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Full Online Book HomeLong Stories"doc." Gordon - Chapter 1
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"doc." Gordon - Chapter 1 Post by :laurynm Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1364

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"doc." Gordon - Chapter 1

CHAPTER I

It was very early in the morning, it was scarcely dawn, when the young
man started upon a walk of twenty-five miles to reach Alton, where he
was to be assistant to the one physician in the place, Doctor Thomas
Gordon, or as he was familiarly called, "Doc." Gordon. The young man's
name was James Elliot. He had just graduated, and this was to be his
first experience in the practice of his profession of medicine. He was
in his twenties. He was small, but from the springiness of his gait and
the erectness of his head he gave an impression of height. He was very
good-looking, with clearly-cut features, and dark eyes, in which shone,
like black diamonds, sparks of mischief. They were honest eyes, too. The
young fellow was still sowing his wild oats, but more with his hands
than with his soul. He was walking because of a great amount of restless
energy; he fairly revelled in stretching his legs over the country road
in the keen morning air. The train service between Gresham, his home
place, and Alton was very bad, necessitating two changes and waits of
hours, and he had fretted at the prospect. When a young man is about to
begin his career, he does not wish to sit hours in dingy little railroad
stations on his way toward it. It was much easier, and pleasanter, to
walk, almost run to it, as he was doing now. His only baggage was his
little medicine-case; his trunk had gone by train the day before. He was
very well dressed, his clothes had the cut of a city tailor. He was
almost dandified. His father was well-to-do: a successful peach-grower
on a wholesale scale. His great farm was sprayed over every spring with
delicate rosy garlands of peach blossoms, and in the autumn the trees
were heavy with the almond-scented fruit. He had made a fortune, and
aside from that had achieved a certain local distinction. He was then
mayor of Gresham, which had a city government. James was very proud of
his father and fond of him. Indeed, he had reason to be. His father had
done everything in his power for him, given him a good education, and
supplied him liberally with money. James had always had a sense of
plenty of money, which had kept him from undue love of it. He was now
beginning the practice of his profession, in a small way, it is true,
but that he recognized as expedient. "You had better get acclimated,
become accustomed to your profession in a small place, before you launch
out in a city," his father had said, and the son had acquiesced. It was
the natural wing-trying process before large flights were attempted, and
the course commended itself to his reason. James, as well as his father,
had good reasoning power. He whistled to himself as he walked along. He
was very happy. He had a sensation as of one who has his goal in sight.
He thought of his father, his mother, and his two younger sisters, but
with no distress at absenting himself from them, although he lived in
accord with his family. Twenty-five miles to his joyous youth seemed but
as a step across the road. He had no sense of separation. "What is
twenty-five miles?" he had said laughingly to his mother, when she had
kissed him good-by. He had no conception of her state of mind with
regard to the break in the home circle. He who was the breaker did not
even see the break. Therefore he walked along, conscious of an immense
joy in his own soul, and wholly unconscious of anything except joy in
the souls of those whom he had left behind. It was a glorious morning, a
white morning. The ground was covered with white frost, the trees, the
house-roofs, the very air, were all white. In the west a transparent
moon was slowly sinking; the east deepened with red and violet tints.
Then came the sun, upheaving above the horizon like a ship of glory, and
all the whiteness burned, and glowed, and radiated jewel-lights. James
looked about with the delight of a discoverer. It might have been his
first morning. He begun to meet men going to their work, swinging tin
dinner-pails. Even these humble pails became glorified, they gave back
the sunlight like burnished silver. He smelled the odors of breakfast
upon the men's clothes. He held up his head high with a sort of
good-humored arrogance as he passed. He would have fought to the death
for any one of these men, but he knew himself, quite innocently, upon
superior heights of education, and trained thought, and ambition. He met
a man swinging a pail; he was coughing: a wretched, long rattle of a
cough. James stopped him, opened his little medicine-case, and produced
some pellets.

"Here, take one of these every hour until the cough is relieved, my
friend," said he.

The man stared, swallowed a pellet, stared again, in an odd, suspicious,
surly fashion, muttered something unintelligible and passed on.

There were three villages between Gresham and Alton: Red Hill,
Stanbridge, and Westover. James stopped in Red Hill at a quick-lunch
wagon, which was drawn up on the principal street under the lee of the
town hall, went in, ordered and ate with relish some hot frankfurters,
and drank some coffee. He had eaten a plentiful breakfast before
starting, but the keen air had created his appetite anew. Beside him at
the counter sat a young workingman, also eating frankfurters and
drinking coffee. Now and then he gave a sidelong and supercilious glance
at James's fine clothes. James caught one of the glances, and laughed
good-naturedly.

