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Full Online Book HomeLong Stories"doc." Gordon - Chapter 8
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"doc." Gordon - Chapter 8 Post by :jahover Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :3164

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"doc." Gordon - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

James and Clemency had hardly started upon their drive before there was
a ring at the office door, and Doctor Gordon, who was alone there,
answered it. He was confronted by a man who lived half-way between Alton
and the next village on the north. He had walked some three miles to get
some medicine for his wife, who was suffering from rheumatism. He was
pathetically insistent upon the fact that his wife did not require a
call from the doctor, only some medicine. "Now, see here, Joe," said
Gordon, "if I really thought your wife needed a call, I would go, and it
should not cost you a cent more than the medicine, but I am dog tired,
and not feeling any too well myself, and if her symptoms are just as you
say, I think I can send her something which will fix her up all right."

"She is just the way she was last year," said the man. He did not look
unlike Gordon, although he was poorly clad, and was a genuine son of the
New Jersey soil. His poor clothes, even his skin, had a clayey hue, as
if he had been really cast from the mother earth. It was frozen outside,
but a reddish crust from the last thaw was on his hulking boots. He
spoke with a drawl, which was nasal, and yet had something sweet in it.
"I would have came this afternoon, but I was afraid you might have went
out," he remarked.

"Yes, I was out," replied Gordon, who was filling out a prescription.
The man stooped and patted the bull terrier, which had not evinced the
slightest emotion at his entrance.

"Mighty fine dog," said the man.

"Yes, he is a pretty good sort," replied Gordon.

"Shouldn't like to meet him if I had came up to your house an' no one
round, and he had took a dislike to me."

"I should not myself," said Gordon. "But he does not dislike you."

"Dogs know me pooty well," said the man. "They ain't no particler likin'
for me. Don't want to run and jump an' wag, but they know I mean well,
and they mostly let me alone."

"Yes, I guess that's so," said Gordon. "Jack would have barked if he had
not known you were all right, Joe."

"Queer how much they know," said the man reflectively, and a dazed look
overspread his dingy face with its cloud of beard. If once he became
launched upon a current of reflection, he lost his mental bearings
instantly and drifted.

"Well, they do know," said Gordon. "Now listen, Joe! You see this
bottle. You give your wife a spoonful of the medicine in a glass of
water every three hours. Mind, you make it a whole tumbler full of
water."

"Yes, sir," replied the man.

"Of course, you need not wake her up if she gets to sleep," said the
doctor, "but every three hours when she is awake."

"Yes, sir." The man began fumbling in his pocket, but Gordon stopped
him. "No," he said, "put up your pocketbook, Joe. I don't want any
money. I get this medicine at wholesale, and it don't cost much."

"I come prepared to pay," said the man. He straightened his shoulders
and flushed.

"Oh, well," said Doctor Gordon, "wait. If you need more medicine, or it
seems necessary that I should drive over to see your wife, you can do a
little work on my garden in the spring, or you can let me have a bushel
of your new potatoes when they are grown next summer, or some apples,
and we'll call it square. Wait; I don't want any money for that bottle
of medicine to-night anyhow. Did you walk over, Joe?"

Joe said that he had walked over. "Aaron might just as well drive you
home as not," said Gordon. "The sooner your wife has that medicine the
better. How is the baby getting along?"

"First-rate. I'd just as soon walk, doctor."

For answer Gordon opened the door and called Aaron, and told him to
hitch up and take the man home.

"Doctor Elliot has gone with the bay," said Aaron. "The teams are about
played out, and there's nothin' except the gray."

"Take her then."

"She looked when I fed her jest now as if she was half a mind to balk at
takin' her feed," Aaron remarked doubtfully.

"Nonsense! Give her a loose rein, and she'll be all right."

Aaron went out grumbling.

Gordon offered the man a cigar, which he accepted as if it had been a
diamond. "I'll save it up for next Sunday, when I've got a little time
to sense it," he said. "I know what your cigars be."

Gordon forced another upon him, and the man looked as pleased as a
child.

Presently a shout was heard, and Gordon opened the office door.

