happened that while Dr. Emma Harpe was saying good-by to a few wondering acquaintances who accompanied her to the station, Essie Tisdale was making preparations for a dance which was an event in the embryotic metropolis of Crowheart, several hundred miles away.
Crowheart was booming and the news of its prosperity had spread. Settlers were hurrying toward it from the Middle West to take up homesteads and desert claims in the surrounding country. There was no specific reason why the town should boom, but it did boom in that mysterious fashion which far western towns have, up to a certain stage, after which the reaction sets in.
But there was no thought of reaction now. All was life, eagerness, good-nature, boundless belief in a great and coming prosperity. The Far West and the Middle West greeted each other with cordial, outstretched hands and this dance, though given by a single individual, was in the nature of a reception from the old settlers to the new as well as to celebrate the inception of an undertaking which was to insure Crowheart's prosperity for all time.
Crowheart was platted on a sagebrush "bench" on a spur of a branch railroad. The snow-covered peaks of a lofty range rose skyward in the west. To the north was the solitary butte from which the town received its name. To the south was a line of dimpled foothills, while eastward stretched a barren vista of cactus, sand, and sagebrush. A shallow stream flowed between alkali-coated banks on two sides of the town. In the spring when melting mountain snows filled it to overflowing, it ran swift and yellow; but in the late fall and winter it dropped to an inconsequential creek of clear water, hard with alkali. The inevitable "Main Street" was wide and its two business blocks consisted of one-story buildings of log and unpainted pine lumber. There was the inevitable General Merchandise Store with its huge sign on the high front, and the inevitable newspaper which always exists, like the faithful at prayer, where two or three are gathered together. There were saloons in plenty with irrelevant and picturesque names, a dance hall and a blacksmith shop. The most conspicuous and pretentious building in Crowheart was the Terriberry House, bilious in color and Spartan in its architecture, located in the centre of Main Street on a corner. The houses as yet were chiefly tar-paper shacks or floored and partially boarded tents, but the sound of the saw and the hammer was heard week-days and Sundays so no one could doubt but that it was only a question of time when Crowheart would be comfortably housed. There was nothing distinctive about Crowheart; it had its prototype in a thousand towns between Peace River and the Rio Grande; it was typical of the settlements which are springing up every year along the lines of those railroads that are stretching their tentacles over the Far West. Yet the hopes of Crowheart expressed themselves in boulevards outlined with new stakes and in a park which should, some day, be a breathing spot for a great city. It was Crowheart's last thought that it should remain stationary and obscure.
To Dr. Harpe swinging down from the high step of the single passenger coach in the mixed train of coal and cattle cars, it looked like a highly colored picture on a drop-curtain. The effect was impressionistic and bizarre as it lay in the gorgeous light of the setting sun, yet it pleased and rested the eye of the woman whose thoughts had not been conducive to an appreciation of scenery during the journey past.
As she drew a deep breath of the thin, stimulating air, the tension lessened on her strained nerves. She looked back at the interminable miles over which she had come, the miles which lay between her and the nightmare of disgrace and failure she had left, and then at the new, untried field before her. The light of new hope shone in her handsome hazel eyes, and there was fresh life in her step as she picked up her suitcase and started across the railroad track toward the town.
"Emma Harpe ... St. Louis," she wrote boldly upon the bethumbed register of the Terriberry House.
The loungers in the office studied her signature earnestly but it told them nothing of that which they most wished to know—her business. She might be selling books upon the instalment plan: she might be peddling skin-food warranted to restore their weather-beaten complexions to the texture of a baby's: she might be a new inmate for the dance hall. Anything was possible in Crowheart.
She was the object of interested glances as she ate her supper in the long dining-room for, although she was nearly thirty, there was still something of girlhood in her tired face. But she seemed engrossed in her own thoughts and returned to her room as soon as she had eaten. There she lay down upon the patchwork quilt which covered her bed, with her hands clasped above her head, staring at the ceiling and trying to forget the past in conjecturing the future.
The clatter of dishes ceased after a time and with the darkness came the sound of many voices in the hall below. There was laughter and much scurrying to and fro. Then she heard the explanatory tuning of a violin and finally a loud and masterful voice urging the selection of partners for a quadrille. Whoops of exuberance, shrill feminine laughter, and jocose personalities shouted across the room followed. Then, simultaneous with a burst of music, the scuffling of sliding soles and stamping heels told her that the dance was on.
The jubilant shriek of the violin, the lively twang of a guitar, the "boom! boom" of a drum marking time, the stentorian voice of the master of ceremonies, reached her plainly as she lay staring at the stars through the single window of her room. She liked the sounds; they were cheerful; they helped to shut out the dying face of Alice Freoff and to dull the pitiless voice of the coroner. She found herself keeping time with her foot to the music below.
An hour passed with no diminution of the hilarity downstairs and having no desire to sleep she still lay with her lamp unlighted. While she listened her ear caught a sound which had no part in the gayety below. It came faintly at first, then louder as a smothered sob became a sharp intake of breath.
Dr. Harpe sat up and listened intently. The sound was close, apparently at the head of the stairs. She was not mistaken, a woman was crying—so she opened the door.
A crouching figure on the top step shrank farther into the shadow.
"Is that you crying?"
Another sob was the answer.
"What ails you? Come in here."
While she struck a match to light the lamp the girl obeyed mechanically.
Dr. Harpe shoved a chair toward her with her foot.
"Now what's the trouble?" she demanded half humorously. "Are you a wall-flower or is your beau dancing with another girl?"
There was a rush of tears which the girl covered her face with her hands to hide.
"Huh—I hit it, did I?"
While she wept softly, Dr. Harpe inspected her with deliberation. She was tall and awkward, with long, flat feet, and a wide face with high cheek bones that was Scandinavian in its type. Her straight hair was the drab shade which flaxen hair becomes before it darkens, and her large mouth had a solemn, unsmiling droop. Her best feature was her brown, melancholy, imaginative eyes. She looked like the American-born daughter of Swedish or Norwegian emigrants and her large-knuckled hands, too, bespoke the peasant strain.
"Quit it, Niobe, and tell me your name."
The girl raised her tearful eyes.
The girl nodded.
"Well, Miss Kunkel"—she suppressed a smile—"tell me your troubles and perhaps you'll feel better."
More tears was the girl's reply.
"Look here"—there was impatience in her voice—"there's no man worth bawling over."
"But—but——" wept the girl, "he said he'd marry me!"
"Isn't he going to?"
"I don't know—he's going away in a few days and he won't talk any more about it. He's waltzed every waltz to-night with Essie Tisdale and has not danced once with me."
"So? And who's Essie Tisdale?"
"She's the waitress here."
"Downstairs? In this hotel?"
Augusta Kunkel nodded.
"I don't blame him," Dr. Harpe replied bluntly, "I saw her at supper. She's a peach!"
"She's the belle of Crowheart," admitted the girl reluctantly.
"And who is he? What's his name?"
The girl hesitated but as though yielding to a stronger will than her own, she whimpered:
"Symes—Andy P. Symes."
"Why don't you let Andy P. Symes go if he wants to? He isn't the only man in Crowheart, is he?"