"These quick-lunch wagons are a mighty good idea," said he.

The man grunted and took a swallow of coffee.

"Where do you work?" asked James.

"None of your d---- business!" retorted the other man unexpectedly.
"Where do you work yourself?"

James stared at him, then he burst into a roar. For a second the man's
surly mouth did not budge, then the corners twitched a little.

"What in thunder are you mad about?" inquired James. "I am going to work
for Doctor Gordon in Alton, and I don't care a d---- where you work."
James spoke with the most perfect good nature, still laughing.

Then the man's face relaxed into a broad grin. "Didn't know but you were
puttin' on lugs," said he. "I am about tired of all those damned
benefactors comin' along and arskin' of a man whot's none of their
business, when a man knows all the time they don't care nothin' about
it, and then makin' a man take somethin' he don't want, so as to get
their names in the papers." The man sniffed a sniff of fury, then his
handsome blue eyes smiled pleasantly, even with mischievous confidence
into James's, and he swallowed more coffee.

"I am no benefactor, you can bet your life on that," said James. "I
don't mean to give you anything you want or don't want."

"Didn't know but you was one of that kind," returned the man.

"Why?"

The man eyed James's clothes expressively.

"Oh, you mean my clothes," said James. "Well, this suit and overcoat are
pretty fair, but if I were a benefactor I should be wearing seedy
clothes, and have my wallet stuffed with bills for other folks."

"You bet you wouldn't," said the other man. "That ain't the way
benefactors go to work. What be you goin' to do at Doc Gordon's?"

"Drive," replied James laconically.

"Guess you can't take care of hosses in no sech togs as them."

"I've got some others. I'm going to learn to doctor a little, too, if I
can."

The man surveyed him, then he burst into a great laugh. "Well," said he,
"when I git the measles I'll call you in."

"All right," said James, "I won't charge you a red cent. I'll doctor you
and all your children and your wife for nothing."

"Guess you won't need to charge nothin' for the wife and kids, seein' as
I ain't got none," said the man. "Ketch me saddled up with a woman an'
kids, if I know what I'm about. Them's for the benefactors. I live in a
little shanty I rigged up myself out of two packin' boxes. I've got 'em
on a man's medder here. He let me squat for nothin'. I git my meals
here, an' I work on the railroad, an' I've got a soft snap, with nobody
to butt in. Here, Mame, give us another cup of coffee. Mame's the girl I
want, if I could hev one. Ain't you, Mame?"

The girl, who was a blonde, with an exaggerated pompadour fastened with
aggressive celluloid pins, smiled pertly. "Reckon I h'ain't no more use
for men than you hev for women," said she, as she poured the coffee. All
that could be seen of her behind the counter was her head, and her waist
clad in a red blouse, pinned so high to her skirt in the rear that it
almost touched her shoulder blades. The blouse was finished at the neck
with a nice little turn-over collar fastened with a brooch set with
imitation diamonds and sapphires.

"Now, Mame, you know," said the man with assumed pathos, "that it is
only because I'm a poor devil that I don't go kerflop the minute I set
eyes on you. But you wouldn't like to live in boxes, would you? Would
you now?"

"Not till my time comes, and not in boxes, then, less I'm in a railroad
accident," replied the girl, with ghastly jocularity.

"She's got another feller, or _you might git her if you've got a stiddy
job," the man said, winking at James with familiarity.

"Just my luck," said James. He looked at the girl, and thought her
pretty and pathetic, with a vulgar, almost tragic, prettiness and
pathos. She was anaemic and painfully thin. Her blouse was puffed out
over her flat chest. She looked worn out with the miserable little
tediums of life, with constant stepping over ant-hills of stupidity and
petty hopelessness. Her work was not, comparatively speaking, arduous,
but the serving of hot coffee and frankfurters to workingmen was not
progressive, and she looked as if her principal diet was the left-overs
of the stock in trade. She seemed to exhale an odor of musty sandwiches
and sausages and muddy coffee.

The man swallowed his second cup in fierce gulps. He glanced at his
Ingersoll watch. "Gee whiz!" said he. "It's time I was off! Good-by,
Mame."

The girl turned her head with a toss, and did not reply. "Good-by,"
James said.

The man grinned. "Good-by, Doc," he said. "I'll call you when I git the
measles. You're a good feller. If you'd been a benefactor I'd run you
out."

