The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXXII. Barbara Ministers to the Wounded.
Willard Holmes, after a few hours of refreshing sleep and a good breakfast prepared and served by his hostess with her own hands, announced himself as well as ever.
"But you need some fixing just the same," declared Barbara as the Indian woman entered the room carrying warm water, towels and bandages. While the young woman bent over the engineer and with firm, deft fingers removed the wrappings from his shoulder, carefully cleansed the wound and applied fresh dressing and clean bandages, he watched her face, so near his own, and wondered that he had ever thought her plain. Her skin, warmly browned by desert sun and air, was fresh and glowing with the abundance of the rich red life in her veins; her brown hair, soft and wavy, tempted him to reach up his free hand and put back a rebellious lock. He moved slightly and the brown eyes, full of womanly pity, met his.
"Does it hurt?"
He smiled and shook his head. "Not at all. In fact I think I rather enjoy it."
Her cheeks turned a deeper red and he felt her fingers tremble as she went on with her task.
"If you laugh at me I shall turn you over to Ynez," she threatened, at which he promised so pitifully to be good that she smiled and he stirred again impatiently.
"I am hurting you!" she cried. "I'm so sorry, but I'm almost through--There now." She finished with a last touch and, straightening, put back herself that rebellious lock of hair.
As she stood before him beautifully strong and pure and fresh and clean in mind and heart and body, her sweet personality, the spirit of her complete womanhood swept to him--appealing, calling, exhilarating, invigorating, strengthening, as he had often felt the early air of the sun-filled morning sweeping over mountain and mesa and desert plain.
The man drew a long deep breath.
"Tired?" she asked softly, looking down upon him with almost a mother's look in her eyes.
"Heavens, no!" he exclaimed, his voice ringing out strongly. "I feel as though I had been made over, re-created."
She laughed gladly.
"Do you know," he asked earnestly, "how wonderful you are?"
"Nonsense!" she retorted. "You are growing delirious. You must be quiet. I'm going to leave you alone for a little while now and you must sleep."
She followed the Indian woman from the room and he heard her voice speaking in soft musical Spanish as they went.
An hour later Barbara, moving quietly toward his room to see if he was asleep or wanted anything, found him fully dressed in a big easy chair in the living room.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, in joyful surprise. "What are you doing out here? I thought I told you to sleep."
"Your orders were inconsistent," he returned lazily. "You can't cure a patient and still continue treating him as if he were an invalid. I don't need sleep. I need--Bring your chair and sit over here and let me tell you what I need," he finished.
She did not answer, but going to his room returned with a pillow, which she arranged deftly behind his head; then, kneeling, adjusted the foot rest of the reclining chair. "There; isn't that better?"
"Bring your chair," he insisted.
Again she left the room, returning this time with a bit of old soft muslin. Drawing her easy chair to a position facing him she seated herself and began converting the material in her hands into bandages. "The men will be here with Abe any time now," she explained. "I have everything ready except these."
For a little while he watched her in silence as she tore the white cloth into long strips and rolled them neatly.
"Don't you care to know what it is that I need?" he asked at last.
She bent her head over her work and answered softly: "Whenever you are ready to tell me."
"Before I can tell you I must know something."
Carefully she rolled another white strip, her eyes on her task. "What must you know?"
"That you have forgiven me."
The color rushed into her cheeks as she answered: "Don't you know that?"
"But I must hear you say it so that we can start square again; don't you see?"
"I suppose that we will be always starting over again, won't we?" Then as she saw his face she added quickly: "I mean--I--I was thinking of the Company--and--father's work."
"But you forgive me this time?" he insisted.
"Yes; I forgive you, and I am glad--so glad that I can."
"And we are square again?"
"Yes; we are square again--until next time." She added the words sadly.
"But there will be no next time."
She shook her head with a doubtful smile. "The Company will make a 'next time.'"
He laughed aloud with a sudden sense of freedom that was new to him. "But you do not know," he said, "and I would not tell you until we were square again. I am not with the Company now."
She dropped her roll of bandages and looked at him. "Not with the Company? When did you resign?"
"I didn't resign. They discharged me."
"Yes; disgraceful, isn't it? I felt pretty bad at first; then I came to take it as a compliment; and now--now I am glad!"
Then he told her why Greenfield had sent for him; how he had met the Seer; and how he had advised Cartwright to supply the money her father needed.
