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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 1 - Chapter 23. As Good As Dead
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 1 - Chapter 23. As Good As Dead Post by :Maruli Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1422

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 1 - Chapter 23. As Good As Dead

PART I CHAPTER XXIII. AS GOOD AS DEAD

So cool was his utterance, so perfectly free from agitation his demeanour, that Olga wondered if she could have heard aright. Then she saw him go to the table and prepare to remove his coat, and she knew that there could be no mistake.

The frozen horror of the past few seconds fell from her, and strength came in its place--the strength born of emergency. "I shall help you better than Nick," she said.

"If you don't faint," said Max.

She spoke a reassuring word to Cork and let him go. He moved away at once in uneasy search for his mistress, and she turned round to Max. Nick was already helping him out of his coat.

The storm had lulled somewhat, and the gloom had begun to lighten. As she drew near him she saw his right arm emerge from the coat. The shirt-sleeve was soaked with blood from shoulder to cuff.

"It's the top of the shoulder," said Max. "Only a flesh wound. Make a wet pad of one of those table-napkins and bind it up tight. I'll go back to the cottage-hospital presently and get it dressed."

With the utmost calmness he issued his directions, and Olga found herself obeying almost mechanically. Nick helped her to cut away the shirt and expose the wound. It was a deep one, and had been inflicted from the back.

"Quite a near shave," said Max, with composure. "That flash of lightning came just in time. I saw the reflection in one of those oak panels."

"Will this stop the bleeding?" asked Olga doubtfully.

"Yes, if you get the pressure on the right place. Pull it hard! That's the way! Don't mind me!" He was speaking through clenched teeth. "I daresay Nick knows all about first aid."

Nick did; and under his supervision the injury was bandaged at length with success.

"First-rate!" said Max approvingly. "I congratulate the pair of you. Now I will have a brandy and soda, if you have no objection. Olga must have one too. I'm never anxious about Nick. He always comes out on top."

He watched Olga pour him out a drink according to instructions. The storm was passing, and every instant the gloomy place grew lighter. Glancing at him, as she placed the tumbler before him, she saw his face fully for the first time, and noted how drawn and grey it was.

He smiled at her abruptly. "All right, Olga! You must drink the first quarter."

"Oh, no!" said Olga quickly.

"Oh, yes!" he rejoined imperturbably. "Tell her to, Nick! I know your word is law."

Nick had strolled across the hall to pick up something that lay upon the floor. As he returned, Olga was hastily gulping the prescribed dose.

Max turned towards him. "Yes. Take care of that!" he said. "It's done enough damage." He took the glass that Olga held out to him, and deliberately drained it. Then he rose, and took up his coat. "I must get into this if possible," he said.

Silently, with infinite care, Olga helped him.

Nick stood with the knife in his hand. "What are you going to do now?" he said.

Max's brows went up. "My dear fellow, what do you suppose? I am going to attend to my patient."

"Where is she?" said Nick.

"Upstairs. Mrs. Briggs went to look after her. I'm going to give her a composing draught," said Max, plunging his hand into a side-pocket.

"Oh, Max!" exclaimed Olga.

He turned to her. "There will be no repetition of this," he said grimly. "Miss Campion is exhausted and probably more or less in her right mind by now."

"But she won't be if you go to her," Olga said, and in her eagerness she drew near to him and laid a light hand on his sleeve. "Max, you mustn't go to her--indeed--indeed. I have promised her that you shall not. As you have seen for yourself, the very sight of you is enough to send her demented."

"Oh, it's for her sake, is it?" said Max; but he stood still, suffering her hand on his arm.

Her eyes were raised to his, very earnestly beseeching him. "Yes, for her sake," she said. "You would do her much more harm than good. Let me take the composing draught to her! Oh, Max, really it is the only way. Please be reasonable!"

Her voice trembled a little. She knew well that where his patients were concerned he would endure no interference. Again and again he had made this clear to her. But this was an exceptional case, and she prayed that as such he might view it.

