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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWild Youth - Chapter 1. The Mazarines Take Possession
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Wild Youth - Chapter 1. The Mazarines Take Possession Post by :mpruben Category :Long Stories Author :Gilbert Parker Date :May 2012 Read :1690

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Wild Youth - Chapter 1. The Mazarines Take Possession


From the beginning, Askatoon had had more character and idiosyncrasy than any other town in the West. Perhaps that was because many of its citizens had marked personality, while some were distinctly original--a few so original as to be almost bizarre. The general intelligence was high, and this made the place alert for the new observer. It slept with one eye open; it waked with both eyes wide--as wide as the windows of the world. The virtue of being bright and clever was a doctrine which had never been taught in Askatoon; it was as natural as eating and drinking. Nothing ever really shook the place out of a wholesome control and composure. Now and then, however, the flag of distress was hoisted, and everybody in the place--from Patsy Kernaghan, the casual, at one end of the scale, and the Young Doctor, so called because he was young-looking when he first came to the place, who represented Askatoon in the meridian of its intellect, at the other--had sudden paralysis. That was the outstanding feature of Askatoon. Some places made a noise and flung things about in times of distress; but Askatoon always stood still and fumbled with its collar-buttons, as though to get more air. When it was poignantly moved, it leaned against the wall of its common sense, abashed, but vigilant and careful.

That is what it did when Mr. and Mrs. Joel Mazarine arrived at Askatoon to take possession of Tralee, the ranch which Michael Turley, abandoning because he had an unavoidable engagement in another world, left to his next of kin, with a legacy to another kinsman a little farther off. The next of kin had proved to be Joel Mazarine, from one of those stern English counties on the borders of Quebec, where ancient tribal prejudices and religious hatreds give a necessary relief to hard-driven human nature.

Michael Turley had lived much to himself on his ranch, but that was because in his latter days he had developed a secret taste for spirituous liquors which he had no wish to share with others. With the assistance of a bad cook and a constant spleen caused by resentment against the intervention of his priest, good Father Roche, he finished his career with great haste and without either becoming a nuisance to his neighbours or ruining his property. The property was clear of mortgage or debt when he set out on his endless journey.

When the prophet-bearded, huge, swarthy-faced Joel Mazarine, with a beautiful young girl behind him, stepped from the West-bound train and was greeted by the Mayor, who was one of the executors of Michael Turley's will, a shiver passed through Askatoon, and for one instant animation was suspended; for the jungle-looking newcomer, motioning forward the young girl, said to the Mayor:

"Mayor, this is Mrs. Mazarine. Shake hands with the Mayor, Mrs. Mazarine."

Mazarine did not speak very loud, but as an animal senses the truth of a danger far off with an unshakable certainty, the crowd at the station seemed to know by instinct what he said.

"Hell--that old whale and her!" growled Jonas Billings, the keeper of the livery-stable.

At Mazarine's words the Young Doctor, a man of rare gifts, individuality and authority in the place, who had come to the station to see a patient off to the mountains by this train, drew in his breath sharply, as though a spirit of repugnance was in his heart. This happened during the first years of the Young Doctor's career at Askatoon, when he was still alive with human prejudices, although he had a nature well balanced and singularly just. The strife between his prejudices and his sense of justice was what made him always interesting in all the great prairie and foothill country of which Askatoon was the centre.

He had got his shock, indeed, before Mazarine had introduced his wife to the Mayor. Not for nothing had he studied the human mind in its relation to the human body, and the expression of that mind speaking through the body. The instant Joel Mazarine and his wife stepped out of the train, he knew they were what they were to each other. That was a real achievement in knowledge, because Mazarine was certainly sixty-five if he was a day, and his wife was a slim, willowy slip of a girl, not more than nineteen years of age, with the most wonderful Irish blue eyes and long dark lashes. There was nothing of the wife or woman about her, save something in the eyes, which seemed to belong to ages past and gone, something so solemnly wise, yet so painfully confused, that there flashed into the Young Doctor's mind at first glance of her the vision of a young bird caught from its thoughtless, sunbright journeyings, its reckless freedom of winged life, into the captivity of a cage.