"But he promised!" The girl wrung her hands convulsively. "He promised sure!"
A look of quick suspicion flashed across Dr. Harpe's face.
"He promised—oh, I see!"
She arose and closed the door.
The interview was interrupted by a bounding step upon the stairs and a little tap upon the door, and when it was opened the belle of Crowheart stood flushed and radiant on the threshold.
"We want you to come down," she said in her vivacious, friendly voice. "It must be lonely for you up here, and Mr. Symes—he's giving the dance, you know—he sent me up to ask you." She caught sight of the girl's tear-stained face and stepped quickly into the room. "Why, Gussie." She laid her arm about her shoulder. "What's the matter?"
Augusta Kunkel drew away with frank hostility in her brown eyes and answered:
"Nothing's the matter—I'm tired, that's all."
Though she flushed at the rebuff, she murmured gently: "I'm sorry, Gussie." Turning to Dr. Harpe, she urged persuasively:
"Please come down. We're having the best time ever!"
Dr. Harpe hesitated, for she thought of Alice Freoff, but the violin was shrieking enticingly and the voice of the master of ceremonies in alluring command floated up the stairway:
"Choose your partners for a waltz, gents!"
She jerked her head at Augusta Kunkel.
"Come along—don't sit up here and mope."
Andy P. Symes, waiting in the hall below, was a little puzzled by the intentness of the newcomer's gaze as she descended the stairs, but at the bottom he extended a huge hand:
"I'm glad you decided to join us, Miss——"
"Harpe—Doctor Emma Harpe."
"Oh," surprised amusement was in his tone, "you've come to settle among us, perhaps? Permit me to welcome you, Dr. Harpe. We are to be congratulated. Our nearest physician is sixty miles away, so you will have the field to yourself. You should prosper. Do you come from the East?"
She looked him in the eyes.
"Take your pardners for the waltz, gents!"
Andy P. Symes held out his arms in smiling invitation while the news flashed round the room that the newcomer with the cold, immobile face, the peculiar pallor of which contrasted strongly with their own sun-blistered skins, was a "lady-doctor" who had come to live in Crowheart.
The abandon, the freedom of it all, appealed strongly to Dr. Harpe. The atmosphere was congenial, and when the waltz was done she asked that she might be allowed to sit quietly for a time since she found herself more fatigued by her long journey than she had realized; but, in truth, she desired to familiarize herself with the character of the people among whom her future work lay.
A noisy, heterogeneous gathering it was, boisterous without vulgarity, free without familiarity. There were no covert glances of dislike or envy, no shrugs of disdain, no whispered innuendoes. The social lines which breed these things did not exist. Every man considered his neighbor and his neighbor's wife as good as himself and his genuine liking was in his frank glance, his hearty tones, his beaming, friendly smile. Men and women looked at each other clear-eyed and straight.
The piercing "yips" of cowboys meant nothing but an excess of spirits. The stamping of feet, the shouts and laughter were indicative only of effervescent youth seeking an outlet. Most were young, all were full of life and hope, and the world was far away, that world where clothes and money matter.
The scene was typical of a new town in the frontier West. The old settlers and the new mingled gaily. The old timers with their indifferent dress, their vernacular and free manners of the mountains and ranges brushed elbows with the more modern folk of the poor and the middle class of the Middle West. They were uninteresting and mediocre, these newcomers, yet the sort who thrive astonishingly upon new soil, who become prosperous and self-important in an atmosphere of equality. There were, too, educated failures from the East and—people who had blundered. But all alike to-night, irrespective of pasts or presents or futures, were bent upon enjoying themselves to their capacities.
Callous-handed ranchers and their faded wives promenaded arm in arm. Sheep-herders and cow-punchers passed in the figures of the dance eyeing each other in mutual antipathy. The neat "hand-me-downs" of grocery clerks contrasted with the copper-riveted overalls of shy and silent prospectors from the hills who stood against the walls envying their dapper ease. A remittance man from Devonshire whose ancestral halls had sheltered an hundred knights danced with Faro Nell, who gambled for a living, while the station agent's attenuated daughter palpitated in the arms of a husky stage-driver. Mr. Percy Parrott, the sprightly cashier of the new bank, swung the new milliner from South Dakota. Sylvanus Starr, the gifted editor of the Crowheart Courier, schottisched with Mrs. "Hank" Terriberry, while his no less gifted wife swayed in the arms of the local barber, and his two lovely daughters, "Pearline" and "Planchette," tripped it respectively with the "barkeep" of the White Elephant Saloon and a Minneapolis shoe-drummer. In the centre of the floor the new plasterer and his wife moved through the figures of the French minuet with the stiff-kneed grace of two self-conscious giraffes, while Mrs. Percy Parrott, a long-limbed lady with a big, white, Hereford-like face, capered with "Tinhorn Frank," the oily, dark, craftily observant proprietor of the "Walla Walla Restaurant and Saloon." Mr. Abe Tutts, of the Flour and Feed Store, skimmed the floor with the darting ease of a water-spider dragging beside him his far less active wife, a belligerent-appearing and somewhat hard-featured lady several years his senior.
But the long, crowded dining-room held two central figures, one of which was Andy P. Symes, and the other was Essie Tisdale, the little waitress of the Terriberry House and the belle of Crowheart.
Symes moved among his guests with the air of a man who found amusement in mingling with those he deemed his inferiors even while patently bidding for their admiration and regard. His height and breadth of shoulder made him conspicuous even in this gathering of tall men. His finely shaped head was well set but in contrast his utterly inconsequential nose came as something of a shock. His face was florid and genial and he had a word for the most obscure.
Yet the trained and sensitive observer would have felt capabilities for boorishness beneath his amiability, a lack of sincerity in his impartial and too fulsome compliments. His manner denoted a degree of social training and a knowledge of social forms acquired in another than his present environment, but he was too fond of the limelight—it cheapened him; too broad in his attentions to women—it coarsened him; his waistcoat was the dingy waistcoat of a man of careless habits; his linen was not too immaculate and the nails of his blunt fingers showed lack of attention. He was the sort of man who is nearly, but not quite, a gentleman.
The slim little belle of Crowheart seemed to be everywhere, her youthful spirits were unflagging, and her contagious, merry laugh rang out constantly from the centre of lively groups. Her features were delicate and there was pride, sensitiveness and good-breeding in her mouth with its short, red upper lip. Her face held more than prettiness, for there was thoughtfulness, as well, in her blue eyes and innate kindness in its entire expression. Her light brown hair was soft and plentiful and added to her stature by its high dressing. She was natural of manner and graceful with the ease of happy youth and her flushed cheeks were pinker than her simple gown. She looked farther removed from her occupation than any woman in the room and to Dr. Harpe, following her with her eyes, the connection seemed incongruous.
"Moses!" she whispered to herself, "but that little biscuit-shooter would be a winner if she had clothes."
Other eyes than Dr. Harpe's were following Essie Tisdale and with an intentness which finally attracted her attention. She stopped as she was passing a swarthy, silent man in the corner, who had not moved from his chair since the beginning of the dance, and, arching her eyebrows, she asked mischievously:
"Don't you mean to ask me for a single dance, Mr. Dubois—not one?"
