Story Of The Vanishing Patient





THERE had always been strange

stories about the house, but it

was a sensible, comfortable sort

of a neighborhood, and people

took pains to say to one another that there

was nothing in these tales -- of course not!

Absolutely nothing! How could there be?

It was a matter of common remark, however,

that considering the amount of money the

Nethertons had spent on the place, it was

curious they lived there so little. They were

nearly always away, -- up North in the sum-

mer and down South in the winter, and over

to Paris or London now and then, -- and when

they did come home it was only to entertain

a number of guests from the city. The place

was either plunged in gloom or gayety. The

old gardener who kept house by himself in

the cottage at the back of the yard had things

much his own way by far the greater part of

the time.



Dr. Block and his wife lived next door to

the Nethertons, and he and his wife, who

were so absurd as to be very happy in each

other's company, had the benefit of the beau-

tiful yard. They walked there mornings when

the leaves were silvered with dew, and even-

ings they sat beside the lily pond and listened

for the whip-poor-will. The doctor's wife

moved her room over to that side of the

house which commanded a view of the yard,

and thus made the honeysuckles and laurel

and clematis and all the masses of tossing

greenery her own. Sitting there day after

day with her sewing, she speculated about the

mystery which hung impalpably yet undeniably

over the house.



It happened one night when she and her

husband had gone to their room, and were

congratulating themselves on the fact that he

had no very sick patients and was likely to

enjoy a good night's rest, that a ring came at

the door.



"If it's any one wanting you to leave

home," warned his wife, "you must tell them

you are all worn out. You've been disturbed

every night this week, and it's too much!"



The young physician went downstairs. At

the door stood a man whom he had never

seen before.



"My wife is lying very ill next door," said

the stranger, "so ill that I fear she will not

live till morning. Will you please come to

her at once?"



"Next door?" cried the physician. "I

didn't know the Nethertons were home!"



"Please hasten," begged the man. "I must

go back to her. Follow as quickly as you

can."



The doctor went back upstairs to complete

his toilet.



"How absurd," protested his wife when she

heard the story. "There is no one at the

Nethertons'. I sit where I can see the front

door, and no one can enter without my know-

ing it, and I have been sewing by the window

all day. If there were any one in the house,

the gardener would have the porch lantern

lighted. It is some plot. Some one has

designs on you. You must not go."



But he went. As he left the room his wife

placed a revolver in his pocket.



The great porch of the mansion was dark,

but the physician made out that the door was

open, and he entered. A feeble light came

from the bronze lamp at the turn of the stairs,

and by it he found his way, his feet sinking

noiselessly in the rich carpets. At the head

of the stairs the man met him. The doctor

thought himself a tall man, but the stranger

topped him by half a head. He motioned

the physician to follow him, and the two went

down the hall to the front room. The place

was flushed with a rose-colored glow from

several lamps. On a silken couch, in the

midst of pillows, lay a woman dying with

consumption. She was like a lily, white,

shapely, graceful, with feeble yet charming

movements. She looked at the doctor ap-

pealingly, then, seeing in his eyes the in-

voluntary verdict that her hour was at hand,

she turned toward her companion with a

glance of anguish. Dr. Block asked a few

questions. The man answered them, the

woman remaining silent. The physician ad-

ministered something stimulating, and then

wrote a prescription which he placed on the

mantel-shelf.



"The drug store is closed to-night," he

said, "and I fear the druggist has gone home.

You can have the prescription filled the first

thing in the morning, and I will be over

before breakfast."



After that, there was no reason why he

should not have gone home. Yet, oddly

enough, he preferred to stay. Nor was it

professional anxiety that prompted this delay.

He longed to watch those mysterious per-

sons, who, almost oblivious of his presence,

were speaking their mortal farewells in their

glances, which were impassioned and of un-

utterable sadness.



He sat as if fascinated. He watched the

glitter of rings on the woman's long, white

hands, he noted the waving of light hair

about her temples, he observed the details of

her gown of soft white silk which fell about

her in voluminous folds. Now and then the

man gave her of the stimulant which the doc-

tor had provided; sometimes he bathed her

face with water. Once he paced the floor

for a moment till a motion of her hand

quieted him.



After a time, feeling that it would be more

sensible and considerate of him to leave, the

doctor made his way home. His wife was

awake, impatient to hear of his experiences.

She listened to his tale in silence, and when

he had finished she turned her face to the

wall and made no comment.



"You seem to be ill, my dear," he said.

"You have a chill. You are shivering."



"I have no chill," she replied sharply.

"But I -- well, you may leave the light

burning."



The next morning before breakfast the doc-

tor crossed the dewy sward to the Netherton

house. The front door was locked, and no

one answered to his repeated ringings. The

old gardener chanced to be cutting the grass

near at hand, and he came running up.



"What you ringin' that door-bell for, doc-

tor?" said he. "The folks ain't come home

yet. There ain't nobody there."



"Yes, there is, Jim. I was called here last

night. A man came for me to attend his

wife. They must both have fallen asleep that

the bell is not answered. I wouldn't be sur-

prised to find her dead, as a matter of fact.

She was a desperately sick woman. Perhaps

she is dead and something has happened to

him. You have the key to the door, Jim.

Let me in."



But the old man was shaking in every limb,

and refused to do as he was bid.



"Don't you never go in there, doctor,"

whispered he, with chattering teeth. "Don't

you go for to 'tend no one. You jus' come

tell me when you sent for that way. No, I

ain't goin' in, doctor, nohow. It ain't part

of my duties to go in. That's been stipulated

by Mr. Netherton. It's my business to look

after the garden."



Argument was useless. Dr. Block took the

bunch of keys from the old man's pocket and

himself unlocked the front door and entered.

He mounted the steps and made his way to

the upper room. There was no evidence of

occupancy. The place was silent, and, so far

as living creature went, vacant. The dust lay



over everything. It covered the delicate

damask of the sofa where he had seen the

dying woman. It rested on the pillows. The

place smelled musty and evil, as if it had not

been used for a long time. The lamps of the

room held not a drop of oil.



But on the mantel-shelf was the prescrip-

tion which the doctor had written the night

before. He read it, folded it, and put it in

his pocket.



As he locked the outside door the old gar-

dener came running to him.



"Don't you never go up there again, will

you?" he pleaded, "not unless you see all the

Nethertons home and I come for you myself.

You won't, doctor?"



"No," said the doctor.



When he told his wife she kissed him, and

said:



"Next time when I tell you to stay at home,

you must stay!"





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