"Here's Aaron with the buggy," he said.

He stood in the doorway watching, but the gray, instead of balking, went
out of the yard with an angry plunge. Gordon shook his head.

"Confound him, he's pulling too hard on the lines," he muttered. Then he
closed and locked the office door, and went into the living-room to find
it deserted. Gordon called up the stairs. "Have you gone to bed, Clara?"
His voice was at once tenderly solicitous and angry.

Mrs. Ewing answered him from above, and in her tone was something
propitiating. "Yes, Tom, dear," she called.

Gordon hesitated a moment. His face took on its expression of utmost
misery. "Is--the pain very bad?" he called then, and called as if he
were in actual fear.

"No, dear," the woman's patient, beseeching voice answered, "not very
bad."

"Not very?"

"No, only I felt a little twinge, and thought I had better go to bed. I
am quite comfortable now. I think I shall go to sleep. I am sorry to
leave you alone all the evening, Tom."

"That's right," called Gordon. His voice rang harsh, in spite of his
effort to control it. He threw his arm over his eyes, and fairly groped
his way back to his office, stifling his sobs. When he was in his office
he flung himself into a chair, and bent his head over his hands on the
table, and his whole frame shook. "Oh, my God!" he muttered. "Oh, my
God!" He did not weep, but he gasped like a child whom his mother has
commanded not to weep. Terrible emotion fairly convulsed him. He
struggled with it as with a visible foe. At last he sat up and filled
his pipe. The dog had crept close to him, and was nestling against him
and whimpering. Gordon patted his head. The dog licked his hand.

The simple, ignorant sympathy of this poor speechless thing nearly
unnerved the man again, but he continued to smoke. He looked at the dog,
whose honest brown eyes were fixed upon him with an almost uncanny
understanding, and reflected how the woman upstairs, who was passing out
of his life, had become in a few days so associated with the animal,
that after she was gone he could never see him without a pang. He
looked about the office, with whose belongings she was less associated
than with anything in the house, and it seemed to him that everything
even there would have for him, after she had passed, a terrible sting of
reminiscence. It seemed to him, as he looked about, as if she were
already gone. He was, in fact, suffering as keenly in anticipation as he
would in reality. The horror, the worst horror of life, of being left
alive with the dead and the associations of the dead was already upon
him. Some people are comforted by such associations, others they rend.
Gordon was one whom they would rend, whom they did rend. He made up his
mind, as he sat there, that he would have to go away from Alton, and
enter new scenes for the healing of his spirit, and yet he knew that he
should not go: that at the last his courage would assert itself.

He sat smoking, the dog's head on his knee. There was not a sound to be
heard in the house. Emma, the maid, had gone away to visit a sick
sister. She might not be back that night. So there was absolute silence,
even in the kitchen. Suddenly the dog lifted his head and listened to
something which Gordon could not himself hear. He watched the dog
curiously. The dog gave a low growl of fear and rage, and made for the
office door. He began scratching at the threshold, and emitted a perfect
volley of barks. It did not sound like one dog, but a whole pack.
Gordon, with an impulse which he could not understand, quickly put out
the prism-fringed lamp which hung over his table. Then he sprang to the
dog, and had the dog by the collar. "Be still, Jack," he said in a low
voice, and the dog obeyed instantly, although he was quivering under his
hand. Gordon could feel the muscles run like angry serpents under the
smooth white hair, he felt the crest of rage along his back. But the
animal was so well trained that he barked no more. He only growled very
softly, as if to himself, and quivered.