To her surprise and the amusement of all who heard, he arose at once, bending his squat figure in an awkward bow, and replied:
"Certainly, m'amselle, if you will give me that pleasure."
And all the roomful stared in mingled astonishment and glee when old Edouard Dubois, the taciturn and little-liked sheepman from the "Limestone Rim," led Essie Tisdale out upon the floor to complete a set.
The evening was well along when Dr. Harpe laid her hand upon the unpainted railing which served as a bannister and turned to look once more at the roomful of hot, ecstatically happy dancers before she went upstairs.
"Harpe," she murmured, and her eyes narrowed, "Harpe, we're going to make good here. We're going to win out. We're going to make money hand over fist."
And even with her own boastful words there came a pang which had its source in a knowledge her dance with Symes had brought her. Something was dead within her! That something was the spirit of youth, and with it had gone the best of Emma Harpe.
Crowheart was surprised but not shocked when the engagement of Andy P. Symes to the blacksmith's sister was announced. It saw no mesalliance in the union. It was merely unaware that he had been attentive to Augusta Kunkel. Now they were to be married in the long dining-room of the Terriberry House and take the night train for Chicago on their honeymoon.
Dr. Harpe standing at the window of her new office on the second floor of the hotel smiled to herself as she saw the chairs going inside which served equally well for funerals or for social functions. The match, she felt, was really of her making.
"You've got to do it," she had told him. "You've simply got to do it."
He had come to see her at Augusta's insistence.
"But!" he had groaned; "a Kunkel! Perhaps you don't know—but I'm one of the Symes of Maine. Great-grandfather a personal friend of Alexander Hamilton's, and all that. My family don't expect much of me since I'm the black sheep, but," a dull red had surged over his face, "they expect something better of me than a Kunkel!"
She had shrugged her shoulders.
"Suit yourself, I'm only telling you how it looks to me. You'll queer yourself forever if you don't marry her, for this country is still western enough to respect women. You are just starting in to promote this irrigation project and if you succeed you can't tell what the future will hold for you politically; this is just the sort of thing to bob up and down you. You know I'm right."
"But she looks so obviously what she is," he had groaned miserably. "Some day I may want to go home—and think of introducing Augusta Kunkel!"
"You are wrong there," she had replied with conviction, "Augusta has possibilities. She has good eyes, her voice is low, her English is far better than you might expect, and, best of all, she's tall and slender. If she was short and fat I'd call her rather hopeless, but you hang good clothes on these slim ones and it works wonders. Besides, she's imitative as a parrot."
He had thrown his arms aloft in despair.
"But think of it!—the rest of my life—with a parrot."
"It's the lesser of two evils," she had urged, and in the end he had said dully:
"I guess you're right, Dr. Harpe. Your advice no doubt is good, though, like your medicine, a bitter dose just now. You've done me a favor, I suppose, and I'll not forget it."
"When the door of her office had closed upon his broad back she had said to herself:
"I'll see that you don't forget it." And she repeated it again with renewed satisfaction. She liked the feeling that she already had become a factor in the affairs of Crowheart and she intended to remain one.
The practice of medicine with Dr. Harpe was frankly for personal gain. No ideals had influenced her in the choice of her profession and her practice of it had developed no ambition save the single one of building up a bank account. The ethical distinction between the trades and professions, which is based upon the fact that the professional man or woman is supposed to take up his or her life work primarily because he loves both his profession and the people whom it may benefit, was a distinction which she never had grasped. She practised medicine in the same commercial spirit that a cheap drummer builds up a trade. She had no sentiment regarding it, none of the ambitious dreams of high professional standing attained by meritorious work which inspire those who achieve. It was a business pure and simple; each patient was a customer.
Another consideration in her choice of this profession was the freedom it gave her. Because of it she was exempt from many of the restrictions and conventionalities which hampered her sex, and above all else she disliked restraint.
She was the single result of a "typhoid romance." Her mother, a trained nurse, had attended a St. Louis politician during a long illness. Upon his recovery he married his nurse and as promptly deserted her, providing a modest support for the child. She had grown to womanhood in a cheap boarding school, attaining thereby a superficial education but sufficient to enable her to pass the preliminary examinations necessary to begin her studies in the medical college which was an outcast among its kind and known among the profession as a "diploma mill." She selected it because the course was easy and the tuition light, though its equipment was a farce and its laboratory too meagre to deserve the name; one of the commercial medical colleges turning out each year by the hundreds, for a few dollars, illiterate graduates, totally unfitted by temperament and education for a profession that calls for the highest and best, sending them out in hordes like licensed murderers to prescribe and operate among the trusting and the ignorant.
Dr. Harpe had framed her sheepskin and been duly photographed in her cap and gown; then, after a short hospital experience, she had gone to the little Nebraska town where perhaps the most forceful comment upon the success of her career there was that the small steamer trunk, which she was now opening, contained very comfortably both her summer and winter wardrobe.
Her pose was an air of camaraderie, of blunt good-nature. Her conspicuous walk was a swaggering stride, while in dress she affected the masculine severity of some professional women. Her hair was the dull red that is nearly brown and she wore it coiled in trying simplicity at the back of her head. Her handsome eyes were the hazel that is alternately brown and green and gray, sometimes an odd mixture of all three. Ordinarily there was a suspicion of hardness in her face but there was also upon occasions a kind of winsomeness, an unexpected peeping out of a personality which was like the wraith of the child which she once had been—a suggestion of girlish charm and spontaneity utterly unlike her usual self.
This attractive phase of her personality was uppermost as she sought in the trunk for something to wear, and a smile curved the corners of her straight lips and brought out a faint cleft in her square chin, as she inspected its contents.
She found what she wanted in a plain cloth skirt and a white tailored waist with stiffly starched cuffs, and a man's sleeve links. When she was dressed a man's linen waistcoat with a black silk watch-fob hanging from the pocket added further to the unfeminine tout ensemble. She liked the effect, and, as she thrust a scarf-pin in the long black "four-in-hand" before her mirror, she viewed the result with satisfaction.
Dr. Harpe regarded the wedding as exceedingly opportune for herself, bringing in as it did the settlers from the isolated ranches and outlying districts of the big county, and she meant it to serve as her real debut in the community.
It was in fact a notable event for the reason that it was the first wedding in Crowheart, and, since the invitation was general, the guests were coming from far and near to show their approval and incidentally perhaps to partake of the champagne which it was rumored was to flow like water. Champagne was the standard by which Crowheart gauged the success of an entertainment and certainly Andy P. Symes was not the man to serve sarsaparilla at his own wedding.
When Dr. Harpe came downstairs she found the long dining-room cleared of its tables and already well filled with guests. "Curly" the camp cook was caressing his violin, and "Snake River Jim," tolerably drunk, was in his place beside him, while Ole Peterson, redolent of the livery-stable in which he worked, constantly felt his muscle to show that he was prepared to do his share with the big bass drum.
As Andy P. Symes moved through the rapidly growing crowd no one but Dr. Harpe guessed that he winced inwardly at the resounding slaps upon his back and the congratulations or that his heart all but failed him when he saw his bride-to-be in her bobinet veil, a flush upon her broad face and following his every movement with adoring eyes. To all but Dr. Harpe he looked the fortunate and beaming bridegroom and only she saw the tiny lines which sleeplessness had left about his eyes or detected the hollowness of his frequent laughter.
