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"doc." Gordon - Chapter 12 Post by :emortalsnow Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :570

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"doc." Gordon - Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

Clemency was so worn out that Doctor Gordon insisted upon her going to
bed directly after dinner, and he and James had a solitary evening in
the office, with the exception of Gordon's frequent absence in his
wife's room. Each time when he returned he looked more gloomy. "I have
increased the morphine almost as much as I dare," he said, coming into
the office about ten. He sat down and lit his pipe. James laid down the
evening paper which he had been reading. "Is she asleep now?" he asked.

"Yes. By the way, Elliot, have you guessed who that woman was who
kidnapped Clemency?"

James hesitated. "I don't fairly know whether I am right, but I have
guessed," he replied.

"Who?"

"The nurse."

"You are right. It was the nurse. That man had won her over, and set her
up housekeeping in Westover. He had been staying at the hotel there
before he came here. He was her lover, of course, although he was too
circumspect not to guard the secret. She has been living in that house
for the last three months under the name of Mrs. Wood, a widow. The
former occupants went away last summer, Aaron has been telling me. He
said that once he himself saw the man enter the house, and he had seen
the woman on the street. She had made herself quite popular in Westover.
It was no part of that man's policy to keep his vice behind locked
doors. Locks themselves are the best witness against evil. She attended
the Dutch Reformed Church regularly. She was present at all the church
suppers, and everybody has called on her in Westover. Now I think she
has fled, half-crazed with grief over the death of her lover, and afraid
of some sort of exposure. Unless I miss my guess, there will be a furor
around here shortly over her disappearance. She was not a bad woman as I
remember her, and she was attractive, with a kindly disposition. But he
had his way always with women, and I suppose she thought she was doing
him a service by kidnapping poor little Clemency. I am sorry for her. I
hope she did not go away penniless, but she has her nursing to fall
back upon. She was a good nurse. That makes me think. I must see if Mrs.
Blair cannot come here to-morrow. Clara must have somebody beside
Clemency and Emma. I should prefer a trained nurse, and this woman is
simply the self-taught village sort, but Clara prefers her. She shrinks
at the very mention of a trained nurse. Of course, it is unreasonable,
but the poor soul has always had an awful dread of hospitals and a
possible operation, and I believe that in some way she thinks a trained
nurse one of a dreadful trinity. She must be humored, of course. The
result cannot be changed."

"You have no hope, then?" James said in a low voice.

"I have had no more from the outset than if she had been already dead,"
said Gordon.

James said nothing. An enormous pity for the other man was within him.
He thought of Clemency, and he seemed to undergo the same pangs. He felt
such a terrible understanding of the other's suffering that it passed
the bounds of sympathy. It became almost experience. His young face took
on the same expression of dull misery as Gordon's. Presently Gordon
glanced at him, and spoke with a ring of gratitude and affection in his
tired voice.

"You are a good fellow, Elliot," he said, "and you are the one ray of
comfort I have. I am glad that I have you to leave poor little Clemency
with."

James looked at him with sudden alarm. "You are not ill?" he said.

"No, but there is an end to everybody's rope, and sometimes I think I am
about at the end of mine. I don't know. Anyway, it is a comfort to me to
think that Clemency has you in case anything should happen to me."

"She has me as long as I live," James said fervently. Red overspread his
young face, his eyes glistened. Again the great pity and understanding
with regard to the other man came over him, and a feeling for Clemency
which he had never before had: a feeling greater than love itself, the
very angel of love, divinest pity and protection, for all womanhood,
which was exemplified for himself in this one girl. His heart ached, as
if it were Clemency's upstairs, lying miserably asleep under the
influence of the drug, which alone could protect her from indescribable
pain. His mind projected itself into the future, and realized the
possibility of such suffering for her, and for himself. The honey-sting
of pain, which love has, stung him sharply.

Gordon seemed to divine his thoughts. "God grant that you may never have
to undergo what I am undergoing, boy," he said. Then he added, "It was
in poor Clara's blood, her mother before her died the same way. Clemency
comes, on her mother's side at least, of a healthy race, morally and
physically, although the nervous system is oversensitive. If my poor
sister had been happy, she would have been alive to-day. And as far as I
know of the other side, there was perfect physical health, although he
had that abnormal lack of moral sense that led one to dream of
possession. Did you notice how much less evil he looked when he was
dead, even with that frightfully disfigured face?"

