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In The Lazy D Hospital

From: A Story Of The Outdoor West

Helen's first swift glance showed that the wounded man was Bannister.
She turned in crisp command to her foreman.

"Have him taken to my room and put to bed there. We have no time to
prepare another. And send one of the boys on your best horse for a

They carried the limp figure in with rough tenderness and laid him in
the bed. McWilliams unbuckled the belt and drew off the chaps; then,
with the help of Denver, undressed the wounded man and covered him
with quilts. So Helen found him when she came in to attend his wounds,
bringing with her such things as she needed for her task. Mrs. Winslow,
the housekeeper, assisted her, and the foreman stayed to help, but it
was on the mistress of the ranch that the responsibility of saving him
fell. Missou was already galloping to Bear Creek for a doctor, but the
girl knew that the battle must be fought and the issue decided before he
could arrive.

He had fallen again into insensibility and she rinsed and dressed his
wounds, working with the quiet impersonal certainty of touch that did
not betray the inner turmoil of her soul. But McWilliams, his eyes
following her every motion and alert to anticipate her needs, saw that
the color had washed from her face and that she was controlling herself
only to meet the demands of the occasion.

As she was finishing, the sheepman opened his eyes and looked at her.

"You are not to speak or ask questions. You have been wounded and we are
going to take care of you," she ordered.

"That's right good of y'u. I ce'tainly feet mighty trifling." His wide
eyes traveled round till they fell on the foreman. "Y'u see I came
back to help fill your hospital. Am I there now? Where am I?" His gaze
returned to Helen with the sudden irritation of the irresponsible sick.

"You are at the Lazy D, in my room. You are not to worry about anything.
Everything's all right."

He took her at her word and his eyes closed; but presently he began to
mutter unconnected words and phrases. When his lids lifted again there
was a wilder look in his eyes, and she knew that delirium was beginning.
At intervals it lasted for long; indeed, until the doctor came next
morning in the small hours. He talked of many things Helen Messiter did
not understand, of incidents in his past life, some of them jerky with
the excitement of a tense moment, others apparently snatches of talk
with relatives. It was like the babbling of a child, irrelevant and yet
often insistent. He would in one breath give orders connected with the
lambing of his sheep, in the next break into football talk, calling out
signals and imploring his men to hold them or to break through and get
the ball. Once he broke into curses, but his very oaths seemed to come
from a clean heart and missed the vulgarity they might have had. Again
his talk rambled inconsequently over his youth, and he would urge
himself or someone else of the same name to better life.

"Ned, Ned, remember your mother," he would beseech. "She asked me to
look after you. Don't go wrong." Or else it would be, "Don't disgrace
the general, Ned. You'll break his heart if you blacken the old name."
To this theme he recurred repeatedly, and she noticed that when he
imagined himself in the East his language was correct and his intonation
cultured, though still with a suggestion of a Southern softness.

But when he spoke of her his speech lapsed into the familiar drawl of
Cattleland. "I ain't such a sweep as y'u think, girl. Some day I'll sure
tell y'u all about it, and how I have loved y'u ever since y'u scooped
me up in your car. You're the gamest little lady! To see y'u come
a-sailin' down after me, so steady and businesslike, not turning a hair
when the bullets hummed--I sure do love y'u, Helen." And then he fell
upon her first name and called her by it a hundred times softly to

This happened when she was alone with him, just before the doctor came.
She heard it with starry eyes and with a heart that flushed for joy a
warmer color into her cheeks. Brushing back the short curls, she kissed
his damp forehead. It was in the thick of the battle, before he had
weathered that point where the issues of life and death pressed closely,
and even in the midst of her great fears it brought her comfort. She was
to think often of it later, and always the memory was to be music in
her heart. Even when she denied her love for him, assured herself it was
impossible she could care for so shameful a villain, even then it was
a sweet torture to allow herself the luxury of recalling his broken
delirious phrases. At the very worst he could not be as bad as
they said; some instinct told her this was impossible. His fearless
devil-may-care smile, his jaunty, gallant bearing, these pleaded against
the evidence for him. And yet was it conceivable that a man of spirit, a
gentleman by training at least, would let himself lie under the odium
of such a charge if he were not guilty? Her tangled thoughts fought this
profitless conflict for days. Nor could she dismiss it from her mind.
Even after he began to mend she was still on the rack. For in some
snatch of good talk, when the fine quality of the man seemed to glow in
his face, poignant remembrance would stab her with recollection of the
difference between what he was and what he seemed to be.

One of the things that had been a continual surprise to Helen was the
short time required by these deep-cheated and clean-blooded Westerners
to recover from apparently serious wounds. It was scarce more than two
weeks since Bannister had filled the bunkhouse with wounded men, and
already two of them were back at work and the third almost fit for
service. For perhaps three days the sheepman's life hung in the balance,
after which his splendid constitution and his outdoor life began to
tell. The thermometer showed that the fever had slipped down a notch,
and he was now sleeping wholesomely a good part of his time. Altogether,
unless for some unseen contingency, the doctor prophesied that the
sheepman was going to upset the probabilities and get well.

"Which merely shows, ma'am, what is possible when you give a sound man
twenty-four hours a day in our hills for a few years," he added. "Thanks
to your nursing he's going to shave through by the narrowest margin
possible. I told him to-day that he owed his life to you, Miss

"I don't think you need have told him that Doctor," returned that young
woman, not a little vexed at him, "especially since you have just been
telling me that he owes it to Wyoming air and his own soundness of

When she returned to the sickroom to give her patient his medicine
he wanted to tell her what the doctor had said, but she cut him off
ruthlessly and told him not to talk.