It was more or less of a relief to all when the ceremony was over and the nervous and perspiring Justice of the Peace, miserable in a collar, had wished them every known joy. It was a relief to Symes who kissed his bride perfunctorily and returned her to weeping "Grandmother" Kunkel's arms—a relief to those impatient to dance—a relief to the thirsty whose surreptitious glances wandered in spite of their best efforts toward the pile of champagne cases in the corner.
But the reward of patience came to all, and as the violin and guitar tuned up the popping of corks was assurance enough that the unsurpassed thirst created by alkali dust would shortly be assuaged. "Hank" Terriberry, in whose competent charge Symes had placed this portion of the wedding entertainment, realizing that, at best, pouring from a bottle and drinking from a glass is a slow and tedious process, to facilitate matters had provided two large, bright, new dish-pans which he filled with wine, also a plentiful supply of bright, new, tin dippers.
They drank Symes's health in long, deep draughts and it was with some forebodings that Symes noted the frequency with which the same guests appeared in line. Symes had no great desire that his wedding should go down in the annals of Crowheart as the most complete drunk in its history nor was his bank account inexhaustible. Also he observed with, annoyance that his newly-created brother-in-law, Adolph Kunkel, had retired to a quiet corner where he might drink from the bottle unmolested. Adolph Kunkel, sober, was bad enough, but Adolph Kunkel, drunk, was worse.
That his fears were not unfounded was shortly made evident by the appearance of Sylvanus Starr with a bland, bucolic smile upon his wafer-like countenance and his scant foretop tied in a baby-blue ribbon which had embellished the dainty ham sandwiches provided by Mrs. Terriberry. By the time the dance was well under way eyes had brightened perceptibly and sunburned faces had taken on a deeper hue while Snake River Jim sat with a pickle behind his ear and his eyes rolled to the ceiling as though entranced by his own heavenly strains.
As the room grew warmer, the conversation waxed louder, the dance faster and the whoops of exuberance more frequent, until Bedlam reigned. Percy Parrot chancing to observe "Tinhorn Frank" sliding toward the door with two unopened bottles of champagne protruding from his coat pockets made a low tackle and clasped him about the ankles. As "Tinhorn" lay prone he was shamed in vivid English by the graceful barber while the new plasterer excused himself from his partner long enough to kick the prostrate ingrate in the ribs. Mrs. "Hank" Terriberry, whose hair looked like a pair of angora "chaps" in a high wind, returning from her third trip to the dish-pan, burst into tears at the man's depravity and inadvertently wiped her streaming eyes on the end of her long lace jabot instead of her handkerchief.
Sylvanus Starr, declaring that his chivalrous nature was unable to endure the sight of a woman's tears, sought to divert her by slipping his arm about her waist and whirling her dizzily the length of the room and back again where they were met by Mr. Terriberry who, while playfully endeavoring to snatch his wife from the editor's encircling arms, accidentally stepped on the train of her black satin skirt. There was a popping, ripping sound! In the brief but awful second while this handsome creation slid to the floor, Mrs. Terriberry stood panic-stricken in a short, red-flannel petticoat. She screamed piercingly and with the sound of her own voice recovered her presence of mind. Swooping, she picked up the garment and bounded out of the room, thereby revealing upon her plump calves the encircling stripes of a pair of white and black stockings.
The milliner, who was clairvoyant, covered her face with her gauze fan, while Pearline and Planchette Starr asked to be taken into the air, and left the room each leaning heavily upon an arm of the "Sheep King of Poison Crick."
The remittance man from Devonshire removed the crash towel from its roller in the wash-room off the hotel office, and spread it carefully on the floor in a corner to protect his clothing while he refreshed himself with a short nap.
A Roumanian prince who had that day returned from a big game hunt in the mountains and who had been cordially urged by Symes to honor his wedding, adjusted his monocle and stood on a chair under a kerosene wall-lamp that he might the better inspect the fig "filling" of Mrs. Terriberry's layer cake which he seemed to regard with some suspicion.
Mrs. Abe Tutts, who was reputed to have histrionic ability, of her own accord recited in a voice which made the welkin ring: "Shoot if you will this old gray head, But spare my country's flag." Whereupon "Baby" Briggs, six foot two in his cowboy boots, produced a six-shooter and humorously pretended to be about to take her at her word. Mrs. Tutts was revived from a fainting condition by a drink while "Baby" Briggs was relieved of his weapon.
"Take your pardners for a quadrille!" yelled Curly, the camp cook, rising from his chair.
The guests scrambled for places in the quickly formed sets.
"Swing your pardner!" he whooped.
Andy P. Symes slipped his arm about Essie Tisdale's waist and the dance moved fast and furious.
"Join your hands and circle to the left!"
Around they went in a giddy whirl and starched petticoats stood out like hoopskirts.
"First lady swing with the right hand round with the right hand gent!"
The train of Mrs. Abe Tutts's diaphanous "tea-gown" laid out on the breeze, thereby revealing the fact that she was wearing Congress gaiters, comfortable but not "dressy."
"Pardner with your left with your left hand round!"
Andy P. Symes held Essie Tisdale's hand in a lingering clasp and whispered in foolish flattery:
"Terpsichore herself outdone!"
"Swing in the centre and seven hands around. Birdie hop out and crow hop in! Take holt of paddies and run around agin!"
Abe Tutts executed a double shuffle on the corner.
"Allemande Joe! Eight hand to pardner and around you go! Balance to corners, don't be slack! Turn right around and take a back track! When you git home, don't be afraid. Swing her agin and all promenade!"
It was a glorious dance and it moved unflaggingly to the end; but when it was done and the dancers laughing and exhausted sought their seats, it was discovered that Snake River Jim had fallen to weeping because he said it was his unhappy lot to work while others danced.
Therefore Sylvanus Starr suggested that out of a delicate regard for an artist's feelings, and no one could deny but Snake River Jim was that, the dance be temporarily suspended while the bridegroom and others expressed their sentiments and delight in the occasion by a few remarks, Sylvanus Starr himself setting the example by bursting into an eulogy which had the impassioned fervor of inspiration.
The vocabulary of laudatory adjectives gleaned in many years' experience in the obituary department of an eastern newspaper were ejected like volcanic matter, red hot and unrestrained, running over and around the name of Symes to harden into sentences of which "a magnificent specimen of manhood, a physical and intellectual giant, gallantly snatching from our midst the fairest flower that ever bloomed upon a desert waste," only moderately illustrates the editor's gift of language.
When Andy P. Symes stood on a chair and faced the expectant throng the few trite remarks which he had in mind all but fled when his eyes fell for the first time upon his bride buttoned into her "going away gown." As he mounted the chair his face wore the set smile of the man who means to die a nervy death on the gallows. His voice sounded strained and unnatural to himself as he began:
"Ladies and gentlemen."
"Wee-hee!" squealed a youth in a leather collar and a rattleskin necktie.
"This is the happiest moment of my life!"