The man clattered down the steps of the gaudily painted little
structure. The girl whom he had called Mame turned and looked at James
with a sort of innocent boldness. "He's a queer feller," she observed.

"He seems to be."

"He is, you bet. Livin' in a house he's built out of boxes when he makes
big money. He's on strike every little while. I wouldn't look at him.
Don't know what he's drivin' at half the time. Reckon he's--" She
touched her head significantly.

"Lots of folks are," said James affably.

"That's so." She stared reflectively at James. "I'm keepin' this quick
lunch 'cause my father's sick," said she. "I see a lot of human nature
in here."

"I suppose you do."

"You bet. Every kind gits in here first and last, tramps up to swells
who think they're doin' somethin' awful funny to git frankfurters and
coffee in here. They must be hard driv."

"I suppose they are sometimes."

Mame's eyes, surveying James, suddenly grew sharp. "You ain't one?" she
asked accusingly.

"You bet not."

Mame's grew soft. "I knew you were all right," said she. "Sometimes they
say things to me that their fine lady friends would bounce 'em for, but
I knew the minute I saw you that you wasn't that kind if you be dressed
up like a gent. Reckon you've been makin' big money in your last place."

"Considerable," admitted James. He felt like a villain, but he had not
the heart to accuse himself of being a gentleman before this pathetic
girl.

Mame leaned suddenly over the counter, and her blonde crest nearly
touched his forehead. "Say," said she, in a whisper.

"What?" whispered James back.

"What he said ain't true. There ain't a mite of truth in it."

"What he said," repeated James vaguely.

Mame pouted. "How awful thick-headed you be," said she. "What he said
about my havin' a feller." She blushed rosily, and her eyes fell.

James felt his own face suffused. He pulled out his pocket-book, and
rose abruptly. "I'm sorry," he said with stupidity.

The rosy flush died away from the girl's face. "Nobody asked you to be
sorry," said she. "I could have any one of a dozen I know if I jest held
out my little finger."

"Of course, you could," James said. He felt apologetic, although he did
not know exactly why. He fumbled over the change, and at last made it
right with a quarter extra for the girl.

"It's a quarter too much," said she.

"Keep it, please."

She hesitated. She was frowning under her great blonde roll, her mouth
looked hurt.

"What a fuss about a quarter," said James, with a laugh. "Keep it.
That's a good girl."

Mame took a dingy handkerchief out of the bosom of her blouse, untied a
corner, and James heard a jingle of coins meeting. Then she laughed.
"You're an awful fraud," said she.

"Why?"

"You can't cheat me, if you did Bill Slattery."

"I think I don't know what you mean."

"You're a gent."

The girl's thin, coarse laughter rang out after James as he descended
the steps of the quick-lunch wagon. She opened the door directly after
he had closed it, and stood on the top step with the cold wind agitating
her fair hair. "Say," she called after him.

James turned as he walked away. "What is it?"

"Nothin', only I was foolin' you, and so was Bill. I've got a feller,
and Bill's him."

"I'll make you a present when you're married," James called back with a
laugh.

"It's to come off next summer," cried the girl.

"I won't forget," answered James. He knew the girl lied; that she was
not about to marry the workingman. He said to himself, as he strode on
refreshed with his coarse fare, that girls were extraordinary: first
they were bold to positive indecency, then modest to the borders of
insanity.

James walked on. He reached Stanbridge about noon. Then he was hungry
again. There was a good hotel there, and he made a substantial meal. He
had a smoke and a rest of half an hour, then he resumed his walk. He
soon passed the outskirts of Stanbridge, which was a small, old city,
then he was in the country. The houses were sparsely set well back from
the road. He met nobody, except an occasional countryman driving a
wood-laden team. Presently the road lay between stately groves of oaks,
although now and then they stood on one side only of the highway. Nearly
all the oaks bore a shag of dried leaves about their trunks, like mossy
beards of old men, only the shag was a bright russet instead of white.
The ground under the oaks was like cloth-of-gold under the sun, the
fallen leaves yet retained so much color. James heard a sharp croak,
then a crow flew with wide flaps of dark wings across the road and
perched on an oak bough. It cocked its head, and watched him wisely.
James whistled at it, but it did not stir. It remained with its head
cocked in that attitude of uncanny wisdom.

Suddenly James saw before him the figure of a girl, moving swiftly. She
must have come out of the wood. She went as freely as a woodland thing,
although she was conventionally dressed in a tailor suit of brown. Her
hat, too, was brown, and a brown feather curled over the brim. She
walked fast, with evidently as much enjoyment of the motion as James
himself. They both walked like winged things.