"And you--you did--that, knowing it would cost you your position?" she exclaimed. "Oh, I am glad! That was fine; that was big--worthy your ancestors!" In her interest she was leaning towards him with flushed cheeks and bright eyes, and her voice was triumphant as if in some subtle way she was vindicated through his victory. The engineer felt her attitude and knew that she was right. It was her victory.
"Barbara," he said, holding out his hand; "Barbara, may I tell you now what it is that I need?"
Before she could answer they heard a team and wagon coming into the yard beside the house. Barbara sprang to her feet. "It is the men with Abe!" she exclaimed, and ran out of the room on to the porch.
From where he lay in his chair, the engineer saw through the open door Pablo and Pat coming up the steps of the porch carrying the surveyor on the canvas cot, and Barbara with mute, frightened face watching. The two men with their burden entered the room, followed by the young woman, and carefully lowered the cot to the floor. The long form of the surveyor lay motionless, his eyes closed.
With a low cry Barbara threw herself on her knees beside the cot. With one arm across the still form of the only brother she knew, and the other pushing back the rough hair from his forehead, she bent over, looking appealingly into the thin rugged face--her own face alight with loving anxiety.
"Abe! Abe! Abe!" she called softly; then again: "Abe! See dear; it's Barbara."
As if only that voice had power to call him back, the man's eyes opened, a slow smile spread over his unshaven, dust-stained features, and his voice expressed glad surprise. "Why, hello, Barbara!"
Willard Holmes, who had half risen from his chair and was leaning forward watching them with burning interest, sank back with a groan and covered his face with his hands. But they did not see.
Still kneeling Barbara took a glass from Ynez and turned again to the injured surveyor. "Here, Abe; drink this."
The Irishman lifted him in his huge arms and he obeyed. Then as he lay looking up into Barbara's face, again that slow smile came and he said: "Well, little girl; Holmes made it, didn't he? That buckskin horse of Tex's is all right, and Holmes--Holmes is a man! He sure made good! How is he?"
Holmes rose dizzily and came forward. "I'm all right, old man, and so will you be when Miss Worth has had a chance at you."
Quickly the surveyor glanced from the engineer's face to that of the young woman, whose brown eyes still regarded him with loving solicitude. "I reckon you're right," he said slowly.
Then Barbara directed them to carry him into the room she had prepared, while Willard Holmes returned to his chair to lie with closed eyes, suffering a deeper pain than the pain in his shoulder.
When his wound had been dressed and he had eaten the tempting meal Barbara brought, Abe fell asleep. But the young woman would not leave him for long, so that Holmes saw very little of her all the rest of the day. Occasionally she would run into the room where the engineer lay to ask if he needed anything, but only for a moment. Sometimes, seeing him so still, she thought that he was asleep and withdrew softly without speaking; but he always knew.
The next morning Holmes was just established in the big reclining chair in the living room when a peremptory knock called Barbara to the front door. It was James Greenfield.
The president of The King's Basin Land and Irrigation Company was greatly agitated and he scarcely noticed the young woman as he greeted the engineer with affectionate regard that was genuine; explaining how he had returned to Kingston the night before and, learning of Holmes's injury that morning, had hurried to him at once. "But I can't understand," he exclaimed half angrily, "how you ever came to be mixed up in this affair. When I missed you from the hotel I supposed of course that you had taken the train back to Kingston and came on expecting to find you there. What on earth possessed you to go off on this wild ride over the mountains with that man Lee? You might have been killed, and I--I--" He could not put into words the horrid thought that was in his mind--how, had the Mexican's bullet gone true, he himself would have been responsible for the death of the man he loved as his own son.
Holmes--understanding the man's thought--was touched by the capitalist's unusual agitation, and for the moment did not attempt to reply. Then with an attempt at lightness he said: "Oh, well; it's all coming out right, Uncle Jim, Thanks to Miss Worth's care I am nearly well now. The wound really didn't amount to much."
As he spoke he looked at Barbara, and the older man also turned quickly toward the young woman who, at the engineer's words, was blushing rosy red.
"Father and I owe Mr. Holmes a debt we can never pay," she said quietly. Then, excusing herself on the plea that her other patient needed her, she left the room.
When the two men had watched her go, Greenfield said gently: "This is a bad business, Willard; a damned bad business; I'll admit that I was angry when you turned against us in that Cartwright deal, but confound it, boy! I admire you for it just the same. Your father would have done just as you did. It was that finer kind of honesty that made him a failure in the business where the rest of us made fortunes, but we all loved him for it, and your mother--" he looked away through the window toward the distant mountains. "You understand, don't you Willard, that I was forced to let you go when you turned the Company down? My directors would never stand for anything else, you know. You don't feel hard toward me, lad, because I had to let you out?"