Gordon ordered him to charge in a whisper, and the dog stretched himself
at his feet, although it was like the crouch of a live wire. Then Gordon
rose and went softly to a window beside the door. The office had very
heavy red curtains. It was impossible, since they were closely drawn,
that a ray of light from within should have been visible outside. Gordon
had reasoned it out quickly when he extinguished the lamp. Whoever was
without would have had no possible means of knowing that anything except
the dog was in the office, but the light once out, Gordon could peep
around the curtain and ascertain, without being himself seen, what or
who was about. He had a premonition of what he should see, and he saw
it. The stable door was almost directly opposite that of the office.
Between the two doors there was a driveway. On this driveway the only
pale thing to be seen in the darkness was the tall, black figure of a
man standing perfectly still, as if watching. His attitude was
unmistakable. The long lines of him, upreared from the pale streak of
the driveway, were as plainly to be read as a sign-post. They signified
watchfulness. His back was toward the office. He stood face toward the
curve of the drive toward the road, where any one entering would first
be seen. Gordon, peeping around his curtain, knew the dark figure as he
would have known his own shadow. In one sense it had been for years his
shadow, and that added to the horror of it. The man behind the curtain
watched, the man in the drive watched; and the dog, crouched at the
threshold of the door, watched with what sublimated sense God alone
knew, which enabled him to know as much as his master, and now and then
came the low growl. Gordon began to formulate a theory in his mind. He
remembered suddenly the man whom Aaron had driven home. He realized that
the watching man might easily have mistaken him for Gordon himself,
going away with his man to make a call upon some patient. He suspected,
with an intensity which became a certainty, that the man knew that
Clemency and Elliot were out and would presently return, and that it was
for them he was watching. All the time he thought of the sick woman
upstairs, and was glad that her room faced on the other side of the
house. He was in agony lest she should be disturbed.

Doctor Gordon was usually a man of resources, but now he did not know
what to do. The dark figure on the park-drive made now and then a
precautionary motion of his right arm as he watched, which was
significant. Gordon knew that he was holding a revolver in readiness. In
the event of Aaron returning alone he would probably be puzzled, and
Gordon thought that he might slip away. In the event of James and
Clemency returning first, Gordon thought that he knew conclusively what
he purposed--a bullet for James, and then away with the girl, unless he
was hindered.

Gordon let the curtain slip back into place, and with a warning gesture
to the dog, who was ready for action, he tiptoed across the room to the
table, in a drawer of which he kept his own revolver. He opened the
drawer softly, and rummaged with careful hands. No revolver was there.
He made sure. He even opened other drawers and rummaged, but the weapon
was certainly missing. He stood undecided for a moment. Then he went
softly out of the room, bidding in a whisper the dog to follow. He crept
upstairs and paused at a closed chamber door. Then he opened it very
carefully. Mrs. Ewing at once spoke. "Is that you, dear?" she said.

"Yes, I wanted to tell you not to be frightened, dear, if you should
hear a shot or the dog bark."

There was a rustling in the dark room. Mrs. Ewing was evidently sitting
up in bed. "Oh, Tom, what is it?" she whispered.

Gordon forced a laugh. "Nothing at all," he replied, "except there's a
fox or something out in the yard, and Jack is wild. I may get a shot at
him. Do you know where my revolver is?"

"Why, where you always keep it, dear, in the table drawer in the
office."

"I don't seem to see it. I guess I will take your little pistol."

"Oh, Tom, I am sorry, but I know that won't go off. Clemency tried it
the other day. You remember that time Emma dropped it. I think something
or other got bent. You know it was a delicate little thing."

"Oh, well," said Gordon carelessly, "I dare say I can find my revolver."

"I don't see who could have taken it away." said Mrs. Ewing. "I am sorry
about my pistol, because you gave it to me too, dear."

"I'll get another for you," said Gordon, "Those little dainty,
lady-like, pearl-mounted weapons don't stand much."

"I am feeling very comfortable, dear," Mrs. Ewing said in her anxious,
sweet voice. "You will be careful, won't you, with your revolver, with
that dog jumping about?"

"Yes, dear. I dare say I shall not use the revolver anyway, but don't be
frightened if you should hear a little commotion."

"No, Tom."

"Go to sleep."

"Yes, I think I can. I do feel rather sleepy."