"Mayn't I even say 'Thank you?'" he wanted to know.

"No; you talk far too much as it is."

He smiled "All right. Y'u sit there in that chair, where I can see y'u
doing that fancywork and I'll not say a word. It'll keep, all right,
what I want to say."

"I notice you keep talking," she told him, dryly.

"Yes, ma'am. Y'u had better have let me say what I wanted to, but I'll
be good now."

He fell asleep watching her, and when he awoke she was still sitting
there, though it was beginning to grow dark. He spoke before she knew he
was awake.

"I'm going to get well, the doctor thinks."

"Yes, he told me," she answered.

"Did he tell y'u it was your nursing saved me?"

"Please don't think about that."

"What am I to think about? I owe y'u a heap, and it keeps piling up. I
reckon y'u do it all because it's your Christian duty?" he demanded.

"It is my duty, isn't it?"

"I didn't say it wasn't, though I expaict Bighorn County will forget to
give y'u a unanimous vote of thanks for doing it. I asked if y'u did it
because it was your duty?"

"The reason doesn't matter so that I do it," she answered, steadily.

"Reasons matter some, too, though they ain't as important as actions out
in this country. Back in Boston they figure more, and since y'u used to
go to school back there y'u hadn't ought to throw down your professor of

"Don't you think you have talked enough for the present?" she smiled,
and added: "If I make you talk whenever I sit beside you I shall have to
stay away."

"That's where y'u've ce'tainly got the drop on me, ma'am. I'm a clam
till y'u give the word."

Before a week he was able to sit up in a chair for an hour or two, and
soon after could limp into the living room with the aid of a walking
stick and his hostess. Under the tan he still wore an interesting
pallor, but there could be no question that he was on the road to

"A man doesn't know what he's missing until he gets shot up and is
brought to the Lazy D hospital, so as to let Miss Messiter exercise her
Christian duty on him," he drawled, cheerfully, observing the sudden
glow on her cheek brought by the reference to his unanswered question.

He made the lounge in the big sunny window his headquarters. From it
he could look out on some of the ranch activities when she was not with
him, could watch the line riders as they passed to and fro and command
a view of one of the corrals. There was always, too, the turquoise sky,
out of which poured a flood of light on the roll of hilltops. Sometimes
he read to himself, but he was still easily tired, and preferred usually
to rest. More often she read aloud to him while he lay back with his
leveled eyes gravely on her till the gentle, cool abstraction she
affected was disturbed and her perplexed lashes rose to reproach the
intensity of his gaze.

She was of those women who have the heavenborn faculty of making home
of such fortuitous elements as are to their hands. Except her piano and
such knickknacks as she had brought in a single trunk she had had to
depend upon the resources of the establishment to which she had come,
but it is wonderful how much can be done with some Navajo rugs, a
bearskin, a few bits of Indian pottery and woven baskets and a judicious
arrangement of scenic photographs. In a few days she would have her
pictures from Kalamazoo, pending which her touch had transformed the big
living room from a cheerless barn into a spot that was a comfort to
the eye and heart. To the wounded man who lay there slowly renewing the
blood he had lost the room was the apotheosis of home, less, perhaps, by
reason of what it was in itself than because it was the setting for her
presence--for her grave, sympathetic eyes, the sound of her clear voice,
the light grace of her motion. He rejoiced in the delightful intimacy
the circumstances made necessary. To hear snatches of joyous song and
gay laughter even from a distance, to watch her as she came in and out
on her daily tasks, to contest her opinions of books and life and see
how eagerly she defended them; he wondered himself at the strength of
the appeal these simple things made to him. Already he was dreading the
day when he must mount his horse and ride back into the turbulent life
from which she had for a time, snatched him.

"I'll hate to go back to sheepherding," he told her one day at lunch,
looking at her across a snow-white tablecloth upon which were a service
of shining silver, fragile china teacups and plates stamped Limoges.

He was at the moment buttering a delicious French roll and she was
daintily pouring tea from an old family heirloom. The contrast between
this and the dust and the grease of a midday meal at the end of a "chuck
wagon" lent accent to his smiling lamentation.

"A lot of sheepherding you do," she derided.

"A shepherd has to look after his sheep, y'u know."

"You herd sheep just about as much as I punch cows."

"I have to herd my herders, anyhow, and that keeps me on the move."

"I'm glad there isn't going to be any more trouble between you and the
Lazy D. And that reminds me of another thing. I've often wonered who
those men could have been that attacked you the day you were hurt."

She had asked the question almost carelessly, without any thought that
this might be something he wished to conceal, but she recognized her
mistake by the wariness that filmed his eyes instantly.

"Room there for a right interesting guessing contest," he replied.

"You wouldn't need to guess," she charged, on swift impulse.

"Meaning that I know?"

"You do know. You can't deny that you now."

"Well, say that I know?"

"Aren't you going to tell?"

He shook his head. "Not just yet. I've got private reasons for keeping
it quiet a while."

"I'm sure they are creditable to you," came her swift ironic retort.

"Sure," he agreed, whimsically. "I must live up to the professional
standard. Honor among thieves, y'u know."

Next: Miss Darling Arrives

Previous: The Man From The Shoshone Fastnesses

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