"Certainly not, Uncle Jim. I was hurt just at first, but when I had taken time to think it over I did not blame you."
"You are sure, Willard?"
"Sure, Uncle Jim."
The older man was studying the engineer's face intently. "I don't know what it is, Willard, but something has changed you since you came into this country. You know, my boy, that I have no one in the world but you. All that I have will be yours. I have dreamed and planned for you as for my own flesh and blood. I am telling you this now because I have felt that something was taking you away from me. Something that I cannot understand has come between us. I felt it the moment I met you in Kingston and it has been growing ever since. It was that that made me so angry over the Cartwright business. You know how I hate the West; you know what it cost me years ago. I feel now that in some way I am losing you too. What is it, Willard, that has come between us? Let's clean it up and get back in our relations to where we were before we left home."
As James Greenfield made his appeal the engineer's eyes turned involuntarily toward the door through which Barbara had left the room. And when he did not answer immediately the older man was sure that he understood what it was that had come between himself and the son of the woman he loved, and why Holmes had used his influence in behalf of Jefferson Worth.
"Is it that girl, Willard?"
The younger man faced him squarely and his answer meant much more to the engineer himself than he could have explained to Greenfield. "Yes sir, it is this girl."
"You love her?"
"As my father must have loved my mother."
At the simple words Greenfield controlled himself, but his hatred for Jefferson Worth was very bitter. That he should fail to win in the business warfare with the western man was nothing, but that Worth--through his daughter--should rob him of the son that was more than a son to him was more than he could bear.
"But, my dear boy," he said; "think what this means! Think of your family--of your father and mother--of your friends and your future back home. Who are these people? They are nobodies. This man Worth is an ignorant, illiterate, common boor with no breeding, no education--nothing but a certain native cunning that has enabled him to make a little money. We have nothing in common with his class."
"Mr. Worth is an honest, honorable man who is doing a great work," answered Holmes stoutly; "and his daughter is--Uncle Jim, she is the most wonderful woman I ever knew!"
As Willard Holmes spoke, Barbara, coming from the kitchen into the dining room, could not help hearing the words that came through the partly opened door of the living room where the men were talking. Involuntarily at the sound of the engineer's voice the red blood crept into the young woman's face and her eyes shone with pleasure. The next moment Greenfield's voice held her motionless.
"But don't you know that she is not Worth's daughter?"
"Not his daughter?" exclaimed Holmes.
"No, not his daughter. She is a nameless waif whom he picked up and adopted. No one knows her parentage--not even her name. She may even have Mexican or Indian blood in her veins for all that anyone knows."
It was not strange that Willard Holmes had never heard the story of how Barbara was found in the desert. In the new country, where most of the engineer's life in the West had been spent, comparatively few beyond Worth's most intimate associates knew that she was the banker's daughter only by adoption. Greenfield, who had learned the story while inquiring for business reasons into the history of his competitor, told the young man briefly of the finding of the unknown child.
"Don't you see, my boy," finished the financier, "how impossible it is that you should give your name--one of the oldest and best in the history of the country--to a nameless woman of unknown breeding, whose connection with this man Worth even is merely accidental? It would ruin you, Willard. Think of your friends back home! How would they receive her? Think of me--of my plans for you! I--I should feel that I had been false to your mother, Willard, who gave you to me on her death-bed, if I permitted such a thing as this. It's--it's monstrous!"
Slowly the engineer raised his head and with a smile on his white face that hurt the older man, he said: "I can at least relieve your mind on that score, Uncle Jim. You need not fear that I will marry Miss Worth."
At his words from beyond that partly closed door, Barbara made her way blindly to her own room and, throwing herself face downward on her couch, strove with clenched hands and throbbing veins to keep her self control. She must not--she must not let them know, she whispered to herself--moaning in pain. She must go to them again in a moment--and they must not know.
While the woman whom Willard Holmes loved fought for strength to hide her pain, James Greenfield, in the other room, was leaning eagerly toward the engineer. "She has refused you?"
"I have not asked her. But don't misunderstand me. What you have told me--what my friends at home might think or do--could make no difference. Barbara Worth is worthy any man's love; and I love her and would make her my wife. I would give up even you for her, Uncle Jim. It's not that. It's because I know that she loves someone else too well to listen to me."