She wondered a little that Nick did not come to her aid, but he stood aloof as if unwilling to be drawn into the discussion. Max seemed to have completely forgotten his existence.

"Look here," he said finally. "The matter isn't so desperate as you seem to think, but if I give in, so must you. There are several questions I shall have to ask, and I must have a clear answer."

"I will tell you anything in my power," she said.

"Very well," he said. "Tell me first--if you can--why Miss Campion hates me so violently."

His manner was curtly professional. He looked straight into her eyes with cool determination in his own.

She answered him, but her answer did not come very easily. "I think she feels that you have had her under supervision all along, and she resents it."

"Quite true," he said. "I have. Is that why she wants to kill me?"

"Not entirely." Olga was plainly speaking against her will.

But Max was merciless. "And the other reason?"

She locked her fingers very tightly together. "It--it would be a breach of confidence to tell you that," she said.

"I see," said Max. "She was annoyed because I didn't fulfil expectations by falling in love with her. She misunderstood my attitude; was that it? You did so yourself at one time, if I remember aright."

"Yes," admitted Olga reluctantly.

"I don't know quite how you managed it," he commented. "However, we are none of us infallible. Now tell me--without reservation--exactly what passed this morning between you two girls and Hunt-Goring."

With quivering lips she began to tell him. There were certain items of that conversation with Hunt-Goring, of which, though they were branded deep upon her mind, she could not bring herself to speak. It was a difficult recital in any case, and the grim silence with which he listened did not make it any easier.

"Have you told me everything?" he asked at last.

She answered steadily. "Everything that concerns Violet!"

He looked at her very closely for a few moments, and she saw his mouth take a cynical, downward curve.

"Hunt-Goring has my sympathy," he observed enigmatically. "Well, I think you are right. I had better keep out of the way for the present. I shall know better what course to take in the morning. Her state of mind just now is quite abnormal, but she may very well have settled down a little by that time. She will probably go through a stage of lethargy and depression after this. Her brother should be back again in a week's time. We may manage to ward off another outbreak till then. But, mind, you are not to be left alone with her during any part of that week. There must always be someone within call."

"I shall be within call," said Nick.

Max glanced at him. "Yes, you will be quite useful no doubt. But I must have a nurse as well."

"A nurse!" exclaimed Olga.

He looked back at her. "You don't seriously suppose I am going to leave you and Mrs. Briggs--and Nick--in sole charge?"

"But, Max," she protested, almost incoherent in her dismay, "she will be herself again to-morrow or the next day! This isn't going to last!"

"What do you mean?" he said.

She controlled herself with a sharp effort, warned of the necessity to do so by his tone.

"I mean that--hysteria--isn't a thing that lasts long as a rule."

"It isn't hysteria," he said.

She flinched in spite of herself. "But you think she will get better?" she urged.

He was silent a moment, looking at her. "I will tell you exactly what I think, Olga," he said then, in a tone that was utterly different from any he had used to her before. "For you certainly ought to know now. The tale you heard this morning was true--every word of it. I heard it myself from Bruce Campion and also from Kersley Whitton. Kersley was engaged to marry her mother when he detected in her a tendency to madness which he afterwards discovered to be an hereditary taint in her family. It is a disease of the brain which is absolutely incurable. It is in fact a peculiarly rapid decay caused by a kind of leprous growth which nothing can arrest. In some cases it causes total paralysis of every faculty almost at the outset, in others there may be years of violent mania before the inevitable paralysis sets in. Either way it is quite incurable, and if it takes the form of madness it is only intermittent for the first few weeks. There are no lucid intervals after that."

He paused. Olga was listening with white face upturned. She spoke no word; only the agony in her eyes spoke for her.