"Wee-ough! It ought to be!" yelled the "Sheep King of Poison Crick" as he pressed the arms of the Misses Starr gently and impartially against his sides.
"Also the proudest moment." He looked at his bride, noting that she wore a broach which might have belonged on a set of harness.
"Yip! Yip! Yee-ough!"
"I am deeply conscious of my own unworthiness and not insensible to the fact that the gods have singled me out for special favor——"
Any reference to the gods was considered a mark of learning and eloquence, so Symes's humble admission was loudly applauded.
"Love, the Wise Ones say, 'is blind.' If this is true it is my earnest wish that I may remain so, for I desire to continue to regard my wife as the most beautiful, attractive, charming of her sex." He bowed elaborately toward the grotesque figure whose adoring eyes were fixed upon his face.
The guests howled in ecstasy at this flight of sentiment and only Dr. Harpe caught the sneering note beneath the commonplaces he uttered with such convincing fervor.
"What a cad," she thought, yet she looked in something like admiration at his towering figure. "If only he had brains in proportion to his body he might accomplish great things here," she murmured. Shrugging her shoulder, she added: "I envy him his chance."
It did not occur to any person present that this wedding was an important, far-reaching event to any save the principals; but to Essie Tisdale and to Dr. Harpe it was a turning point in their careers. It meant waning triumphs to the merry little belle of Crowheart, while it spread a fallow field before Dr. Harpe the planting of which in deeds of good or evil was as surely in her hands as is the seed the farmer sows for his ultimate harvest. Which it was to be, can be surmised from the fact that already she was considering how soon, and in what way, she might utilize her knowledge after Symes's return from his wedding journey.
"THE GROUND FLOOR"
While Andy P. Symes on his honeymoon was combining business with pleasure in that vague region known as "Back East," and his bride was learning not to fold the hotel napkin or call the waiter "sir," the population of Crowheart was increasing so rapidly that the town had growing pains. Where, last month, the cactus bloomed, tar-paper shacks surrounded by chicken-wire, kid-proof fences was home the next to families of tow-heads.
Crowheart, the citizens of the newly incorporated town told each other, was booming right.
They came in prairie schooners, travel-stained and weary, their horses thin and jaded from the long, heavy pull across the sandy trail of the sagebrush desert. With funds barely sufficient for horse feed and a few weeks' provisions, they came without definite knowledge of conditions or plans. A rumor had reached them back there in Minnesota or Iowa, Nebraska or Missouri, of the opportunities in this new country and, anyway, they wanted to move—where was not a matter of great moment. Others came by rail, all bearing the earmarks of straitened circumstances, and few of them with any but the most vague ideas as to what they had come for beyond the universal expectation of getting rich, somehow, somewhere, some time. They were poor alike, and the first efforts of the head of each household were spent in the construction of a place of shelter for himself and family. The makeshifts of poverty were seldom if ever the subject of ridicule or comment, for most had a sympathetic understanding of the emergencies which made them necessary. Kindness, helpfulness, good-fellowship were in the air.
When Ephriam Baskitt loomed up on the horizon with two freight wagons filled with the dust-covered canned goods of a defunct grocery store and twenty-four hours later was a fixture, nobody saw anything humorous in the headline in the Courier which heralded him as "The Merchant Prince of Crowheart." Two new saloons opened while "Curly" resigned as chef for the Lazy S Outfit to become the orchestra in a new dance hall which arrived about midnight in a prairie schooner.
As Dr. Harpe made friends with the newcomers and continued to ingratiate herself with the old, she sometimes felt that the death of Alice Freoff was not after all the tragedy it had at first seemed. She missed the woman—not the woman so much either, as the association—and there was no one in Crowheart to fill her place, so she was frequently lonely, often bored, with the intensely practical, unsophisticated women whom she attracted strongly. Sometimes she thought of Augusta Kunkel and a derisive smile always curved her lips as she attempted to picture her in a worldly setting and the smile grew when she tried to imagine Symes's sensations while presenting her to his friends. She indulged, too, in speculation as to the outcome of the marriage, but could not venture a prophecy since it was one of those affairs to which no ending would be improbable.
But while Dr. Harpe speculated, observation and the suggestions of Andy P. Symes were working wonders in the appearance of the gawky, long-limbed woman. A session with a hair-dresser had not been wasted, for she had learned to dress her hair in the prevailing mode. Symes had lost no time in rushing her to an establishment where the brown cashmere basque and many gored skirt had been exchanged for a gown of fashionable cut. A pair of French stays developed indications of a figure and the concho-like broach had been discarded, while Augusta herself had learned that black silk mitts had not been greatly in vogue for nearly a quarter of a century. The conspicuous marvel which had displayed the skill of the clairvoyant milliner from South Dakota had been replaced by a hat of good lines and simplicity, and, for the first time in her life, Augusta Kunkel rustled when she walked.
When the transformation was complete, Andy P. Symes sighed in a little more than relief, and mentally observed that in the course of human events he might be able to introduce her to his family.
Nor was Symes himself idle in a land where Capital hung like an over-ripe peach waiting to be plucked by the proper hand. Mr. Symes was convinced that his was the hand, so he lost no opportunity of widening his circle of desirable acquaintances.
In his wide-brimmed Stetson, with his broad shoulders towering above the average man, his genial smile and jovial manners, he was the typical free, big-hearted westerner of the eastern imagination. And he liked the role; also he played it well. Symes was essentially a poseur. He loved the limelight like a showman. To be foremost, to lead, was essential to his happiness. He demanded satellites and more satellites. His love of prominence amounted to a passion. Sycophancy was as acceptable as real regard, since each catered to his vanity.
It required money, much money, to live up to the popular conception of the type he chose to represent. To successfully carry out his role of the breezy, liberal, unconventional westerner required money enough to include the cabman on the pavement in his invitations to drink, money enough to donate bank notes to bellboys, to wave change to waiters, to occupy boxes where he could lay his conspicuous Stetson upon the rail. Having indulged himself in these delightful extravagances, Symes was suddenly recalled one morning to a realization of the fact that earthly paradises end by a curt notification from his bank that he had overdrawn his account.
This was awkward. It was particularly awkward to Symes because he had no assets. With the singular improvidence which distinguished him he had not provided for this exigency before leaving Crowheart. True, he had made a vague calculation which would seem to indicate that he had sufficient funds to last the trip, but it was more extended than he had anticipated and he had forgotten to deduct the amount of the checks which he had given in payment for the champagne provided in such unstinted quantities by "Hank" Terriberry.
Not only was Symes without reserve funds but he had a large hotel bill owing. Yes, it was high time he was "doing something." "Doing something" to Mr. Symes, meant devising some means of securing an income without physical and no great mental effort, something which should be compatible with the notable House of Symes.
Had he borne any other than that sacred name he would have turned to insurance or a mail order business with the same unerring instinct with which the sunflower turns to the sun, but this avenue was closed to him by the necessity of preserving the dignity of his name. It was necessary for him as a Symes to promote some enterprise which would give him the power and prestige in the community which belonged to him.