She smiled, this child, as she shook hands with the Mayor, and it had the appeal of one who had learned the value of smiling--as though it answered many a question and took the place of words and the trials of the tongue. It was pitifully mechanical. As the Young Doctor saw, it was the smile of a captive in a strange uncomprehended world, more a dream than a reality.

"Mrs. Mazarine, welcome," said the Mayor after an abashed pause. "We're proud of this town, but we'll be prouder still, now you've come."

The girl-wife smiled again. At the same time it was as though she glanced apprehensively out of the corner of her eye at the old man by her side, as she said:

"Thank you. There seems to be plenty of room for us out here, so we needn't get in each other's way.... I've never been on the prairie before," she added.

The Young Doctor realized that her reply had meanings which would escape the understanding of the Mayor, and her apprehensive glance had told him of the gruesome jealousy of this old man at her side. The Mayor's polite words had caused the long, clean-shaven upper lip of the old man with the look of a debauched prophet, to lengthen surlily; and he noticed that a wide, flat foot in a big knee-boot, inside trousers too short, tapped the ground impatiently.

"We must be getting on to Tralee," said a voice that seemed to force its way through bronchial obstructions. "Come, Mrs. Mazarine."

He laid a big, flat, tropical hand, which gave the impression of being splayed, on the girl's shoulder. The gallant words of the Mayor--a chivalrous mountain man--had set dark elements working. As the new master of Tralee stepped forward, the Young Doctor could not help noticing how large and hairy were the ears that stood far out from the devilish head. It was a huge, steel-twisted, primitive man, who somehow gave the impression of a gorilla. The face was repulsive in its combination of surly smugness, as shown by the long upper lip, by a repellent darkness round the small, furtive eyes, by a hardness in the huge, bearded jaw, and by a mouth of primary animalism.

The Mayor caught sight of the Young Doctor, and he stopped the incongruous pair as they moved to the station doorway, the girl in front, as though driven.

"Mr. Mazarine, you've got to know the man who counts for more in Askatoon than anybody else; Doctor, you've got to know Mr. Mazarine," said the generous Mayor.

Repugnance was in full possession of the Young Doctor, but he was scientific and he was philosophic, if nothing else. He shook hands with Mazarine deliberately. If he could prevent it, there should be, where he was concerned, no jealousy, such as Mazarine had shown towards the Mayor, in connection with this helpless, exquisite creature in the grip of hard fate. Shaking hands with the girl with only a friendly politeness in his glance, he felt a sudden eager, clinging clasp of her fingers. It was like lightning, and gone like lightning, as was the look that flashed between them. Somehow the girl instinctively felt the nature of the man, and in spirit flew to him for protection. No one saw the swift look, and in it there was nothing which spoke of youth or heart, of the feeling of man for woman or woman for man; but only the longing for help on the girl's part, undefined as it was. On the man's part there was a soul whose gift and duty were healing. As the two passed on, the Young Doctor looked around him at the exclaiming crowd, for few had left the station when the train rolled out. Curiosity was an obsession with the people of Askatoon.

"Well, I never!" said round-faced Mrs. Skinner, with huge hips and gray curls. "Did you ever see the like?"

"I call it a shame," declared an indignant young woman, gripping tighter the hand of her little child, the daughter of a young butcher of twenty-three years of age.

"Poor lamb!" another motherly voice said.

"She ought to be ashamed of herself--money, I suppose," sneered Ellen Banner, a sour-faced shopkeeper's daughter, who had taught in Sunday school for twenty years and was still single.

"Beauty and the beast," remarked the Young Doctor to himself, as he saw the two drive away, Patsy Kernaghan running beside the wagon, evidently trying to make friends with the mastodon of Tralee.

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