The doctor was old, and his long struggle with birth and death had begun to tell upon him. He had already visited Lot that morning, after a hard night with a patient, back in the hills. His face was haggard under its sharp gray bristle of beard; his eyes fierce, like an old dog’s, with fatigue and hunger. He had just reached home and sat down to his breakfast when this new call came. He had thought Lot was dying from Madelon’s imperative summons, and she had not undeceived him. She was growing cunning in her desperate efforts to save Burr Gordon.
“What in thunder did ye send for me again for?” he snapped. This old country doctor was never chary of plain speaking, and his brusqueness had increased his popularity. Many of his patients were simple countrywomen, who had greater belief in that which they feared. They repeated his half-savage speeches to each other, and added, “He’s a good doctor, if he does speak out.”
Lot only smiled that covert smile of his, which seemed to imply some wisdom of humor beyond the ken of others. “I ought to be dying,” he said, with grim apology. “I ought not—to have disturbed you all for a less reason than to witness my final exit, but I want you to witness something else.” Lot Gordon spoke quite strongly and connectedly.
“What?” asked the doctor, irritably.
“I want to make a statement,” said Lot Gordon.
There was a pause. Jonas Hapgood, with his look of heavy facetiousness, slightly tempered now with curiosity, stood lounging into his great snowy boots at the foot of the bed. Parson Fair, the consolation for the dying which he had thought to administer still in his mind, which could not swerve easily, his slender height in his black surtout inclined towards the sick man with gentle courtesy, waited. Margaret Bean peered around the bed-curtain. Madelon stood near the doctor, her face white as if she were dead, and a look of awful listening upon it. In the background David Hautville, wrathful and wondering, towered over them all.
“I wish to declare in the presence of these witnesses,” said Lot Gordon, “the doctor here testifying that I am in my right mind”—the doctor gave a surly grunt of assent—“that it is my firm belief that all mortal ills come to man through his own agency, and this last ill of mine is no exception. I declare solemnly before you all that my cousin Burr Gordon is not guilty of administering this wound which I bear in my side.”
The sheriff started forward. “Who did do it, then?” he cried out.
“I myself,” replied Lot Gordon.
There was a gasp of astonishment from the company. Jonas Hapgood began to speak, but Madelon’s soprano drowned out his thick bass.
“How dare you,” she cried out, “swear to that lie? Liar! You are a liar, Lot Gordon!”
Then, before Lot could reply, David Hautville came forward with a mighty plunge, and grasped his daughter by the arm, and forced her to the door.