Church-going Clothes





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.





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