Suddenly James had a queer experience. One sense became transposed into
another, as one changes the key in music. He heard absolutely nothing,
but it was as if he saw a noise. He saw a man standing on the right
between him and the girl. The man had not made the slightest sound, he
was sure. James had good ears, but sound and not sight was what betrayed
him, or rather sound transposed into sight. He stood as motionless as a
tree himself. James knew that he had been looking at the girl. Now she
was looking at him. James felt a long shudder creep over him. He had
never been afraid of anything except fear. Now he was afraid of fear,
and there was something about the man which awakened this terror, yet it
was inexplicable. He was a middle-aged man, and distinctly handsome. He
was something above the medium height, and very well dressed. He wore a
fur-lined coat which looked opulent. He had gray hair and a black
mustache. There was nothing menacing in his face. He was, indeed,
smiling a curious retrospective smile, as if at his own thoughts.
Although his eyes regarded James attentively, this smiling mouth seemed
entirely oblivious of him. The man gave an odd impression, as of two
personalities: the one observant, with an animal-like observance for his
own weal or woe, the other observant with intelligence. It was possibly
this impression of a dual personality which gave James his quick sense
of horror. He walked on, feeling his very muscles shrink. Just before
James reached the man he emerged easily, with not the slightest
appearance of stealth, from the wood, and walked on before him with a
rapid, swinging stride. There were then three persons upon the road: the
girl in brown, the strange man in the fur-lined coat, and James Elliot.
James quickened his pace, but the other man kept ahead of him, and
reached the girl. He stopped and James broke into a run. He saw the man
place a hand upon the girl's shoulder, and make a motion as if to turn
her face toward his. James came up with a shout, and the man disappeared
abruptly, with a quick backward glance at James, into the wood.

The girl looked at James, and her little face under her brown plumed hat
was very white. "Oh," she gasped, as if she had always known him, "I am
so glad you are here! He frightened me terribly."

She tried to smile at James, although her poor little mouth was
quivering. "Who was he?" she asked.

(Illustration: "You don't think he will come back?" Page 21.)

"I don't know."

A sudden suspicion flashed into her eyes. "He wasn't with you?"

"No. I saw him on the edge of the woods back there, and I didn't like
his looks. When he started to follow you I hurried to catch up."

"Oh, thank you," said the girl fervently. "Do forgive me for asking if
you were with him. I knew you were not the minute I saw you. I did not
turn my face, although he tried to make me. I don't know why, but I do
know he was something terrible and wicked." The girl said this last with
a shudder. She caught hold of James's arm innocently, as a frightened
child might have done. "You don't think he will come back?"

"No, and if he does I will take care of you."

"He may be--armed."

Suddenly the girl reeled. "Don't let me faint away. I won't faint away,"
she said in an angry voice. James saw that she was actually biting her
lips to overcome the faintness.

"If you will sit down on that rock for a moment," said James, "I have
something in my medicine-case which will revive you. I am a doctor."

"I shall faint away if I sit down and give up to it, if I swallow your
whole case," said the girl weakly. "I know myself. Let me hold your arm
and walk, and don't make me talk, then I can get over it." She was
biting her lips almost to bleeding.

James walked on as he was bidden, with the slender little brown-clad
figure clinging to him. He realized that he had fallen in with a girl
who had a will which was possibly superior to anything in his
medicine-case when it came to overcoming fright.

They walked on until they came in sight of a farm-house, when the girl
spoke again, and James saw that the color was returning to her face. "I
am all right now," said she, and withdrew her hand from his arm. She
gave her head an angry, whimsical shake. "I am ashamed of myself," said
she, "but I was horribly frightened, and sometimes I do faint. I can
generally get the better of myself, but sometimes I can't. It always
makes me so angry. I do hope you don't think I am such an awful coward,
because I am not."

"I think most girls whom I have known would have made much more fuss
than you did," said James. "You never screamed."

"I never did scream in my life," said the girl. "I don't think I could.
I don't know how. I think if I did scream, I should certainly faint."

James stopped and opened his medicine-case. "I think you had better take
just a swallow of brandy," said he.

