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Church-going Clothes








From: Hidden Gold

After his few words to Dorothy the wounded man lapsed again into coma,
in which condition he was found by the physician, who returned with
Santry from Crawling Water. During the long intervening time the girl
had not moved from the bedside, though the strain of her own terrible
experience with Moran was making itself felt in exhaustive fatigue.

"Go and rest yourself," Santry urged. "It's my turn now."

"I'm not tired," she declared, trying to smile into the keen eyes of the
doctor, who had heard the facts from the old plainsman as they rode out
from town.

Wade lay with his eyes closed, apparently in profound stupor, but gave
signs of consciousness when Dr. Catlin gently shook him. Dorothy felt
that he should not be disturbed, although she kept her own counsel, but
Catlin wanted to see if he could arouse his patient at all, for the
extent of the injury caused by the bullet, which had entered the back in
the vicinity of the spinal cord, could be gauged largely by the amount
of sensibility remaining. The wounded man was finally induced to answer
monosyllabically the questions put to him, but he did so with surly
impatience. The physician next made a thorough examination, for which
he was better fitted than many a fashionable city practitioner, by
reason of his familiarity with wounds of all kinds.

When he arose Santry, who had watched him as a cat watches a mouse,
forced himself to speak, for his throat and mouth were dry as a bone.

"Well, Doc, how about it?"

"Oh, he won't die this time; but he may lie there for some weeks. So far
as I can tell the bullet just grazed the spinal cord, and it's the shock
of that which makes him so quiet now. A fraction of an inch closer and
he would have died or been paralyzed, a cripple, probably for life. At
is it, however, barring the possibility of infection, he should pull
through. The bullet passed straight through the body without injury to
any vital organ, and there is no indication of severe internal
hemorrhage."

Santry moistened his lips with his tongue and shook his head heavily.

"What gets me," he burst out, "is that Gawd A'mighty could 'a' let a
skunk like Moran do a thing like that! And then"--his voice swelled as
though the words he was about to utter exceeded the first--"and then let
the varmint get away from me!"

Dr. Catlin nodded sympathy with the statement and turned to Dorothy. She
had been anxiously searching his face to discover if he were encouraging
them unduly, and when she felt that he was not stretching the facts a
tremendous weight was lifted from her mind.

"You are going to stay here?" he asked.

"Yes; oh, yes!" she answered.

"That's good." He opened his medicine case and mixed a simple
antipyretic. "I'll explain what you're to do then. After that you better
lay down and try to sleep. Wade won't need much for some days, except
good nursing."

"I'm not tired," she insisted, at which he smiled shrewdly.

"I'm not asking you if you're tired. I'm telling you that you are. Those
nerves of yours are jumping now. You've got our patient to consider
first, and you can't look after him unless you keep well yourself. I'm
going to mix something up for you in a few minutes and then you're going
to rest. A nurse must obey orders."

He explained to her what she was to do for the patient and then gave her
something to offset the effects of her own nervous shock. Then
counseling them not to worry too much, for there would be no fatal
result if his directions were followed, the physician mounted his horse
and rode back to town. Such journeys were all in the day's work to him,
and poor pay they often brought him, except as love of his fellow-men
rewarded his spirit.

During the long days and nights that followed Dorothy scarcely left
Wade's bedside, for to her mother now fell the burdens of the ranch
household. From feeling that she never would be equal to the task of
caring for so many people, Mrs. Purnell came to find her health greatly
improved by her duties, which left her no opportunity for morbid
introspection.

Santry, too, was in almost constant attendance upon the sick man, and
was as tender and solicitous in his ministrations as Dorothy herself. He
ate little and slept less, relieving his feelings by oaths whispered
into his mustache. He made the ranch hands move about their various
duties as quietly as mice. Dorothy grew to be genuinely fond of him,
because of their common bond of sympathy with Wade. Frequently they sat
together in the sickroom reading the newspapers, which came out from
town each day. On one such occasion, when Santry had twisted his mouth
awry in a determined effort to fold the paper he was reading without
permitting a single crackle, she softly laughed at him.

"You needn't be so careful. I don't think it would disturb him."

The old fellow sagely shook his head.

"Just the same, I ain't takin' no chances," he said.

A moment afterward he tiptoed over to her, grinning from ear to ear, and
with a clumsy finger pointed out the item he had been reading. An
expression of pleased surprise flooded her face when she read it; they
laughed softly together; and, finding that he was through with the
paper, she put it away in a bureau drawer, meaning to show that item
some day to Gordon.