Mr. Symes had been East before with this end in view. As he himself observed, "he never went East except to eat oysters and raise money." He had been much more successful as an oyster eater than a promoter. There was that vein of coking coal over beyond the "Limestone Rim"; he nearly landed that, but the investors discovered too soon that it was 150 miles from a railroad. There was an embryo coal mine back in the hills—a fine proposition but open to the same objection. Also an asbestos deposit, valueless for the same reason. He had tried copper prospects with startling assays and had found himself shunned nor had mountains of marble aroused the enthusiasm of Capital. They had listened with marked coldness to his story of a wonderful oil seepage and had turned a deaf ear on natural gas. He had baited a hook with a stratum of gypsum which would furnish the world with cement. Capital had barely sniffed at the bait. Nor had banks of shale adapted to the making of a perfect brick appealed to its jaded palate. But Symes was never at a loss for something to promote, for there was always a nebula of schemes vaguely present in his prolific brain. Irrigation was the opportunity of the moment and he meant to grab it with a strangle hold. He had been dilatory but now he intended to get down to business.
If only he could hang on until he accomplished his end! Symes stopped manicuring his nails with a pin, which he kept in the lapel of his coat for that commendable purpose, and counted his money. He was thankful that since he had overdrawn his account he had done it so liberally as, by strict economy, it would enable him to remain a short while and depart with his credit still unimpaired.
Augusta Symes regarded the pile of crisp banknotes with pleased eyes. She could not recollect ever having seen so much money together before; the proceeds of horse-shoeing and wagon repairs came mostly in silver. Placing the banknotes in his wallet with considerably more than his usual care, Mr. Symes paced the floor of their corner suite with the slow, measured strides of meditation, his noble head sunk upon his breast and his broad brow corrugated in thought. Mrs. Symes's eyes followed him in silent and respectful admiration.
When he stopped, finally, in the middle of the room, the fire of enthusiasm was newly kindled in his eyes and an unconscious squaring of his shoulders announced that he was now prepared to "do something."
Symes really had initial energy and the trait was most apparent when driven by necessity. The first step toward getting his enterprise under way was the bringing together of the people he hoped to interest. He reached for his hat and straightened his scarf before the mirror.
Augusta watched the preparations in some dismay; she dreaded being alone in the great hotel.
"Will you be gone long, Mr. Symes?"
"Good God! Don't call me Mister Symes," he burst out in unexpected exasperation.
Augusta's eyes filled with tears.
"But—but everybody calls you 'Andy' and—and just 'Symes' sounds so familiar. Why can't I call you 'Phidias?'"
"Phidias! Do, by all means, call me Phidias. I dote on Phidias! I love the combination—Phidias Symes. Father was drunk when he named me."
He slammed the door behind him, forgetting to explain that he was not returning for luncheon or dinner so, that evening, while Augusta wandered aimlessly through the rooms, both hungry and anxious yet afraid to venture into the big dining-room, Andy P. Symes was saying with impressive emphasis as he fumbled in a box of cabanas:
"Big opportunities, I am convinced, seldom come more than once to a man."
His guests listened to the trite axiom with the respect due one who has met and grappled successfully with his one great chance. His well-fed appearance, his genial, contented smile, gave an impression of prosperity even when his linen was frayed and his elbows glossy; now in the latest achievement of a good tailor it was difficult to conceive him as being anything less than a millionaire.
"And this," Symes looked squarely in each eager eye in turn, "this, gentlemen, is such an opportunity."
The timid voice of a man who had made a hundred thousand from a patent fly-trap broke the awed silence.
"It sounds good."
"Sounds good! It is good." Mr. Symes clenched his huge fist and emphasized the declaration with a blow upon the table which made the dishes rattle.
"Think of it," he went on, "two hundred thousand acres that can be made to bloom like the rose. An earthly paradise of our own making." The flowery figures were borrowed from a railroad folder but Mr. Symes had grasped them with the avidity of true genius and made them his own. "And how?"
The waiter starting away with a tray load of dishes stopped to learn.
"By the mere introduction of water upon the most fertile soil in the world! Is there anything like it—a miracle worker!" Mr. Symes shut one eye and peered into an empty bottle. "And how can this be done?" He answered himself. "By the expenditure of a ridiculously small amount of money; the absurd sum of $250,000. And look at the returns!"
By the intentness of their gaze it was evident that all were willing enough to look. Symes lowered his voice to a dramatic whisper and swept the air with his outspread fingers.
"A clean million!"
The man who made only six thousand a year selling plumbers' supplies, gulped.
"But who's goin' to buy it?" It was the timid voice of the Fly-trap King.
"Buy it!" The questioner withered before Symes's scorn. "Buy it? Why, the world is land-hungry—crying for land!—and water. But I've considered all that; I've arranged for it," Mr. Symes went on with a touch of impatience. "We'll colonize it. We'll import Russian Jews to raise sugar-beets for the sugar-beet factory which we will establish. They will buy it for $50 an acre cash or $60 an acre with 10 per cent. interest upon the deferred payments. It's very simple."
"But—but—I thought Russian Jews went in mostly for collar buttons, shoe-strings and lace—mercantile enterprises—commercial natures, you know? Besides, where they going to get their money for the first payment?"
Symes curbed his irritation at the piffling objections of the Fly-trap King and responded tolerantly.
"We'll organize a bank and loan 'em the money. If they fail to come through at the specified time the land will return to the company and we'll have their improvements, making them a small allowance for same, at our discretion. We'll lay out a town and build an Opera House, get electric light and street railway franchises—a million? Why, there's millions in sight when you consider the possibilities."
The painting of the roseate picture had flushed Mr. Symes's cheeks; already "Symesville" or "Symeston" rose clear before his mental vision, while his listeners endeavored to calculate their share of the millions when proportioned in accordance with the investment of all their available cash. Certainly the returns were temptingly large and the least optimistic among them believed he could convince his wife of the perfect safety of the investment, the success of which was practically assured by the fact that Andy P. Symes for an infinitesimal salary, as compared to his ability, was willing to assume the management.
A slender, blond gentleman, who derived a satisfactory income from the importation of Scotch woollens and Irish linens, confessed that for years he had cherished a secret desire to do something for mankind, providing he was assured of a reasonable return upon his investment, and, with the King of Brobdingnag, believed that the man who made, say, two sugar-beets grow where only one grew before, rendered an incalculable service to the human race.
The other guests expressed their admiration of the woollen importer's high sentiments, and while they admitted that no such noble impulse governed them they subscribed generously for stock in the company which was formed then and there to apply for the segregation of 200,000 acres of irrigable land.
Mr. Symes talked familiarly of State Land Boards, water rights, flood water, ditches, laterals, subsoil and seepage, the rotation of crops and general productiveness until even the cynical politician who controlled the negro vote in his ward began to realize that it was a liberal education merely to know Andy P. Symes, not to mention the distinction of being associated with him in business.
