“A few days,” answered Byrne, “may work wonders with him.”
The other hesitated.
“I’ll go up and talk with him,” he said, “and what he wants I’ll do.”
He was long in getting his answer. The hours dragged on slowly for Kate and the doctor, for if Joe Cumberland could hold Dan it was everything to the girl, and if Barry left at once there might be some root for the hope which was growing stronger and stronger every day in the heart of Randall Byrne. Before evening a not unwelcome diversion broke the suspense somewhat.
It was the arrival of no less a person than Marshal Jeff Calkins. His shoulders were humped and his short legs bowed from continual riding, and his head was slung far forward on a gaunt neck; so that when he turned his head from one to another in speaking it was with a peculiar pendulum motion. The marshal had a reputation which was strong over three hundred miles and more of a mountain-desert. This was strange, for the marshal was a very talkative man, and talkative men are not popular on the desert; but it has been discovered that on occasion his six-gun could speak as rapidly and much more accurately than his tongue. So Marshal Calkins waxed in favour.
He set the household at ease upon his arrival by announcing that “they hadn’t nothin’ for him there.” All he wanted was a place to bunk in, some chow, and a feed for the horse. His trail led past the Cumberland Ranch many and many a dreary mile.
The marshal was a politic man, and he had early in life discovered that the best way to get along with any man was to meet him on his own ground. His opening blast of words at Doctor Byrne was a sample of his art.
“So you’re a doc, hey? Well, sir, when I was a kid I had a colt that stuck its foreleg in a hole and busted it short and when that colt had to be shot they wasn’t no holdin’ me. No, sir, I could of cleaned up on the whole family. And ever since then I’ve had a hankerin’ to be a doc. Something about the idea of cuttin’ into a man that always sort of tickled me. They’s only one main thing that holds me back—I don’t like the idea of knifin’ a feller when he ain’t got a chance to fight back! That’s me!”
To this Doctor Randall Byrne bowed, rather dazed, but returned no answer.
“And how’s your patient, doc?” pursued the irresistible marshal. “How’s old Joe Cumberland? I remember when me and Joe used to trot about the range together. I was sort of a kid then; but think of old Joe bein’ down in bed—sick! Why, I ain’t never been sick a day in my life. Sick? I’d laugh myse’f plumb to death if anybody ever wanted me to go to bed. What’s the matter with him, anyway?”
“His nerves are a bit shaken about,” responded the doctor. “To which I might add that there is superimposed an arterial condition——”