Gordon closed the door carefully and retraced his steps to the office,
the dog at his heels. He slipped the curtain again and looked out. The
man still stood watching in the driveway. Gordon had never been at such
a loss as to his best course of action. He was absolutely courageous,
but here he was unarmed, and he could have no reasonable doubt that if
he should go out, he would be immediately shot. In such a case, what of
the woman upstairs? And, moreover, what of James and Clemency? He
thought of any available weapon, but there was nothing except his own
stick. That was stout, it was true, but could he be quick enough with
it? His mad impulse to rush out unarmed except with that paltry thing
could hardly be restrained, but he had to think of other lives beside
his own.

He began to think that the only solution of the matter was the return of
Aaron alone. The watching man would immediately realize that he had made
some mistake, that he, Gordon, was in the house, or had been left at the
home of a patient. He could have no possible reason for molesting the
man. He would probably slip aside into a shadow, then make his way back
to the road. In such a case Gordon determined that he and Aaron would
follow him to make sure that no harm came to James and Clemency. So
Gordon stood motionless waiting, in absolute silence, except for the
frequently recurring mutter of fear and rage of the dog. As time went on
he became more and more uneasy. It seemed to him finally that Aaron
should have been back long before. He moved stealthily across the room,
and consulted his watch by the low light of the hearth fire. Aaron had
been gone an hour. He should have returned, for the mare was a good
roadster when she did not balk. Gordon shook his head. He began to be
almost sure that the mare had balked. He returned to the window. His
every nerve was on the alert. The moment that James and Clemency should
drive into the yard, he made ready to spring, but the horrible fear lest
it should be entirely unavailing haunted him. If only Aaron would come.
Then the man would slip into cover of the shadows, and steal out into
the road, and Gordon would jump into the buggy, and he and Aaron would
follow him. He knew the man well enough to be sure that he would never
venture an attack upon James and Clemency with witnesses. If only Aaron
would come! Gordon became surer that the mare had balked. He vowed
within himself that she should be shot the next day if she had. Every
moment he thought he heard the sound of wheels and horse's hoofs. His
nervous tension became something terrible. Once he thought of stealing
through the house, and out by the front door, and walking to meet James
and Clemency so as to warn them. But that would leave the helpless woman
upstairs alone. He dared not do that.

He thought then of going to the front of the house, and watching there,
and endeavoring to intercept James and Clemency before they turned into
the driveway. But he felt that he could not for one second relax his
watch upon the watching man, and he had no guarantee whatever that, at
the first sound of wheels, the man himself would not make for the front
of the house. Then he thought, as always, of not disturbing the sick
woman whose room faced the road. It seemed to him that his only course
was to remain where he was and wait for the return of Aaron before James
and Clemency. He knew now that the horse must have balked. His only hope
was that James and Clemency, since it was such a fine night, and time
is so short for lovers, might take such a long drive that even the balky
mare might relent. Always he heard at intervals the trot of a horse,
which only existed in his imagination. He began to wonder if he should
know when Aaron, or Clemency and James, actually did drive into the
yard, if he should be quick enough. Suddenly he thought of the dog: that
he would follow him, and of what might happen. The dog's chain-leash was
on the table. He stole across, got it, fastened it to the animal's
collar, and made the end secure to a staple which he had had fixed in
the wall for that purpose. As yet no intention of injury to the man
except in self-defense was in his mind. If actually attacked, he must
defend himself, of course, but he wished more than anything to drive the
intruder away with no collision. That was what he hoped for. The time
went on, and the strain upon the doctor's nerves was nearly driving him
mad. Sometimes the mare balked for hours. He began to hope that Aaron
would leave her, and return home on foot. That would settle the matter.
But he remembered a strange trait of obstinacy in Aaron. He remembered
how he had once actually sat all night in the buggy while the mare
balked. The man balked as well as the horse. "The damned fool," he
muttered to himself in an agony. The dog growled in response. Then it
was that first the thought came to Gordon of what might be done to save
them all. He stood aghast with the horror of it. He was essentially a
man of peace himself, unless driven to the wall. He was a good fighter
at bay, but there was in his heart, along with strength, utter good-will
and gentleness toward all his kind. He only wished to go his way in
peace, and for those whom he loved to go in peace, but that had been
denied him. He began considering the nature of the man whose dark figure
remained motionless on the driveway. He knew him from the first. It
sounded sensational, his recapitulation of his knowledge, but it was
entirely true. It was that awful truth, which is past human belief,
which no man dares put into fiction. That man out there had been from
his birth a distinct power for evil upon the face of the earth. He had
menaced all creation, so far as one personality may menace it. He was a
force of ill, a moral and spiritual monster, and the more dangerous,
because of a subtlety and resource which had kept him immune from the
law. He outstripped the law, whose blood-hounds had no scent keen enough
for him. He had broken the law, but always in such a way that there was
not, and never could be, any proof. There had not been even suspicion.
There had been knowledge on Gordon's part, and Mrs. Swing's, but
knowledge without proof is more helpless than suspicion with it. The man
was unassailable, free to go his way, working evil.