The girl thrust back the bottle which he offered her with high disdain.
"Brandy," said she, "just because I have been frightened a little! I
should be ashamed of myself if I did such a thing. I am ashamed now for
almost fainting away, but I should never forgive myself if I took brandy
because of it. If I haven't nerve enough to keep straight without
brandy, I should be a pretty poor specimen of a girl." She looked at him
indignantly, and James saw what he had not seen before (he had been so
engrossed with the strangeness of the situation), that she was a
beautiful girl with a singular type of beauty. She was very small, but
she gave the impression of intense springiness and wiriness. Although
she was thin, no one could have called her delicate. She looked as much
alive as a flame, with nerves on the surface from head to heel. Her eyes
were blue, not large, but full of light, her hair, which tossed around
her face in a soft fluff, was ash-blonde. Brown was the last color,
theoretically, which she should have worn, but it suited her. The ash
and brown, the two neutral tints, served to bring out the blue fire of
her eyes and the intense red of her lips. However, her beauty lay not so
much in her regular features as in the wonderful flame-like quality
which animated them, and which they assumed when she spoke or listened.
In repose, her face was as neutral as a rock or dead leaf. It was
neither beautiful nor otherwise. When it was animated, it was as if the
rock gave out silver lights of mica and rosy crystal under strong light,
and as if the dead leaf leapt into flame. James thought her much
prettier than any of his sisters or their friends, but he was led quite
unknowingly into this opinion, because of his own position as her
protector. That made him realize his own male gorgeousness and strength,
and he really saw the girl with such complacency instead of himself.

They walked along, and all at once he stopped short. Something occurred
to him, which, strange to say, had not occurred before. He was not in
the least cowardly. He was brave almost to foolhardiness. All at once
it occurred to him that he ought to follow the man.

"Good Lord!" said he and stopped.

"What is the matter?" asked the girl.

"Why, I must follow that man. He is a suspicious character. He ought not
to be left at large."

"I suppose you don't care if you leave me alone," said the girl
accusingly.

James stared at her doubtfully. There was that view of the situation.

"I am going to see my friend Annie Lipton, who lives in Westover. There
is half a mile of lonely road before I get there. That man, for all I
know, may be keeping sight of us in the woods over there. While you are
going back to chase him, he may come up with me. Well, run along if you
want to. I am not afraid." But the girl's lips quivered, and she paled
again.

James glanced at the stretch of road ahead. There was not a house in
sight. Woods were on one side, on the other was a rolling expanse of
meadowland covered with dried last year's grass, like coarse
oakum-colored hair.

"I think I had better keep on with you," James said.

"You can do exactly as you choose," the girl replied defiantly, but
tremulously. "I am not in the least dependent upon men to escort me. I
wander miles around by myself. This is the first time I have seemed to
be in the slightest danger. I dare say there was no danger this time,
only he came up behind like a cat, and--"

"He didn't say anything?"

"No, he didn't speak. He only tried to make me turn my head, so he could
see my face, and directly it seemed to me that I must die rather than
let him. He was trying to make me turn my head. I think maybe he was an
insane man."

"I will go on with you," said James.

They walked on for the half mile of which the girl had spoken. A sudden
shyness seemed to have come over both of them. Then they began to come
in sight of houses. "I am not afraid now," said the girl, "but I do
think you are very foolish if you go back alone and try to hunt that
man. Ten chances to one he is armed, and you haven't a thing to defend
yourself with, except that medicine-case."

"I have my fists," replied James indignantly.

"Fists don't count much against a revolver."

"Well, I am going to try," said James with emphasis.

"Good-by, then. You are treating me shamefully, though."

James stared at her in amazement. She was actually weeping, tears were
rolling over her cheeks.

"What do you mean?" said he. "Don't feel so badly."

"You can't be very quick-witted not to see. If you should meet that man,
and get killed, I should really be the one who killed you and not the
man."

"Why, no, you would not."

The girl stamped her foot. "Yes, I should, too," said she, half-sobbing.
"You would not have been killed except for me. You know you would not."

She spoke as if she actually saw the young man dead before her, and was
indignant because of it, and he burst into a peal of laughter.

"Laugh if you want to," said she. "It does not seem to me any laughing
matter to go and get yourself killed by me, and my having that on my
mind my whole life. I think I should go mad." Her voice shook, an
expression of horror came into her blue eyes.

James laughed again. "Very well, then," he said, "to oblige you I won't
get killed."

He, in fact, began to consider that the day was waning, and what a
wild-goose chase it would probably be for him to attempt to follow the
man. So again they walked on until they reached the main street of
Westover.

