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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

VII Night And A Voice

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The grim doctor's eye flashed angrily and I stopped.

"Were you a detective from the district attorney's office in New York, sent on with special powers to examine him, I should still say what I am going to say now. While Mr. Fairbrother's temperature and pulse remain where they now are, no one shall see him and no one shall talk to him save myself and his nurse."

I turned with a sick look of disappointment toward the road up which I had so lately come. "Have I panted, sweltered, trembled, for three mortal hours on the worst trail a man ever traversed to go back with nothing for my journey? That seems to me hard lines. Where is the manager of this mine?"

The doctor pointed toward a man bending over the edge of the great hole from which, at that moment, a line of Mexicans was issuing, each with a sack on his back which he flung down before what looked like a furnace built of clay.

"That's he. Mr. Haines, of Philadelphia. What do you want of him?"

"Permission to stay the night. Mr. Fairbrother may be better to-morrow."

"I won't allow it and I am master here, so far as my patient is concerned. You couldn't stay here without talking, and talking makes excitement, and excitement is just what he can not stand. A week from now I will see about it--that is, if my patient continues to improve. I am not sure that he will."

Let me spend that week here. I'll not talk any more than the dead. Maybe the manager will let me carry sacks."

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"Look here," said the doctor, edging me farther and farther away from the tent he hardly let out of his sight for a moment. "You're a canny lad, and shall have your bite and something to drink before you take your way back. But back you go before sunset and with this message: No man from any paper north or south will be received here till I hang out a blue flag. I say blue, for that is the color of my bandana. When my patient is in a condition to discuss murder I'll hoist it from his tent-top. It can be seen from the divide, and if you want to camp there on the lookout, well and good. As for the police, that's another matter. I will see them if they come, but they need not expect to talk to my patient. You may say so down there. It will save scrambling up this trail to no purpose."

"You may count on me," said I; "trust a New York correspondent to do the right thing at the right time to head off the boys. But I doubt if they will believe me."

"In that case I shall have a barricade thrown up fifty feet down the mountain-side," said he.

"But the mail and your supplies?"

"Oh, the burros can make their way up. We shan't suffer."

"You are certainly master," I remarked.

All this time I had been using my eyes. There was not much to see, but what there was was romantically interesting. Aside from the furnace and what was going on there, there was little else but a sleeping-tent, a cooking-tent, and the small one I had come on first, which, without the least doubt, contained the sick man. This last tent was of a peculiar construction and showed the primitive nature of everything at this height. It consisted simply of a cloth thrown over a thing like a trapeze. This cloth did not even come to the ground on either side, but stopped short a foot or so from the flat mound of adobe which serves as a base or floor for hut or tent in New Mexico. The rear of the simple tent abutted on the mountain-side; the opening was toward the valley. I felt an intense desire to look into this opening,--so intense that I thought I would venture on an attempt to gratify it. Scrutinizing the resolute face of the man before me and flattering myself that I detected signs of humor underlying his professional bruskness, I asked, somewhat mournfully, if he would let me go away without so much as a glance at the man I had come so far to see. "A glimpse would satisfy me I assured him, as the hint of a twinkle flashed in his eye. "Surely there will be no harm in that. I'll take it instead of supper."

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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