Inspired by the prospect of once again handling real money, Andy P. Symes talked with an earnestness and fluency which cast a hypnotic spell upon his listeners. Swiftly, graphically, he outlined the future of the country which would be opened up to settlement by this great irrigation project. His florid face turned a deeper red, his eyes sparkled as the winged imagination of the natural promoter began to play. It was of the dirigible kind, Symes's imagination, he could steer it in any direction. It could rise to any heights. It now shot upward and he saw himself at the head of a project which would make his name a household word throughout the State. He saw crowds of Russian Jews crying hosannas as he walked along the street of Symesville; he heard the clang of trolleys; he saw the smoke of factories; he heard the name of Symes upon the lips of little children; he saw, but the dazzling vision made him blink and he leaned back in his chair with the beneficent smile of a man who had just endowed a hospital for crippled children, while he permitted himself to accept a subscription for $15,000 from a guest who had cleared that modest sum in the manufacture of white lead and paint. A slow and laborious process compared to the sale of irrigated land to Russian Jews.
Symes's guests wrung his hand at parting, in silent gratitude at being permitted to get in on the ground floor of what was undoubtedly the greatest money making enterprise still open to investors. And they left him with the assurance of their hearty co-operation and willingness to endeavor to raise the balance among their friends.
While the subscribers for the stock of the Symes Irrigation Project were rousing their wives from their first sleep to gloat with them over the unprecedented good fortune which had thrown the big-hearted and shrewd but honest westerner in their paths, that person was returning from a night lunch cart with two hot frankfurter sandwiches for Augusta concealed in his pocket. The dinner, although so fruitful of results, had seriously reduced the roll of crisp bank notes.
Strict economy was imperative during the days which followed and it became no uncommon occurrence for Andy P. Symes to whisk Augusta into a caravansera where the gentlemen patrons ate large, filling plates of griddle cakes with their hats on. But such are the sordid straits to which the proudest spirits are sometimes reduced and depressing as it was to Andy P. Symes, who winced each time that he seated himself at the varnished pine table upon which the pewter castor was chained to the wall and selected a paper napkin from a glass tumbler, he consoled himself with the thought that it would not be for long. Also it was some little compensation to see traces of animation in Augusta's stolid face, for the atmosphere was vastly more congenial to his wife than that of the fashionable hotel restaurant where her appetite fled before the waiter's observant eye and the bewildering nightmare of a menu.
Invariably upon these humiliating occasions when Symes dined cheek by jowl with hoi polloi who left their spoons in their cups and departed using a toothpick like a peavy, his thoughts turned to his coming triumph in Crowheart. And although his gorge rose at the sight of a large, buck cockroach which scurried across the table and turned to wave a fraternal leg at him before it disappeared, the knowledge that he would soon take his rightful position as that city's leading citizen helped to restore his equanimity.
With an assured income, Company money to spend among the local merchants, work for many applicants, Symes felt that he could do little else than step into the niche which clearly belonged to him. The one smudge upon the picture was Augusta. Her eyes were ever upon him in adoring, dog-like fidelity and it irritated him. Her appearance had altered amazingly, she no longer called him "Mister Symes," and by repeated corrections he had succeeded in inducing her to refrain from folding her hands upon her abdomen, but the plebeian strain, the deficiency of gentle birth betrayed itself in a dozen little ways, by indelicacies none the less irritating because they were trifling.
Symes knew what a gentlewoman should be, for he had mingled with them in the past and he never had thought of his wife as being anything else than well born. Augusta's large knuckled hands, conspicuous in white kid gloves, her long, flat feet, the shiny, bald spots behind her ears, were sources of real mortification to him, and invariably he found himself growing red upon the occasions when it was necessary to present her to his friends.
In the presence of other women she sat bolt upright, a red spot burning on either cheek-bone, her eyes bright with nervous excitement while she answered the careless small talk with preternatural seriousness. At such times Symes himself talked rapidly to hide the gaucheries of her speech, and they were ordeals which he took care should be as few as possible.
If the yoke were chafing already, he asked himself frequently, what would its weight be in a year, five, ten years later?
ANOTHER CASE IN SURGERY
Dr. Emma Harpe walked briskly into her office and, taking ten silver dollars and some worn banknotes from the pocket of her square-cut coat, piled them upon her office desk.
"Moses! I need that money, and," she sniggered at the recollection, "didn't old Dubois hate to dig."
She threw the Stetson hat she now affected upon a chair, her coat upon another, and rolling a cigarette with the skill of practice, sauntered up and down the room.
"He's sick all right—the old guinea. Looks like typhoid. If it is, it'll pull me out of this hole. Mileage counts up in this country at a dollar a mile. About five cases of typhoid would put me square again and see me through the summer; an epidemic would be a godsend. This is the infernalest healthy country I ever saw; die in their boots or dry up and blow off. Two cases of measles and the whooping cough in six weeks. Dubois comes like a shower of manna, for I can't stand off the Terriberrys forever. I'll go out and see him again in a couple of days and give him a dose of calomel. If he pulls through the credit is mine; if he dies, it's the will of God. Any way it goes, I'm squared. Harpe," she stopped and looked out of the window, "you belong to a noble profesh—you play a safe and genteel game where you can't lose."
She watched idly as a covered wagon accompanied by two men on horseback stopped on the vacant lot opposite the hotel which was much used as a camping-ground by freighters and campers. It was a common enough sight and she looked on indifferently while the team was unharnessed and the saddle horses led toward the livery stable by one of the riders and the driver of the wagon hastened across the street, looking, she thought, at the sign beneath her window.
She barely had time to throw away her cigarette and fan the smoke out of the air before the hurrying footsteps which had told her of his approach brought the man to her office door.
"Are you the doctor?" he asked in surprise at seeing a woman.
"Will you come over right away? My little girl fell over the wheel and one of the fellows that's along says her leg is broken. It only happened a little ways back but it's beginning to swell."
The man's face was pale beneath its tan and the dust of travel, and he plainly chafed at her deliberate movements as she took bandages from the drawer and adjusted her hat before a mirror. It was the first practical test of her theoretical knowledge of bone-setting and because of some misgivings her swagger was a little more pronounced than usual when she accompanied him across the street.
The child lay upon the bunk in the front of the wagon and her eyes were bright with the pain of the dull ache, and fear of more that the doctor might inflict.
"Is it hurtin' bad, Rosie?" Anxiety was in the man's voice.
"Not so very much, Daddy," she replied bravely.
The man glanced at Dr. Harpe quickly in a mixture of surprise and resentment.
"My sister's—young'un," he answered curtly.
The child winced as Dr. Harpe picked up the foot roughly and ran her fingers along the bone.
"Yep; it's broken." She hesitated for an instant and added: "The job'll cost you fifty dollars."
"Fifty dollars!" Consternation was in the man's tone. "Ain't that pretty steep for settin' a leg?"
"That's my price." She added indifferently, "There's another sawbones sixty miles farther on."
"You know well enough that she can't wait to get there."
"Well," she shrugged her shoulder, "dig then."
"But I haven't got it," he pleaded.
"Sell a horse."
He looked to see if she was serious; undoubtedly she was.
"How am I to go on if I sell a horse?"
"That's your lookout."
He stared at her in real curiosity.
"What kind of a doctor are you, anyhow? What kind of a woman?"
"O Daddy—it's hurtin' worse!" moaned the child.
Dr. Harpe laughed disagreeably—
"I'm not in Crowheart for my health." Ignoring the displeasure which came into the man's eyes, she suggested: "Can't you borrow from those fellows that came with you?"
