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VIII


Dick rose the next morning with a sense of lightness and content
that sent him singing into his shower. In the old stable which
now housed both Nettie and the little car Mike was washing them
both with indiscriminate wavings of the hose nozzle, his old pipe
clutched in his teeth. From below there came up the odors of
frying sausages and of strong hot coffee.

The world was a good place. A fine old place. It had work and
play and love. It had office hours and visits and the golf links,
and it had soft feminine eyes and small tender figures to be always
cared for and looked after.

She liked him. She did not think he was old. She thought his
profession was the finest in the world. She had wondered if he
would have time to come and see her, some day. Time! He considered
very seriously, as he shaved before the slightly distorted mirror
in the bathroom, whether it would be too soon to run in that
afternoon, just to see if she was tired, or had caught cold or
anything? Perhaps to-morrow would look better. No, hang it all,
to-day was to-day.

On his way from the bathroom to his bedroom he leaned over the
staircase.

"Aunt Lucy!" he called.

"Yes, Dick?"

"The top of the morning to you. D'you think Minnie would have time
to press my blue trousers this morning?"

There was the sound of her chair being pushed back in the
dining-room, of a colloquy in the kitchen, and Minnie herself
appeared below him.

"Just throw them down, Doctor Dick," she said. "I've got an iron
hot now."

"Some day, Minnie," he announced, "you will wear a halo and with
the angels sing."

This mood of unreasoning happiness continued all morning. He went
from house to house, properly grave and responsible but with a small
song in his heart, and about eleven o'clock he found time to stop
at the village haberdasher's and to select a new tie, which he had
wrapped and stuffed in his pocket. And which, inspected in broad day
later on a country road, gave him uneasy qualms as to its brilliance.

At the luncheon table he was almost hilarious, and David played up
to him, albeit rather heavily. But Lucy was thoughtful and quiet.
She had a sense of things somehow closing down on them, of hands
reaching out from the past, and clutching; Mrs. Morgan, Beverly
Carlysle, Dick in love and possibly going back to Norada. Unlike
David, who was content that one emergency had passed, she looked
ahead and saw their common life a series of such chances, with
their anxieties and their dangers.

She could not eat.

Nevertheless when she herself admitted a new patient for Dick that
afternoon, she had no premonition of trouble. She sent him into
the waiting-room, a tall, robust and youngish man, perhaps in his
late thirties, and went quietly on her way to her sitting-room,
and to her weekly mending.

On the other hand, Louis Bassett was feeling more or less
uncomfortable. There was an air of peace and quiet respectability
about the old house, a domestic odor of baking cake, a quietness and
stability that somehow made his errand appear absurd. To connect
it with Judson Clark and his tumultuous past seemed ridiculous.

His errand, on the surface, was a neuralgic headache.

When, hat in hand, he walked into Dick's consulting room, he had
made up his mind that he would pay the price of an overactive
imagination for a prescription, walk out again, and try to forget
that he had let a chance resemblance carry him off his feet.

But, as he watched the man who sat across from him, tilted back in
his swivel chair, he was not so sure. Here was the same tall
figure, the heavy brown hair, the features and boyish smile of the
photograph he had seen the night before. As Judson Clark might
have looked at thirty-two this man looked.

He made his explanation easily. Was in town for the day. Subject
to these headaches. Worse over the right eye. No, he didn't wear
glasses; perhaps he should.

It wasn't Clark. It couldn't be. Jud Clark sitting there tilted
back in an old chair and asking questions as to the nature of his
fictitious pain! Impossible. Nevertheless he was of a mind to
clear the slate and get some sleep that night, and having taken his
prescription and paid for it, he sat back and commenced an
apparently casual interrogation.

"Two names on your sign, I see. Father and son, I suppose?"

"Doctor David Livingstone is my uncle."

"I should think you'd be in the city. Limitations to this sort of
thing, aren't there?"

"I like it," said Dick, with an eye on the office clock.

"Patients are your friends, of course. Born and raised here, I
suppose?"

"Not exactly. I was raised on a ranch in Wyoming. My father had
a ranch out there."

Bassett shot a glance at him, but Dick was calm and faintly smiling.

"Wyoming !" the reporter commented. "That's a long way from here.
Anywhere near the new oil fields?"

"Not far from Norada. That's the oil center," Dick offered,
good-naturedly. He rose, and glanced again at the clock. "If those
headaches continue you'd better have your eyes examined."

Bassett was puzzled. It seemed to him that there had been a shade
of evasion in the other man's manner, slightly less frankness in
his eyes. But he showed no excitement, nothing furtive or alarmed.
And the open and unsolicited statement as to Norada baffled him.
He had to admit to himself either that a man strongly resembling
Judson Clark had come from the same neighborhood, or -

"Norada?" he said. "That's where the big Clark ranch was located,
wasn't it? Ever happen to meet Judson Clark?"

"Our place was very isolated."

Bassett found himself being politely ushered out, considerably more
at sea than when he went in and slightly irritated. His annoyance
was not decreased by the calm voice behind him which said:

"Better drink considerable water when you take that stuff. Some
stomachs don't tolerate it very well."

The door closed. The reporter stood in the waiting-room for a
moment. Then he clapped on his hat.

"Well, I'm a damned fool," he muttered, and went out into the street.

He was disappointed and a trifle sheepish. Life was full of queer
chances, that was all. No resemblance on earth, no coincidence of
birthplace, could make him believe that Judson Clark, waster,
profligate and fugitive from the law was now sitting up at night
with sick children, or delivering babies.

After a time he remembered the prescription in his hand, and was
about to destroy it. He stopped and examined it, and then carefully
placed it in his pocket-book. After all, there were things that
looked queer. The fellow had certainly evaded that last question
of his.

He made his way, head bent, toward the station.

He had ten minutes to wait, and he wandered to the newsstand. He
made a casual inspection of its display, bought a newspaper and
was turning away, when he stopped and gazed after a man who had
just passed him from an out-bound train.

The reporter looked after him with amused interest. Gregory, too!
The Livingstone chap had certainly started something. But it was
odd, too. How had Gregory traced him? Wasn't there something more
in Gregory's presence there than met the eye? Gregory's visit might
be, like his own, the desire to satisfy himself that the man was or
was not Clark. Or it might be the result of a conviction that it
was Clark, and a warning against himself. But if he had traced him,
didn't that indicate that Clark himself had got into communication
with him? In other words, that the chap was Clark, after all?
Gregory, having made an inquiry of a hackman, had started along the
street, and, after a moment's thought, Bassett fell into line behind
him. He was extremely interested and increasingly cheerful. He
remained well behind, and with his newspaper rolled in his hand
assumed the easy yet brisk walk of the commuters around him, bound
for home and their early suburban dinners.

Half way along Station Street Gregory stopped before the Livingstone
house, read the sign, and rang the doorbell. The reporter slowed
down, to give him time for admission, and then slowly passed. In
front of Harrison Miller's house, however, he stopped and waited.
He lighted a cigarette and made a careful survey of the old place.
Strange, if this were to prove the haven where Judson Clark had taken
refuge, this old brick two-story dwelling, with its ramshackle stable
in the rear, its small vegetable garden, its casual beds of simple
garden flowers set in a half acre or so of ground.

A doctor. A pill shooter. Jud Clark!





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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