Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman.

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"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 re√Ђntered.

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.




CHAPTER II


She looked up when he entered, and there was in her young girl face the
very slightest shade of recognition. She could not help it, for Clemency
was candor itself. Then she bowed very formally, and shook hands
sedately when Doctor Gordon introduced James as Doctor Elliot, his new
assistant, and carried off her part very well. James was not so
successful. He colored and was somewhat confused, but nobody appeared to
notice it. Clemency went on relating how glad she was that Uncle Tom met
her as she was coming home from Annie Lipton's. "I am never afraid,"
said she, and her little face betrayed the lie, "but I was tired, and
besides I was beginning to be cold, for I went out without my fur."

"You should not have gone without it. It grows so cold when the sun goes
down," said Mrs. Ewing. Then a chime of Japanese bells was heard which
announced dinner.

"Doctor Elliot will be glad of dinner," said Doctor Gordon. "He has
walked all the way from Gresham."

Clemency looked at him with approval, and tried to look as if she had
never seen him walking in her life. "That is a good walk," said she.
"Twenty-five miles it must be. If more men walked instead of working
poor horses all the time, it would be better for them."

"That is a hint for your Uncle Tom," said Gordon laughingly.


"I never hint," said Clemency. "It is just a plain statement. Men are
walking animals. They could travel as well as horses in the course of
time if they only put their minds to it."

"Well, your old uncle's bones must be saved, even at the expense of the
horse's," said Doctor Gordon.

"Bones are improved by use," said Clemency severely, as she took her
seat at the dinner-table. They all laughed. The girl herself relaxed her
pretty face with a whimsical smile. It was quite evident that Clemency
was the spoiled and petted darling of the house, and that she traded
innocently upon the fact. The young doctor, although his first
impression of the elder woman was still upon him, yet realized the
charm of the young girl. The older woman was, as it were, crowned with
an aureole of perfection, but the young girl was crowned with
possibilities which dazzled with mystery. She looked prettier, now that
her outer garments were removed, and her thick crown of ash-blonde hair
was revealed. The lamp lit her eyes into bluer flame. She was a darling
of a young girl, and more a darling because she had the sweetest
confidence in everybody thinking her one.

However, James Elliot, sitting in the well-appointed dining-room, which
was more like a city house than a little New Jersey dwelling, did not
for a second retreat from his first impression of Mrs. Ewing. Behind the
coffee-urn sat the woman with whom he had not fallen in love, that was
too poor a term to use. He had become a worshipper. He felt himself,
body and soul, prostrate before the Divinity of Womanhood itself. He
realized the grandeur of the abstract in the individual. What was any
spoiled, sweet young girl to that? And Mrs. Ewing was, in truth, a
wonderful creature. She was a large woman with a great quantity of
blue-black hair, which had the ripples one sees in antique statues. Her
eyes, black at first glance, were in reality dark blue. Her face gave
one a never-ending surprise. James had not known that a woman could be
so beautiful. Vague comparisons with the Greek Helen, or Cleopatra, came
into his head. Now and then he stole a glance at her. He dared not
often. She did not talk much, but he was rather pleased with that fact,
although her voice was so sweet and gracious. Speech in a creature like
that was not an essential. It might even be an excrescence upon a
perfection. It did not occur to the dazed mind of her worshipper that
Mrs. Ewing might have very simple and ordinary reasons for not
talking - that she might be tired or ill, or preoccupied. But after a
number of those stolen glances, James discovered with a great pang, as
if one should see for the first time that the arms of the Venus were
really gone, when his fancy had supplied them, that the woman did not
look well. In spite of her beauty, there was ill-health evident in her
face. James was a mere tyro in his profession as yet, but certain
infallible signs were there which he could not mistake. They were the
signs of suffering, possibly of very great suffering. She ate very
little, James noticed, although she made a pretense of eating as much
as any one. James saw that Doctor Gordon also noticed it. When the maid
was taking away Mrs. Ewing's plate, he spoke with a gruffness which
astonished the young man. "For Heaven's sake, why don't you eat your
dinner, Clara?" said he. "Emma, replace Mrs. Ewing's plate. Now, Clara,
eat your dinner." To James's utter astonishment, Mrs. Ewing obeyed like
a child. She ate every morsel, although she could not restrain her
expression of loathing. When the salad and dessert were brought on she
ate them also.

Doctor Gordon watched her with what seemed, to the young man, positive
brutality. His mouth under his heavy beard quivered perceptibly whenever
he looked at his sister eating, his forehead became corrugated, and his
deep-set eyes sparkled. James was heartily glad when dinner was over,
and, at Doctor Gordon's request, he followed him into his office.

Doctor Gordon's office was a small room at the back of the house. It had
an outer door communicating with a path which led to the stable. Two
sides of the room were lined with medical books, and two with bottles
containing diverse colored mixtures. A hanging lamp was over the center
of a long table in the middle of the room. Around it dangled prisms,
which cast rainbow colors over everything. The first thing which struck
one on entering the room was the extraordinary color scheme: the dull
gleams of the books, the medicine bottles which had lights like jewels,
and over all the flickers of prismatic hues. The long table was covered
with corks, empty bottles, books, a medicine-case, and newspapers,
besides a mighty inkstand and writing materials. There were also a box
of cigars, a great leather tobacco pouch, and, interspersed among all, a
multitude of pipes. The doctor drew a chair beside this chaotic table
lit with rainbow lights, and invited James to sit down. "Sit down a
moment," he said. "Will you have a pipe or a cigar?"

"Cigar, please," replied James. The doctor pushed the box toward him.
James realized immediately a ten-cent cigar at the least when he began
to smoke. Doctor Gordon filled a pipe mechanically. His face still wore
the gloomy, almost fierce, expression which it had assumed at table. He


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Online LibraryMary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman'Doc.' Gordon → online text (page 2 of 15)