He went on very quietly, with a gentleness to which she was wholly unaccustomed. "It has been coming on for some little time now. I hoped at first that it would be slow in developing, and so at first it appeared to be. Sometimes, at the very beginning, it is not possible to detect it with any certainty. It is only when the disease has begun to manifest itself unmistakably that it moves so rapidly. It was because I feared a sudden development that I asked Sir Kersley to come down. He was of the opinion that that was not imminent, that three months or even six might intervene. I feared he was mistaken, but I hoped for the best. Of course a sudden shock was more than sufficient to precipitate matters. But I knew that she was less likely to encounter any in your society than anywhere else. Nick wanted me to warn you, but--rightly or wrongly--I wouldn't! I thought you would know soon enough."

He paused again, as if to give her time to blame him; but still she spoke no word, still she waited with face upturned.

He went on gravely and steadily. "I knew that opium was a very dangerous drug for her to take in however minute a quantity, but I hoped I had put a stop to that. I could not foresee to-day's events. Hunt-Goring is no favourite of mine, but I never anticipated his taking such a step. I did not so much as know that he was in a position to do so. He suppressed that fact on the sole occasion on which Miss Campion's name was mentioned between us."

Olga spoke for the first time, her stiff lips scarcely moving. "I think he is a devil," she said slowly.

Max made a gesture expressive of indifference on that point. "People who form the drug habit are seldom over-squeamish in other respects," he said. "He has certainly hastened matters, but he is not responsible for the evil itself. That has been germinating during the whole of her life."

"And--that--was why Sir Kersley jilted her mother?" Olga spoke in a low, detached voice. She seemed to be trying to grasp a situation that eluded her.

"It was." Max answered with a return to his customary brevity; his tone was not without bitterness. "Kersley was merciful enough to think of the next generation. He was a doctor, and he knew that hereditary madness is the greatest evil--save one--in the world. Therefore he sacrificed his happiness."

"What is the greatest evil?" she asked, still with the air of bringing herself painfully back as it were from a long distance.

He was watching her shrewdly as he answered. "Hereditary vice--crime."

"Is crime hereditary?"

"In nine cases out of ten--yes."

"And that is worse than--madness?"

"I should say much worse."

"I see." She passed a hand across her eyes, and very suddenly she shivered and seemed to awake. "Oh, is it quite hopeless?" she asked him piteously. "Are you sure?"

"It is quite hopeless," he said.

"She can never be herself again--not even by a miracle?"

"Such miracles don't happen," said Max, with grim decision. "It is much the same as a person going blind. There are occasional gleams for a little while, but the end is total darkness. That is all that can be expected now." He added, a hint of compassion mingling with the repression of his voice: "It is better that you should know the whole truth. It's not fair to bolster you up with false hopes. You can help now--if you have the strength. You won't be able to help later."

"But I will never leave her!" Olga said.

"My dear child," he made answer, "in a very little while she won't even know you. She will be--as good as dead."

"Surely she would be better dead!" she cried passionately.

"God knows," said Max.

He spoke with more feeling than he usually permitted himself, and at once changed the subject. "What we are at present concerned in is to make her temporarily better. Now you know this stuff?" He took a bottle from his pocket. "I am going to put it in your charge. Give her a teaspoonful now in a wine-glass of water, as you did before. I hope it will make her sleep. If it doesn't, give her a second dose in half an hour. But if she goes off without that second dose, all the better. Remember, it is rank poison. She ought to sleep for some hours then, and when she wakes I think she will probably be herself for a little. That's quite clear, is it?"

He was looking at her closely as he handed her the bottle; but she met the look with absolute steadiness. She had plainly recovered her self-control, and was ready to shoulder her burden once more.

"I quite understand," she said.

He laid his hand for a moment on her arm, and smiled at her with abrupt kindliness.

"Stick to it, Olga!" he said. "I am counting on you."

She smiled back bravely, though her lips quivered. She did not say a word.

But Nick answered for her, his arm thrust suddenly about her waist. "And so you can, my son," he said. "She is the pluckiest kid I know."

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