Westover was a small village, rather smaller than Gresham. They passed
three gin-mills, a church, and a grocery store. Then the girl stopped at
the corner of a side street. "My friend lives on this street," said she.
"Thank you very much. I don't know what I should have done if you had
not come. Good-by!" She went so quickly that James was not at all sure
that she heard his answering good-by. He thought again how very handsome
she was. Then he began to wonder where she lived, and how she would get
home from her friend's house, if the friend had a brother who would
escort her. He wondered who her friends were to let a girl like that
wander around alone in a State which had not the best reputation for
safety. He entertained the idea of waiting about until she left her
friend's house, then he considered the possible brother, and that the
girl herself might resent it, and he kept on. The western sky was
putting on wonderful tints of cowslip and rose deepening into violet. He
began considering his own future again, relegating the girl to the
background. He must be nearing Alton, he thought. After a three-mile
stretch of farming country, he saw houses again. Lights were gleaming
out in the windows. He heard wheels, and the regular trot of a horse
behind him, then a mud-bespattered buggy passed him, a shabby buggy, but
a strongly built one. The team of horses was going at a good clip. James
stood on one side, but the team and buggy had no sooner passed than he
heard a whoa! and a man's face peered around the buggy wing, not at
James, but at his medicine-case. James could just discern the face,
bearded and shadowy in the gathering gloom. Then a voice came. It
shouted, one word, the expressive patois of the countryside, that word
which may be at once a question and a salute, may express almost any
emotion. "Halloo!" said the voice.

This halloo involved a question, or so James understood it. He quickened
his pace, and came alongside the buggy. The face, more distinct now,
surveyed him, its owner leaning out over the side of the buggy. "Who are
you? Where are you bound?"

James answered the latter question. "I am going to Alton."

"To Doctor Gordon's?"

"Yes."

"Then you are Doctor Elliot?"

"Yes."

"Get in."

James climbed into the buggy. The other man took up the reins, and the
horse resumed his quick trot.

"You didn't come by train?" remarked the man.

"No. You are Doctor Gordon, I suppose?"

"Yes, I am. Why the devil did you walk?"

"To save my money," replied James, laughing. He realized nothing to be
ashamed of in his reply.

"But I thought your father was well-to-do."

"Yes, he is, but we don't ride when it costs money and we can walk. I
knew if I got to Alton by night, it would be soon enough. I like to
walk." James said that last rather defiantly. He began to realize a
certain amazement on the other man's part which might amount to an
imputation upon his father. "I have plenty of money in my pocket," he
added, "but I wanted the walk."

Doctor Gordon laughed. "Oh, well, a walk of twenty-five miles is nothing
to a young fellow like you, of course," he said. "I can understand that
you may like to stretch your legs. But you'll have to drive if you are
ever going to get anywhere when you begin practice with me."

"I suppose you have calls for miles around?"

"Rather." Doctor Gordon sighed. "It's a dog's life. I suppose you
haven't got that through your head yet?"

"I think it is a glorious profession," returned James, with his haughty
young enthusiasm.

"I wasn't talking about the profession," said the doctor; "I was talking
of the man who has to grind his way through it. It's a dog's life.
Neither your body nor your soul are your own. Oh, well, maybe you'll
like it."

"You seem to," remarked James rather pugnaciously.

"I? What can I do, young man, but stick to it whether I like it or not?
What would they do? Yes, I suppose I am fool enough to like a dog's
life, or rather to be unwilling to leave it. No money could induce me
anyhow. I suppose you know there is not much money in it?"

James said that he had not supposed a fortune was to be made in a
country practice.

"The last bill any of them will pay is the doctor's," said Doctor
Gordon. Then he added with a laugh, "especially when the doctor is
myself. They have to pay a specialist from New York, but I wait until
they are underground, and the relatives, I find, stick faster to the
monetary remains than the bark to a tree. If I hadn't a little private
fortune, and my--sister a little of her own, I expect we should starve."

James noticed with a little surprise the doctor's hesitation before he
spoke of his sister. It seemed then that he was not married. Somehow,
James had thought of him as married as a matter of course.

Doctor Gordon hastened to explain, as if divining the other's attitude.
"I dare say you don't know anything about my family relations," said he.
"My widowed sister, Mrs. Ewing, keeps house for me. I live with her and
her daughter. I think you will like them both, and I think they will
like you, though I'll be hanged if I have grasped anything of you so far
but your medicine-case and your voice. Your voice is all right. You give
yourself away by it, and I always like that."