"Yes."

"There are strange things in this world," said Gordon with gloomy
reflection, "or else simple things which we are strange not to believe.
Sometimes I think people will have to take to the Bible again in that
literal sense in which so many are now inclined to disregard it. Well,
Elliot, I honestly feel that you have nothing to fear in taking poor
little Clemency. I should tell you if I thought otherwise. She will
make you happy, and I can think of no reason to warn you concerning any
possible lapses, in either her physical or her moral health, and I have
had her in my charge since she first drew the breath of life. Come, my
son, it is late, and we have a great deal to do to-morrow. This awful
business has made me neglect patients. I have to see Clara again, and
get what rest I can." Gordon looked older and wearier than James had
ever seen him, as he bade him good-night, old and weary as he had often
seen him look. A sudden alarm for Gordon himself came over him. He
wondered, after he had entered, his room, if he were not strained past
endurance. He recalled his own father's healthy, ruddy face, and Gordon
was no older.

He lay awake a while thinking anxiously of Gordon, then his own happy
future blazoned itself before him, and he dreamed awake, and dreamed
asleep, of himself and Clemency, in that future, whose golden vistas had
no end, so far as his young eyes could see. The sense of relief from
anxiety over the girl was so intense that it was in itself a delight.
Clemency herself felt it. The next morning at breakfast she looked
radiant. Gordon had assured her the sick woman had rested quietly, and
told her that Mrs. Blair was coming.

"To-day I can go where I choose," Clemency exclaimed gayly.

"Not until afternoon," replied Gordon, then he relented at her look of
disappointment, and suggested that she go with Elliot to make his calls,
while he went with Aaron and the team. It was a beautiful morning;
spring seemed to have arrived. Everywhere was the plash of running
water, now and then came distant flutings of birds. "I know that was a
bluebird," Clemency said happily. "I feel sure mother will get well now.
It seems wicked to be glad that the man is dead, especially on such a
morning, but I wonder if it is, when he would have spoiled the morning."

"Don't think about it, anyway!" James said.

"I try not to."

"You must not!"

"I know why Uncle Tom did not want me to go out alone this morning,"
Clemency said, with one of her quick wise looks, cocking her head like a
bird.

"Why?"

"He wanted to make sure that that woman has really gone."

"Clemency, you must not mention that man or woman to me again," said
James.

"I am not married to you yet," Clemency said, pouting.

"That makes no difference, you must promise."

"Well, then, I will. I am so happy this morning, that I will promise
anything."

James looked about to be sure nobody was in sight before he kissed the
little radiant face.

"I won't speak of them again, but I am right," Clemency said with a
little toss and blush, and it proved that she was.

At luncheon Doctor Gordon told Clemency that she could go wherever she
liked. She gave a little glance at James, and said gayly, "All right,
Uncle Tom."

That afternoon Gordon and James made some calls in company, driving far
into the hills. They had hardly started before Gordon said abruptly,
"Well, the woman is gone, and there is a wild excitement in Westover
over her disappearance. I believe they are about to drag the pond. A man
who knew her well by sight declares that she boarded that New York
train, but the people will not give up the theory that she has been
murdered for her jewelry. By the way, I think I need not worry over her
immediate necessities. It seems that she had worn a quantity of very
valuable jewels. Of course her going without any baggage except a
suit-case, and leaving behind the greater part of her wardrobe, does
look singular. But it seems that the house was rented furnished, and I
fancy she lived always in light marching orders, and probably carried
the most valuable of her possessions upon her person and in her
suit-case. Well, I am thankful she has decamped."

"You don't fear her returning?" asked James with some anxiety.

"No, I have no fear of that. She is probably broken-hearted over the
death of that man. She is not of the sort to kidnap on her own account.
It was only for him. Clemency has nothing more to fear."

"I am thankful."

"You can well believe that I am, when I tell you that this afternoon I
am absolutely sure, for the first time in years, that the girl is safe
to come and go as she pleases. I have had hideous uncertainty as well as
hideous certainty to cope with. Now it is down to the hideous certainty.
That is bad enough, but fate on an open field is less unmanning than
fate in ambush. I have long known to a nicety the fate in the field."
Gordon hesitated a second, then he said abruptly, with his face turned
from his companion, in a rough voice, "Clara can't last many days."

James made an exclamation.

