“What became of your last husband, Mandy?” I asked, willing to be amused for a time. “Did he die?”
“Nope, didn’t die.”
“Deevorced, hell! No, I tole you, I up an’ left him.”
“Didn’t God join you in holy wedlock, Mandy?”
“No, it was the Jestice of the Peace.”
“Yep. And them ain’t holy none—leastways in Missouri. But say, man, look yere, it ain’t God that marries folks, and it ain’t Jestices of the Peace—it’s theirselves.”
I pondered for a moment. “But your vow—your promise?”
“My promise? Whut’s the word of a woman to a man? Whut’s the word of a man to a woman? It ain’t words, man, it’s feelin’s.”
“In sickness or in health?” I quoted.
“That’s all right, if your feelin’s is all right. The Church is all right, too. I ain’t got no kick. All I’m sayin’ to you is, folks marries theirselves.”
I pondered yet further. “Mandy,” said I, “suppose you were a man, and your word was given to a girl, and you met another girl and couldn’t get her out of your head, or out of your heart—you loved the new one most and knew you always would—what would you do?”
But the Sphinx of womanhood may lie under linsey-woolsey as well as silk. “Man,” said she, rising and knocking her pipe against her bony knee, “you talk like a fool. If my first husband was alive, he might maybe answer that for you.”
Later in the evening, Mandy McGovern having left me, perhaps for the purpose of assisting her protegee in the somewhat difficult art of drying buckskin clothing, I was again alone on the river bank, idly watching the men out on the bars, struggling with their teams and box boats. Orme had crossed the river some time earlier, and now he joined me at the edge of our disordered camp.
“How is the patient getting along?” he inquired. I replied, somewhat surlily, I fear, that I was doing very well, and thenceforth intended to ride horseback and to comport myself as though nothing had happened.
“I am somewhat sorry to hear that,” said he, still smiling in his own way. “I was in hopes that you would be disposed to turn back down the river, if Belknap would spare you an escort east.”
I looked at him in surprise. “I don’t in the least understand why I should be going east, when my business lies in precisely the opposite direction,” I remarked, coolly.
“Very well, then, I will make myself plain,” he went on, seating himself beside me. “Granted that you will get well directly—which is very likely, for the equal of this Plains air for surgery does not exist in the world—I may perhaps point out to you that at least your injury might serve as an explanation—as an excuse—you might put it that way—for your going back home. I thought perhaps that your duty lay there as well.”