James straightened himself a little. There was something bantering in
the other's tone. It made him feel young, and he resented being made to
feel young. He himself at that time felt older than he ever would feel
again. He realized that he was not being properly estimated. "If," said
he, with some heat, "a patient can make out anything by my voice as to
what I think, I miss my guess."

"I dare say not," said Doctor Gordon, and his own voice was as if he put
the matter aside.

He spoke to the horse, whose trot quickened, and they went on in
silence.

At last James began to feel rather ashamed of himself. He unstiffened.
"I had quite an exciting and curious experience after I left
Stanbridge," said he.

"Did you?" said the other in an absent voice.

James went on to relate the matter in detail. His companion turned an
intent face upon him as he proceeded. "How far back was it?" he asked,
and his tone was noticeably agitated.

"Just after I left the last house in Stanbridge. We went on together to
Westover. She mentioned something about going to see a friend there. I
think Lipton was the name, and she left me suddenly."

"What was the girl like?"

"Small and slight, and very pretty."

"Dressed in brown?"

"Yes."

"How did the man look?" Doctor Gordon's voice fairly alarmed the young
man.

"I hardly can say. I saw him distinctly, but only for a second. The
impression he gave me was of a middle-aged man, although he looked
young."

"Good-looking?"

"My God, no!" said James, as the man's face seemed to loom up before him
again. "He looked like the devil."

"A man may look like the devil, and yet be distinctly handsome."

"Well, I suppose he was; but give me the homeliest face on earth rather
than a face like that man's, if I must needs have anything to do with
him." The young fellow's voice broke. He was very young. He caught the
other man by his rough coat sleeve. "See here, Doctor Gordon," said he,
"my profession is to save life. That is the main end of it but, but--I
don't honestly know what I should think right, if I were asked to save
_that man's life."

"Was he well dressed?"

"More than well dressed, richly, a fur-lined coat--"

"Tall?"

"Yes, above the medium, but he stooped a little, like a cat, sort of
stretched to the ground like an animal, when he hurried along after the
girl in front of me."

Doctor Gordon struck the horse with his whip, and he broke into a
gallop. "We are almost home," said he. "I shall have to leave you with
slight ceremony. I have to go out again immediately."

Doctor Gordon had hardly finished speaking before they drew up in front
of a white house on the left of the road. "Get out," he said
peremptorily to James. The front door opened, and a parallelogram of
lighted interior became visible. In this expanse of light stood a tall
woman's figure. "Clara, this is the new doctor," called out Doctor
Gordon. "Take him in and take care of him."

"Have you got to go away again?" said the woman's voice. It was sweet
and rich, but had a curious sad quality in it.

"Yes, I must. I shall not be gone long. Don't wait supper."

"Aren't you going to change the horse?"

"Can't stop. Go right in, Elliot. Clara, look after him."

James Elliot found himself in the house, confronting the most beautiful
woman he had ever seen, as the rapid trot of the doctor's horse receded
in vistas of sound.

James almost gasped. He had never seen such a woman. He had seen pretty
girls. Now he suddenly realized that a girl was not a woman, and no more
to be compared with her than an uncut gem with one whose facets take the
utmost light.

The boy stood staring at this wonderful woman. She extended her hand to
him, but he did not see it. She said some gracious words of greeting to
him, but he did not hear them. She might have been the Venus de Milo for
all he heard or realized of sentient life in her. He was rapt in
contemplation of herself, so rapt that he was oblivious of her. She
smiled. She was accustomed to having men, especially very young men,
take such an attitude on first seeing her. She did not wait any longer,
but herself took the young man's hand, and drew him gently into the
room, and spoke so insistently that she compelled him to leave her and
attend. "I suppose you are Doctor Gordon's assistant?" she said.

James relapsed into the tricks of his childhood. "Yes, ma'am," he
replied. Then he blushed furiously, but the woman seemed to notice
neither the provincial term nor his confusion. He found himself somehow,
he did not know how, divested of his overcoat, and the vision had
disappeared, having left some words about dinner ringing in his ears,
and he was sitting before a hearth-fire in a large leather easy-chair.
Then he looked about the room in much the same dazed fashion in which he
had contemplated the woman. He had never seen a room like it. He was
used to conventionality, albeit richness, and a degree even of luxury.
Here were absolute unconventionality, richness, and luxury of a kind
utterly strange to him. The room was very large and long, extending
nearly the whole length of the house. There were many windows with
Eastern rugs instead of curtains. There were Eastern things hung on the
walls which gave out dull gleams of gold and silver and topaz and
turquoise. There were a great many books on low shelves. There were
bronzes, jars, and squat idols. There were a few pieces of Chinese ivory
work. There were many skins of lions, bears, and tigers on the floor,
besides a great Persian rug which gleamed like a blurred jewel. Besides
the firelight there was only one great bronze lamp to illuminate the
room. This lamp had a red shade, which cast a soft, fiery glow over
everything. There were not many pictures. The rich Eastern stuffs, and
even a skin or two of tawny hue, covered most of the wall-spaces above
the book-cases, giving backgrounds of color to bronzes and ivory
carvings, but there was one picture at the farther end of the room which
attracted James's notice. All that he could distinguish from where he
sat was a splash of splendid red.