Again Gordon thought he heard the nearing trot of a horse, and again the
dog growled. Gordon was not quite sure that time that a horse had not
passed the house. He told himself in despair that he could not be sure
of knowing when James and Clemency came, and again the awful thought
seized him, and again he reflected upon the man outside. Suppose,
instead of wearing the semblance of humanity, he had worn the semblance
of a beast, then his course would have been clear enough. Suppose it
were a hungry wolf watching out there, instead of a man, and this man
was worse than any wolf. He was like the weir-wolf of the old
Scandinavian legend. He had all the cowardly cruelty of a wolf, he was a
means of evil, but he had the trained brain of a man.

Gordon thought he heard footsteps, and the man made a very slight
motion. Gordon thought joyfully that Aaron had left the balky mare, and
had returned, but it was not so. He had heard nothing except the
pulsations of the blood in his own overwrought brain.

He wondered if he were really going mad, although all the time his mind
was steadily at work upon the awful problem which had been forced upon
it. Should any power for evil be allowed to exist upon the earth if
mortal man had strength to stamp it out? Suppose that was a poisonous
snake out there, and not a man. What was out there was worse than any
snake. Gordon reasoned as the first man in Eden may have reasoned; and
he did not know whether his reasoning were right or wrong. Meantime, the
danger increased every moment. Of one thing he was perfectly sure: he
had no personal motive for what he might or might not do. He had reached
that pass when he was himself, as far as he himself was concerned,
beyond hate of that man outside. It was a principle for which he argued.
Should a monster, something abnormal in strength and subtlety and
wickedness, something which menaced all the good in the world, be
allowed to exist? Gordon argued that it should not. He was driven to it
by years of fruitless struggling against this monstrous creation in the
shape of man. He had seen such suffering because of him; his whole life
had been so turned and twisted this way and that way because of him,
that he himself had in the end become abnormal, and mentally askew, with
the system of things. He was conscious of it himself. He had been
naturally a good, simple, broad-visioned man, full of charity, with
almost no subtlety. He had been forced to lead a life which strained and
diverted all these good traits. Where he would have been open, he had
been secret. Where he would have had no suspicion of any one, his first
sight now seemed to be for ulterior motives. He weighed and measured
where he naturally would have scattered broadcast. He had been obliged
to compress his broad vision into a narrow window of detection. He was
not the man he had been. Where he had gazed out of wide doors and
windows at life, he now gazed through keyholes, and despised himself for
so doing. In order to evade the trouble which had fallen to his lot, he
took refuge in another personality. Thomas Gordon was a man whom a
happy and untroubled life would have kept from all worldly blemish. Now
the gold was tarnished, and he himself always saw the tarnish, as one
sees a blur before the eye. Twenty years before, if any one had told him
that he would at any period of his life become capable of standing and
arguing with himself as to the right or wrong of what was now in his
mind, he would have been incredulous. He had in reality become another
man. Circumstances had evolved him, during the course of twenty years,
into something different, as persistent winds evolve a pliant tree into
another than its typical shape. Gordon had lost his type.