"She has gone down hill rapidly during the last two days," said Gordon.
"I have been increasing the morphine. It can't last long." Gordon ended
the sentence with a hoarse sob.

"I can't say anything," James faltered after a second, "but you know--"

"Yes, I know," Gordon said. "You are as sorry as any one can be who is
not, so to speak, the hero, or rather the coward, of the tragedy. Yes, I
know. I'm obliged to you, Elliot, but all of us have to face death,
whether it is our own or the death of another dearer than ourselves,
alone. A soul is a horribly lonely thing in the worst places of life."

"Have you told Clemency?"

"No, I have put it off until the last minute. What good can it do? She
knows that Clara is very ill, but she does not know, she has never
known, the character of the illness. Sometimes I have a curious feeling
that instinct has asserted itself, and that Clemency, fond as she is of
my wife, has not exactly the affection which she would have had for her
own mother."

"I don't think she knows any difference at all," James said. "I think
the poor little girl will about break her heart."

"I did not mean to underestimate Clemency's affection," said Gordon,
"but what I say is true. The girl herself will never know it, and, you
may not believe it, but she will not suffer as she would suffer if Clara
were her own mother. These ties of the blood are queer things, nothing
can quite take their place. If Clemency had died first Clara would have
been indignant at the suggestion, but she herself would not have mourned
as she would mourn for her own daughter. I must touch up the horses a
bit. I want to get home. I may not be able to go out again to-night.
Last night I was up until dawn with Clara." Gordon touched the horses
with a slight flicker of the whip. He held the lines taut as they sprang
forward. His face was set ahead. James glancing at him had a realization
of the awful loneliness of the other man by his side. He seemed to
comprehend the vastness of the isolation of a grief which concerns one,
and one only, more than any other. Gordon had the expression of a
wanderer upon a desert or a frozen waste. Illimitable distances of
solitude seemed reflected in his gloomy eyes.

James did not attempt to talk to him. It seemed like mockery, this
effort to approach with sympathy this set-apart man, who was
unapproachable.

That night Gordon's wife was much worse. Gordon came down to James's
room about two o'clock. James had been awake for some time listening to
the sounds of suffering overhead, and he had lit his lamp and dressed,
thinking that he might be needed. Gordon stood in the doorway almost
reeling. He made an effort before he spoke.

"Come into my office, will you?" he said.

James at once followed him. Going through the hall the sounds of agony
became more distinct. When they entered the office Gordon fairly slammed
the door, then he turned to Elliot with a savage expression. "Hear
that," he said, as if he were accusing the other man. "Hear that, I say!
The last hypodermic has not taken effect yet, and her heart is weak. If
I give her more--"

He stopped, staring at James, his face worked like a child's. Then
suddenly an almost idiotic expression came over it, the utter numbness
of grief. Then it passed away. Again he looked intelligently into the
young man's eyes. "If I don't give her more," he gasped out, "if I
don't, this may last hours. If I do--"

The two men stood staring at each other. James thought of Clemency. "Has
Clemency been in to see her?" he asked.

"Yes, she heard, and came in. I sent her out. She is in her own room
now; Emma is with her." Suddenly Gordon gave a look of despairing appeal
at James. "I--wish you would go up and see Clara," he whispered.

James knew what he meant. He hesitated.

"Go, and send Mrs. Blair down here," said Gordon. "Tell her I want to
see her."

"Well," said James slowly.

The two men did not look at each other again. Gordon sank into his
chair. James went out of the room and upstairs. He knocked on the door
of the sick-room, and Mrs. Blair, the village nurse, answered his knock.
She was a large woman in a voluminous wrapper. Her face had a settled
expression of gravity, almost of sternness. She looked at James. The
screams from the writhing mass of agony in the bed did not appear to be
moving her, whereas she in reality was herself screwed to such a pitch
of mental torture of pity that she was scarcely able to move. She was
rigid.

"Doctor Gordon sent me," whispered James. "He wished me to see her. He
asked me to say to you that he would like to see you for a minute in the
office."

The woman did not move for a second. Then she whispered close to James's
ear, "_It is on the bureau_."

James nodded. They passed each other. James entered the room and closed
the door. A lamp was burning on a table with a screen before it. The bed
was in shadow. The screams never ceased. They were not human. James
could not realize that the beautiful woman whom he had known was making
such sounds. They sounded like the shrieks of an animal. All the soul
seemed gone from them.