He gazed, and his curiosity grew. Finally he rose, traversed the room,
and came close to the picture. It was a portrait of the woman who had
met him at the door. The red was the red of a splendid robe of velvet.
The portrait was evidently the work of no mean artist. The texture of
the velvet was something wonderful, so were the flesh tones; but James
missed something in the face. The portrait had been painted, he knew
instinctively, before some great change had come into the woman's heart,
which had given her another aspect of beauty.

James turned away. Then he noticed something else which seemed rather
odd about the room. All the windows were furnished with heavy wooden
shutters, and, early as it was, hardly dark, all were closed, and
fastened securely. James somehow got an impression of secrecy, that it
was considered necessary that no glimpse of the interior should be
obtained from without after the lamp was lit. They sat often carelessly
at his own home of an evening with the shades up, and all the interior
of the room plainly visible from the road. An utter lack of secrecy was
in James's own character. He scowled a little, as he returned to his
seat by the fire. He was too confused to think clearly, but he was
conscious of a certain homesickness for the wonted things of his life,
when the door opened and the woman reentered.

James rose, and she spoke in her sweet voice. It was rather lower
pitched than the voices of most women, and had a resonant quality. "Your
room is quite ready, Doctor Elliot," said she. "Your trunk is there. If
you would like to go there before dinner, I will pilot you. We have but
one maid, and she is preparing the dinner, which will be ready as soon
as you are. I hope Doctor Gordon and Clemency will have returned by that
time, too."

By Clemency James understood that she meant her daughter, of whom Doctor
Gordon had spoken. He wondered at the unusual name, as he followed his
hostess. His room was on the same floor as the living-room. She threw
open a door at the other side of the hall, and James saw an exceedingly
comfortable apartment with a hearth-fire, with book-shelves, and a
couch-bed covered with a rug, and a desk. "I thought you would prefer
this room," said the woman. "There are others on the second floor, but
this has the advantage of your being able to use it as a sitting-room,
and you may like to have your friends, whom I trust you will find in
Alton, come in from time to time. You will please make yourself quite
at home."

James had not yet fairly comprehended the beauty of the woman. He was
still too dazzled. Had he gone away at that time, he could not for the
life of him have described her, but he did glance, as a woman might have
done, at her gown. It was of a soft heavy red silk, trimmed with lace,
and was cut out in a small square at the throat. This glimpse of firm
white throat made James wonder as to evening costume for himself. At
home he never dreamed of such a thing, but here it might be different.
His hostess divined his thoughts. She smiled at him as if he were a
child. "No," said she, "you do not need to dress for dinner. Doctor
Gordon never does when we are by ourselves."

Then she went away, closing the door softly after her.

James noticed that over the windows of this room were only ordinary
shades, and curtains of some soft red stuff. There were no shutters. He
looked about him. He was charmed with his room, and it did away to a
great extent with his feeling of homesickness. It was not unlike what
his room at college had been. It was more like all rooms. He had no
feeling of the secrecy which the great living-room gave him, and which
irritated him. He brushed his clothes and his hair, and washed his hands
and face. While he was doing so he heard wheels and a horse's fast trot.
He guessed immediately that the doctor had returned. He therefore, as
soon as he had completed the slight changes in his toilet, started to
return to the living-room. Crossing the hall he met Doctor Gordon, who
seized him by the shoulder, and whispered in his ear, "Not a word before
Mrs. Ewing about what happened this afternoon."

James nodded. "More mystery," thought he with asperity.

"You have not spoken of it to her already, I hope," said Doctor Gordon
with quick anxiety.

"No, I have not. I have scarcely seen her."

"Well, not a word, I beg of you. She is very nervous."

The doctor had been removing his overcoat and hat. When he had hung them
on some stag's horn in the hall, he went with James into the
living-room.

There, beside the fire, sat the girl in brown whom James had met that
afternoon on the road.

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