As he stood at the window the room grew cold. The hearth fire had died
down. He knew that the furnace needed attention, but he dared not quit
his post and his argument. He became sure that the maid would not return
that night. He knew that Aaron was sitting with his human obstinacy
behind the obstinate brute, somewhere on the road. He knew that James
and Clemency might at any moment drive in, and he might rush out too
late to prevent murder and the kidnapping of the girl. He knew what the
man was there for. And he knew the one way to thwart him, but it was so
horrible a way that it needed all this argument, all this delay and
nearing of danger, before he adopted it.

The increasing cold of the room seemed to act as a sort of physical goad
toward action. "By God, it _is right!" he muttered. Then he looked at
the dog crouching still with that wiry intentness before the door. The
dog came of a good breed of fighters. He was in himself both weapon and
wielder of weapon. He was a concentrated force. His white body was
knotted with nerves and muscles. The chances were good if--Gordon
pictured it to himself--and again the horror and doubt were over him. He
himself had acquired a certain stiffness and lassitude from years, and
long drives in one position. He would stand no chance unarmed against a
bullet. But the dog--that was another matter. The dog would make a
spring like the spring of death itself, and that white leap of attack
might easily cause the aim to go wrong. It would be like aiming at
lightning. He knew how the dog would gather himself together, all ready
for that terrible leap, the second he opened the door. He knew that he
might be able to open the door for the leap without attracting the
man's attention, faced as he was the other way, if he could keep the dog
quiet. He knew how it would be. He could see that tall dark figure
rolled on the drive, struggling as one struggles with death, for breath,
under the vise-like grip on his throat. Gordon knew that the dog's
unerring spring would be for the throat; that was the instinct of his
race, a noble race in its way, to seize vice and danger by the throat,
and attack the very threshold of life.

Gordon returned to the window. It seemed to him again that he heard a
horse's trot. He felt sure that it was not the trot of the gray, who had
a slight lameness. He knew the trot of the gray. He became sure that
James and Clemency would the next moment enter the drive. He set his
mouth hard, crept toward the dog, and patted him. As he patted him he
felt the rage-crest rise higher on his back. Gordon bade him be quiet,
and slipped his leash from the staple. Then he took it from the collar.
He listened again. It seemed to him that his ears could not deceive him.
It seemed to him that James and Clemency were coming. He was almost
delirious. He fancied he heard their voices and the girl's laugh ring
out. Holding the dog firmly by the collar, he rose and very carefully
and noiselessly slipped the bolt of the door back. Then he waited a
second. Then as slowly and carefully, still holding the dog by the
collar, and whispering commands to hush his growls, he turned the door
knob.

(Illustration: "There was a white flash of avenging brute force upon the
man." Page 177.)

Then the thing was done. He flung the door open. He saw the man in the
drive, standing with his face toward the road. He had heard nothing.
Then he loosened his grasp of the straining dog's collar, and there was
a white flash of avenging brute force upon the man. Gordon saw only one
leap of the dog before the man was down. A futile pistol shot rang out.
Then came the snarl and growl of a fighting dog fastened upon his prey.

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CHAPTER IXWhen Clemency and James returned from their drive, they saw a glimmer oflight between the house and stable. "Aaron is out there with a lantern,"whispered Clemency. She sat up straight, leaned into her corner of thebuggy, and adjusted her hat and straightened her hair with the prettyyoung girl motions of secrecy and modesty.James peered ahead into the darkness through which the lantern movedlike a will-o'-the-wisp. "Your uncle is here, too," he said. Then hedrew rein with a sudden, "Halloo, what is wrong?" Aaron came forward,leaving the lantern on the ground. It lit weirdly Dr. Gordon, who waskneeling on the ground
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CHAPTER VIIThe next morning James was awakened by loud voices coming from thevicinity of the stable. He had not slept very well, and now at dawn feltdrowsy, but the voices would not let him sleep. He rose, dressed, andwent out in the stable-yard. There he found Doctor Gordon, Aaron, and astrange man, small, and red-haired, and thin-faced, with shifty eyes,holding by the bridle a fine black horse."Don't want to buy a horse with a bridle on," Doctor Gordon was sayingas James appeared."Do you think I'm the man to bear insults?" inquired the littlered-haired man with fierceness."Insult nothing. It is business," said
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