James approached the bed. There was a roll of dark eyes at him. Then a
voice ghastly beyond description, like the snarl of a hungry beast, came
from between the straight white lips. "More, more! Give me more! Be
quick!"

James hesitated.

"Quick, quick!" demanded the voice.

James crossed the room to the dresser. The sick woman now interspersed
her screams with the word "quick!"

James filled a hypodermic syringe from a glass on the bureau and
approached the bed again. He bared a shuddering arm and inserted the
instrument quickly. "Now try and be quiet," he said. "You will go to
sleep."

Then he went out of the room. The screams had ceased. As James
approached the stair another door opened, and Clemency in a wrapper
looked out. She was very pale, her eyes were distended with fear, and
her mouth was trembling. "How is she?" she whispered.

"Better, dear. Go back in your room and lie down. We are doing all we
can."

When James entered the office Gordon and Mrs. Blair turned with one
accord, and fixed horribly searching eyes upon his face. He sat down
beside the table, and mechanically lit a cigar.

"How did she seem?" Gordon asked almost inaudibly.

"Better."

"Was she quiet?"

"Yes."

Gordon gave a long sigh. His face was deadly white. He leaned back in
his chair, and both James and the nurse sprang. They thought he had
fainted. While James felt his pulse Mrs. Blair got some brandy. Gordon
swallowed the brandy, and raised his head.

"It is nothing," he said in a harsh voice. "You had better go back to
her, Mrs. Blair."

A look of strange dread came over the woman's grave face.

"I will be there directly," said Gordon.

Mrs. Blair went out. She left the door ajar. The house was so still that
one could seem to hear the silence. There was something terrible about
it after the turmoil of sound. Then the silence was broken. A scream
more terrible than ever pierced it like a sword. Another came. Gordon
sprang up and faced James. The young man's eyes fell before the look of
fierce questioning in Gordon's.

"I could not," he gasped. "Oh, Doctor Gordon, I could not! Instead of
that I used water. I thought perhaps her mind being convinced that it
was morphine, she might--"

"Mind!" shouted Gordon. "Mind, how much do you suppose the poor,
tortured thing has to bring to bear upon this? I tell you she is being
eaten alive. There is no other word for it. Gnawed, and worried, and
eaten alive." Gordon ran out of the room.

James closed the door. The dog, who had been asleep beside the fire,
started up, came over to James, laid his white head on his knee and
whimpered, with an appealing look in his brown eyes, which were turned
toward the young man's face. Almost immediately Mrs. Blair entered the
room. She was very pale. "Doctor Gordon sent me down for the brandy,"
she said abruptly. She went to the table on which the brandy flask
stood, but she seemed in no hurry to take it.

"How is she?" asked James.

"I think she is a little quieter." The nurse stood staring at the fire
for a second longer. Then she took the brandy flask and went out with a
soft, but jarring, tread.

Doctor Gordon must have passed her on the stairs, for he returned almost
directly after she had left, and stood with his back to James, fussing
over some bottles on the shelves opposite the fireplace. He stood there
for some five minutes. James glancing over his shoulder saw that he was
trembling in a strange rigid fashion, but he seemed intent upon the
bottles. The house was very still again. Gordon at last seemed to have
finished whatever he was doing with the bottles. He left them and sat
down in his chair. The dog left James and went to him, but Gordon pushed
him away roughly. Then Gordon spoke to James without turning his face in
his direction. "I wish you would go upstairs," he said hoarsely. "Mrs.
Blair is alone, and I--I am about done too."

James obeyed without a word. When he reached the head of the stairs he
felt a sudden draught of cold wind. Mrs. Blair came out of the
sick-room, closing the door behind her. Her face looked as stern as fate
itself. James knew what had happened the moment he saw her.

James began to speak stammeringly, but she stopped him. "Call Doctor
Gordon," she said shortly. "She is dead."

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CHAPTER XIGordon smiled at James. "God bless you, boy!" he said."What possible difference do you think that could make?" demanded Jameshotly. "Could that poor little girl help it?""Of course she could not, but some men might object, and with reason, tomarrying a girl who came of such stock on her father's side.""I am not one of those men.""No, I don't think you are, but it is only my duty to put the caseplainly before you. That man who was buried this afternoon was simplyunspeakable. He was a monstrosity of perverted morality. I cannot evenbring myself to tell you what I know
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