Under the care of Dr. Catlin who rode out from Crawling Water each day,
and even more because of Dorothy's careful nursing, the wounded man was
at last brought beyond the danger point and started on the road to
health. He was very weak and very pale, but the one danger that Catlin
had feared and kept mostly to himself, the danger of blood-poisoning,
was now definitely past, and the patient's physical condition slowly
brought about a thorough and complete recovery.

"Some of it you owe to yourself, Wade, as the reward of decent living,
and some of it you owe to the Lord," Catlin told him smilingly. "But
most of it you owe to this little girl here." He patted Dorothy on the
shoulder and would not permit her to shirk his praise. "She's been your
nurse, and I can tell you it isn't a pleasant job for a woman, tending a
wound like yours."

"Is that so?" said Dorothy, mischievously. "That's as much as you know
about it. It's been one of the most delightful jobs I ever had."

"She's a wonderful girl," said Wade, with a tender look at her, after
they had laughed at her outburst.

"Oh, you just think that because I'm the only girl around here," she
blushingly declared, and the physician kept right on laughing.

"There was another girl here once," said Wade. "Or at least she acted
somewhat differently from anything you've done lately."

He was well enough now to receive his friends on brief visits, and
Trowbridge was the first to drop in. Dorothy did not mind having Lem,
but she was not sure she enjoyed having the others, for she had found
the close association with Gordon so very sweet; but she told herself
that she must not be foolish, and she welcomed all who came. Naturally
so pretty a girl doing the honors of the house so well, and so closely
linked with the fortunes of the host, gave rise to the usual deductions.
Many were the quiet jokes which the cattlemen passed amongst themselves
over the approaching wedding, and the festival they would make of the
occasion.

"Well, good-by, Miss Purnell," said Trowbridge one day, smiling and yet
with a curiously pathetic droop to his mouth.

"Miss Purnell?" Dorothy exclaimed, in the act of shaking hands.

"That's what I said." He nodded wisely. "Good-by, Miss Purnell."
Refusing to be envious of his friend's good fortune, he laughed cheerily
and was gone before she saw through his little joke.

The next afternoon she was reading to Gordon when the far-away look in
his eyes told her that he was not listening. She stopped, wondering what
he could be dreaming about, and missing the sound of her voice, he
looked toward her.

"You weren't even listening," she chided, smilingly.

"I was thinking that I've never had a chance to get into those
church-going clothes," he said, with a return of the old whimsical mood.
"But I look pretty clean, don't I?"

"Yes," she answered, suddenly shy.

"Hair brushed? Tie right? Boots clean?"

To each question she had nodded assent. Her heart was beating very fast
and the rosy color was mounting to the roots of her hair, but she
refused to lower her eyes in panic. She looked him straight in the face
with a sweet, tender, cool gaze.

"Yes," she said again.

"Well, then, give me your hand." He hitched his rocker forward so as to
get closer to her, and took both her hands in this. "Dorothy, I've got
something to tell you. I guess you know what it is." Her eyes suddenly
became a little moist as she playfully shook her head. "Oh, yes, you do,
dear, but I've got to say it, haven't I? I love you, Dorothy. It sort of
chokes me to say it because my heart's so full."

"Mine is, too," she whispered, a queer catch in her voice. "But are you
sure you love me?"

"Sure? Why, that other was only...."

Withdrawing her hands from his, she laid her fingers for an instant on
his lips.

"I want to show you something," she said.

She went to the bureau, and taking out the paper which she had hidden
there, brought it to him. It was a moment before she could find the item
again, then she pointed it out. They read it together, as she and Santry
had done the first time she had seen it. The item was an announcement
from the Rexhills of the engagement of their daughter Helen to Mr.
Maxwell Frayne.

Dorothy watched Wade's face eagerly as he read, and she was entirely
content when she saw there no trace of his former sentiment for Helen
Rexhill. He expressed genuine pleasure that Helen was not to be carried
down with her father's ruin, but the girl knew that otherwise the news
had left him untouched. She had always thought that this would be so,
but she was comforted to be assured of it.

"Why, that was only an infatuation," he explained. "Now I'm really in
love. Thank Heaven, I...." When she looked at him there was a light in
her glorious violet-shaded eyes that fairly took his breath away.

"Hush, dear," she said softly. "You've said enough. I understand, and
I'm so...."

The rest was lost to the world as his arms went around her.





Next: The Last Frontier

Previous: With Bare Hands At Last



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