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Something in his manner impressed her into silence again. He cut
whole locks away ruthlessly; he was determined to draw the edges of
the wound together with the strip of plaster and stop the bleeding--
if he cropped the whole head. His excessive caution for her
physical condition did not extend to her superficial adornment.
Her yellow tresses lay on the floor, her neck and shoulders were
saturated with water from the sponge which he continually applied,
until the heated strips of plaster had closed the wound almost
hermetically. She whimpered, tears ran down her cheeks; but so
long as it was not blood the young man was satisfied.

In the midst of it he heard the shop door open, and presently the
sound of rapping on the counter. Another customer!

Mr. Kane called out, "Wait a moment," and continued his ministrations.
After a pause the rapping recommenced. Kane was just securing the
last strip of plaster and preserved a preoccupied silence. Then the
door flew open abruptly and a figure appeared impatiently on the
threshold. It was that of a miner recently returned from the gold
diggings--so recently that he evidently had not had time to change
his clothes at his adjacent hotel, and stood there in his high
boots, duck trousers, and flannel shirt, over which his coat was
slung like a hussar's jacket from his shoulder. Kane would have
uttered an indignant protest at the intrusion, had not the intruder
himself as quickly recoiled with an astonishment and contrition that
was beyond the effect of any reproval. He literally gasped at the
spectacle before him. A handsomely dressed woman reclining in a
chair; lace and jewelry and ribbons depending from her saturated
shoulders; tresses of golden hair filling her lap and lying on the
floor; a pail of ruddy water and a sponge at her feet, and a pale
young man bending over her head with a spirit lamp and strips of
yellow plaster!

"'Scuse me, pard! I was just dropping in; don't you hurry! I kin
wait," he stammered, falling back, and then the door closed
abruptly behind him.

Kane gathered up the shorn locks, wiped the face and neck of his
patient with a clean towel and his own handkerchief, threw her
gorgeous opera cloak over her shoulders, and assisted her to rise.
She did so, weakly but obediently; she was evidently stunned and
cowed in some mysterious way by his material attitude, perhaps, or
her sudden realization of her position; at least the contrast
between her aggressive entrance into the shop and her subdued
preparation for her departure was so remarkable that it affected
even Kane's preoccupation.

"There," he said, slightly relaxing his severe demeanor with an
encouraging smile, "I think this will do; we've stopped the
bleeding. It will probably smart a little as the plaster sets
closer. I can send my partner, Dr. Sparlow, to you in the
morning."

She looked at him curiously and with a strange smile. "And zees
Doctor Sparrlow--eez he like you, M'sieu?"

"He is older, and very well known," said the young man seriously.
"I can safely recommend him."

"Ah," she repeated, with a pensive smile which made Kane think her
quite pretty. "Ah--he ez older--your Doctor Sparrlow--but YOU are
strong, M'sieu."

"And," said Kane vaguely, "he will tell you what to do."

"Ah," she repeated again softly, with the same smile, "he will tell
me what to do if I shall not know myself. Dat ez good."

Kane had already wrapped her shorn locks in a piece of spotless
white paper and tied it up with narrow white ribbon in the dainty
fashion dear to druggists' clerks. As he handed it to her she felt
in her pocket and produced a handful of gold.

"What shall I pay for zees, M'sieu?"

Kane reddened a little--solely because of his slow arithmetical
faculties. Adhesive plaster was cheap--he would like to have
charged proportionately for the exact amount he had used; but the
division was beyond him! And he lacked the trader's instinct.

"Twenty-five cents, I think," he hazarded briefly.

She started, but smiled again. "Twenty-five cents for all zees--ze
medicine, ze strips for ze head, ze hair cut"--she glanced at the
paper parcel he had given her--"it is only twenty-five cents?"

"That's all."

He selected from her outstretched palm, with some difficulty, the
exact amount, the smallest coin it held. She again looked at him
curiously--half confusedly--and moved slowly into the shop. The
miner, who was still there, retreated as before with a gaspingly
apologetic gesture--even flattening himself against the window to
give her sweeping silk flounces freer passage. As she passed into
the street with a "Merci, M'sieu, good a'night," and the hackman
started from the vehicle to receive her, the miner drew a long
breath, and bringing his fist down upon the counter, ejaculated,--

"B'gosh! She's a stunner!"

Kane, a good deal relieved at her departure and the success of his
ministration, smiled benignly.

The stranger again stared after the retreating carriage, looked
around the shop, and even into the deserted surgery, and approached
the counter confidentially. "Look yer, pardner. I kem straight
from St. Jo, Mizzorri, to Gold Hill--whar I've got a claim--and I
reckon this is the first time I ever struck San Francisker. I
ain't up to towny ways nohow, and I allow that mebbe I'm rather
green. So we'll let that pass! Now look yer!" he added, leaning
over the counter with still deeper and even mysterious confidence,
"I suppose this yer kind o' thing is the regular go here, eh?
nothin' new to YOU! in course no! But to me, pard, it's just
fetchin' me! Lifts me clear outer my boots every time! Why, when
I popped into that thar room, and saw that lady--all gold,
furbelows, and spangles--at twelve o'clock at night, sittin' in
that cheer and you a-cuttin' her h'r and swabbin' her head o'
blood, and kinder prospectin' for 'indications,' so to speak, and
doin' it so kam and indifferent like, I sez to myself, 'Rube,
Rube,' sez I, 'this yer's life! city life! San Francisker life! and
b'gosh, you've dropped into it! Now, pard, look yar! don't you
answer, ye know, ef it ain't square and above board for me to know;
I ain't askin' you to give the show away, ye know, in the matter of
high-toned ladies like that, but" (very mysteriously, and sinking
his voice to the lowest confidential pitch, as he put his hand to
his ear as if to catch the hushed reply), "what mout hev bin
happening, pard?"




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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