“A story of a man, a horse, and a dog. I think I have seen the great chain which bound the dog. Was that the place where they kept the horse?
“And, if so, what bonds are used for the man? And what sort of man can he be? One of gigantic size, no doubt, to mate his horse and his dog. A fierce and intractable nature, for otherwise Kate Cumberland could not dread him. And yet a man of singular values, for all this place seems to wait for his return. I catch the fire of expectancy. It eats into my flesh. Dreams haunt me night and day. What will be the end?
“Now I am going down to see Mr. Cumberland again. I know what I shall see—the flickering of the fire behind his eyes. The lightning glances, the gentle, rare voice, the wasted face; and by him will be Kate Cumberland; and they both will seem to be listening, listening—for what?
“No more to-night. But, Loughburne, you should be here; I feel that the like of this has never been upon the earth.
He found them as he had expected, the girl beside the couch, and the old man prone upon it, wrapped to the chin in a gaudy Navajo blanket. But to-night his eyes were closed, a most unusual thing, and Byrne could look more closely at the aged face. For on occasions when the eyes were wide, it was like looking into the throat of a searchlight to stare at the features—all was blurred. He discovered now wrinkled and purple-stained lids under the deep shadow of the brows—and eyes were so sunken that there seemed to be no pupils there. Over the cheek bones the skin was drawn so tightly that it shone, and the cheeks fell away into cadaverous hollows. But the lips, beneath the shag of grey beard, were tightly compressed. No, this was not sleep. It carried, as Byrne gazed, a connotation of swifter, fiercer thinking, than if the gaunt old man had stalked the floor and poured forth a tirade of words.
The girl came to meet the doctor. She said: “Will you use a narcotic?”
“Why?” asked Byrne. “He seems more quiet than usual.”
“Look more closely,” she whispered.
And when he obeyed, he saw that the whole body of Joe Cumberland quivered like an aspen, continually. So the finger of the duellist trembles on the trigger of his gun before he receives the signal to fire—a suspense more terrible than the actual face of death.
“A narcotic?” she pleaded. “Something to give him just one moment of full relaxation?”
“I can’t do it,” said Byrne. “If his heart were a shade stronger, I should. But as it is, the only thing that sustains him is the force of his will-power. Do you want me to unnerve the very strength which keeps him alive?”
“Do you mean that if he sleeps it will be—death?”
“I have told you before,” said the doctor, “that there are phases of this case which I do not understand. I predict nothing with certainty. But I very much fear that if your father falls into a complete slumber he will never waken from it. Once let his brain cease functioning and I fear that the heart will follow suit.”