"They're strangers. We are all strangers to each other—we only fell in together on the road. The one lying under the wagon was on a tear in the last town; most likely he's broke."
The child in the bunk whimpered with the increasing pain.
"How much have you got yourself?" she haggled.
"Twenty-two dollars and fifty cents; it's all I've got and we're a hundred miles yet from the end of our road. I've got work there and I'll give you my note and send the balance as soon as I earn it."
Twenty-two dollars and fifty cents—it was more than she anticipated, but every extra dollar was "velvet" as she phrased it.
"See what you can do with that fellow outside."
The man's dark eyes flashed and his face went blood red, but he left the wagon abruptly, and she heard distinctly the angry explanation to his travelling companion lying on a saddle blanket in the shade of the wagon. The knowledge that she was forfeiting these strangers' respect did not disturb her. These indigent campers—gone on the morrow—could do her no harm in Crowheart where her reputation for blunt kindness and imperturbable good nature was already established. It was something of a luxury to indulge her hidden traits; in other words, she was enjoying her meanness.
A forceful ejaculation told her that the slumbering debauche had revived and grasped the situation. She listened intently to his response to the other's request for a loan.
"So the lady doc wants money? She wants to see the color of your dust before she can set the baby's broken leg, you say? Interesting—very. By all means give the kind lady money. How much money does the lady want?"
The color rose swiftly in her cheeks, not so much because of the mocking words as the intonation of the voice in which they were uttered—the most wonderfully musical speaking voice she ever had heard. The angry resentment of the child's foster-father had left her unmoved but this was different. The sneering, cutting insolence came from no ordinary person. It stung her. She thought she detected a slight foreign accent in the carefully articulated words, though the phraseology was distinctly western. The voice was high pitched without effeminacy, soft yet penetrating, polished yet conveying all the meaning of an insult. No Anglo-Saxon could express such mocking contempt by the voice alone—that accomplishment is almost exclusively a gift of the Latins.
She was hot and uncomfortable, conscious that the blood was still in her face, when she heard him scramble to his feet and walk to the back of the wagon. Ever after Dr. Harpe remembered him as she saw him first framed in the white canvas opening of the prairie schooner.
His unusually high-crowned Stetson was pushed to the back of his head, one slender, aristocratic hand rested carelessly upon his hip, a fallen lock of straight, black hair hung nearly to his eyebrows—eyebrows which all but met above a pair of narrow, brilliant eyes. The aquiline nose, the creamy, colorless complexion, the long face with its thin, slightly drooping lips was unmistakably foreign in its type while a loose, silk neck scarf containing the bright colors of the Roman stripe added an alien touch. There was at once high breeding and reckless diablerie in his handsome face.
In the antagonistic moment in which they eyed each other, Dr. Harpe endeavored to recall the something or somebody which his appearance suggested. She groped for it in the dim gallery of youthful memories. What was it? It flashed upon her with the suddenness of a forgotten word. She remembered it plainly now—that treasured, highly colored lithograph of a brigand holding up a coach in a mountain pass! There was in this face the same mocking deviltry; his figure had the same lithe grace; he needed only the big hoop earrings to complete the resemblance.
He removed his hat with a long, sweeping gesture and bowed in exaggerated deference.
"At your service," he murmured.
"There was no need——" she began in a kind of apology.
"Fifty dollars is little enough to pay for the privilege of your skill, madam. Shall it be in advance? Of course; in advance."
She threw out her hand in a gesture of protest, which he ignored.
"Permit me at least to show you that we have it here. I feel sure that you can work with a freer mind if I count it out and lay it where you can see it." He took an odd, foreign purse from the belt of his "chaps" and she noted that it sagged with the weight of its contents.
"Gold," he explained; "nearly new from the Mint. You can have it tested at the bank before you begin—acids or something of the sort, I believe."
She crimsoned with anger, but he went on—
"Fifty dollars! What a very little sum to start the milk of human kindness flowing!"
"I told him he needn't mind—there was no rush—just when it was convenient. He misunderstood me." She found her tongue at last and lied glibly.
The child's foster-father stared at her as though he doubted his own ears. Her very audacity left him speechless.
"There you are, $50 in gold!" He flung the money into her lap. "Old hoss," he laid his hand upon the man's shoulder while his mocking laugh again made her cheeks tingle, "you oughtn't to lie to me like that."
When he had sauntered across the street with his careless, easy stride and disappeared inside the swinging doors of the bar-room of the Terriberry House, Dr. Harpe said brusquely:
"Here, you gotta help me yank this leg straight but, first, I want you to go over to the store and bust up a thin box—something for splints—strips off a fruit case would be best if you can get 'em."
"Haven't you splints?" the man asked in surprise.
"No; I've just come; I haven't got a stock yet and there's no drug store in this jay town. It's on the way but that doesn't help us now. We ought to have plaster of Paris but we haven't. Hurry up—get a move on before it swells any more."
The man did as he was bid, with a look of doubt and uncertainty upon his face.
He returned almost immediately with strips torn from a case of fruit.
"That's good." Dr. Harpe laid them on the bunk with the bandages. She added shortly: "She's going to howl."
"Can't you give her anything?"
"No; I can't give ether by myself. I'm not going to take a chance like that. If she'd die on my hands it'd queer me here on the jump. 'Twon't kill her. She'll probably faint and then it'll be easy. When the muscles relax, hold on to her leg above her knee while I pull."
The man's face turned a ghastly hue as the child screamed and fainted away, nor did the color return as he watched the woman's clumsy fingers, the bungling movements which, unlettered as he was, told him of her inexperience—bungling movements which had not even compensating feminine gentleness.
When the child had revived and Dr. Harpe had finished, the man went outside and leaned against the wheel.
"Are you sure it'll be straight?"
She saw her own misgivings reflected in his face, and it exasperated her.
"What a fool question. Do you think I don't know my business?"
He did not answer, and she turned away.
"Yes, Rosie." He was at her side at once.
She lifted her clear eyes to his face.
"I don't like that woman."
"Like her!" he answered slowly. "Like her! Her heart is as black as my hat."
To herself Dr. Harpe was saying:
"Moses! I had to start in on somebody."
It was with relief that she looked through her office window after supper and saw that the wagon was gone from the vacant lot.
"Good riddance!" she muttered. "I wouldn't have that black-eyed devil hanging around this town for money. He's onery enought to do me mischief. I wonder who he was? He might be anything or anybody; a dago duke or a hold-up—or both. Anyway, he's gone, and if I never see him again it'll be soon enough."
She sat down in her office chair and rested her heels on the window sill while her cigarette burned to ashes between her listless fingers. For a time she watched the white light of the June moon grow on the line of dimpled foothills, the myriad odors of spring were in the air and the balmy west wind lifted the hair at her temples as it came through the open window. She felt lonely—inexpressibly lonely. She thought of Alice Freoff and restlessness grew. Downstairs she heard Essie Tisdale's merry laughter and it changed the current of her thoughts.
She had learned her story now and the mystery of her identity had given the little belle of Crowheart an added attraction. Everybody in Crowheart knew her story for that matter; it was one of the stock tales of the country to be repeated to interest strangers.