Doctor Dorn's Revenge by Louisa May Alcott
They stood together by the sea, and it was evident the old, old
story was being told, for the man's face was full of pale excitement,
the girl's half averted from the ardent eyes that strove to read the
fateful answer in her own.
"It may be folly to speak when I have so little to offer," he
said, with an accent of strong and tender emotion in his voice that
went straight to the girl's heart. "It may be folly, and yet if you
love as I love we can wait or work together happy in the affection
which wealth cannot buy nor poverty destroy. Tell me truly, Evelyn,
may I hope?"
She longed to say "yes," for in her heart she knew she loved this
man, so rich in youth, comeliness, talent, and ardor, but, alas! so
poor in fortune and friends, power and place. He possessed all that
wins a woman's eye and heart, nothing that gratifies worldly ambition
or the vanity that is satisfied with luxury regardless of love. She
was young, proud, and poor, her beauty was her only gift, and she saw
in it her only means of attaining the place she coveted. She had no
hope but in a wealthy marriage; for this end she lived and wrought,
and had almost won it, when Max Dorn appeared, and for the first time
her heart rebelled. Something in the manful courage, the patient
endurance with which he met and bore, and would in time conquer
misfortune, woke her admiration and respect. He was different from
those about her, and carried with him the unconscious but sovereign
charm of integrity. The love she saw in his eloquent eyes seemed a
different passion from the shallow, selfish sentimentality of other
men. It seemed to ennoble by its sincerity, to bless by its
tenderness, and she found it hard to put it by.
As she listened to his brief appeal, made impressive by the
intensity of repressed feeling that trembled in it, she wavered,
hesitated, and tried to silence conscience by a false plea of
Half turning with the shy glance, the soft flush of maiden love
and shame, she said slowly:
"If I answered yes I should wrong both of us, for while you work
and I wait that this may be made possible, our youth and strength
will be passing away, and when the end is won we shall be old and
tired, and even love itself worn out."
"If it be true love it never can wear out," he cried, impetuously;
but she shook her delicate head, and a shadow passed across her
charming face, paling its bloom and saddening its beauty.
"I know that poets say so, but I have no faith in the belief.
Hearts grow gray as well as heads, and love cannot defy time any more
than youth can. I've seen it tried and it always fails."
"So young, yet so worldly-wise, so lovely, yet so doubtful of
love's dominion," murmured Max, on whom her words fell with a
"I have felt the bitterness of poverty, and it has made me old
before my time," she answered, with the shadow deepening on her face.
"I could love you, but I will not." And the red lips closed
resolutely as the hard words left them.
"Because I am poor?"
"Because we are poor."
For an instant something like contempt shone in his eyes, then
pity softened their dark brilliance, and a passionate pain thrilled
his voice as he said, with a despairing glance:
"Then I may not hope!" She could not utter the cruel word "No"
that rose to her lips; a sudden impulse ruled her; the better nature
she had tried to kill prompted a truer answer, and love, half
against her will, replied:
"You may hope--a little longer."
"How long?" he questioned, almost sternly, for even with the joy
of hope came a vague disquiet and distrust.
The tell-tale color flushed into her cheeks as the words escaped
her, and she could not meet the keen yet tender eyes that searched
her downcast face.
"To-morrow!" he echoed; "that is a short probation, but none the
less hard for its brevity if I read your face aright. John Meredith
has spoken, and you find money more tempting than love."
Her head dropped on her hands, and for an instant she struggled
with an almost irresistible impulse to put her hand in his and show
him she was nobler than he believed. But she had been taught to
control natural impulses, to bend her will, to yield her freedom to
the one aim of her life, and calling it necessity, to become its
slave. Something in his look and tone stung her pride and gave her
strength to fight against her heart. In one thing he was mistaken;
John Meredith had not spoken, but she knew a glance from her would
unlock his tongue, for the prize was almost won, and nothing but this
sudden secret love had withheld her from seizing the fruit of her
long labor and desire. She meant to assure herself of this beyond all
doubt, and then, when both fates were possible, to weigh and decide
as calmly as she might. To this purpose she clung, and lifting her
head with a proud gesture, she said, in the cold, hard tone that
jarred upon his ear and made discord in the music of her voice:
"You need not wait until to-morrow. Will you receive your answer
"No; I will be patient, for I know something of temptations like
this, and I have faith in the nobility of a woman's heart. Love or
leave me as you will, but, Evelyn, if you value your own peace, if
you care for the reverence of one who loves you utterly, do not sell
yourself, for wealth so bought is worse than the sharpest poverty. A
word will put me out of pain; think of this to-day; wear these to
remind you of me, as that jewel recalls Meredith; and to-night return
my dead roses or give me one yourself."
He put the ruddy cluster in the hand that wore his rival's gift,
looked into her face with a world of love and longing in his proud
eyes, and left her there alone.
If he had seen her crush the roses on her lips and drench them in
passionate tears, if he had heard her breathe his name in tones of
tenderest grief and call him back to save her from temptation, he
would have turned and spared himself a lifelong loss, and saved her
from a sacrifice that doomed her to remorse. She crept into a shadowy
nook among the rocks, and searched her self as she had never done
before. The desire to be found worthy of him swayed her strongly, and
almost conquered the beliefs and purposes of her whole life. An hour
passed, and with an expression more beautiful than any ever seen upon
her face till now, Evelyn rose to seek and tell her lover that she
could not give his flowers back.
As she stood a moment smiling down upon the emblems of love, a
voice marred the happiest instant of her life, a single sentence
undid the work of that thoughtful hour.
"Meredith will never marry pretty Evelyn."
"And why not?" returned another voice, as careless as that
sarcastic one that spoke first.
"He is too wise, and she lacks skill. My faith! with half her
beauty I would have conquered a dozen such as he."
"You have a more potent charm than beauty, for wealth will buy any
man..." "Not all." And the girl's keen ear detected an undertone of
bitterness in the light laugh that followed the words. A woman spoke,
and as she listened, Dorn's words, "I know something of such
temptations," returned to her with a sudden significance which the
next words confirmed.
"Ah, Max will not thaw under your smiles nor be dazzled by the
golden baits you offer. Well, my dear, you can find your revenge in
watching Evelyn's folly and its dreary consequences, for she will
marry him and ruin herself for ever."
"No doubt of that; she hasn't wit enough to see what a splendid
career is open to her if she marries Meredith, and she will let a
girlish romance rob her of success. That knowledge is an immense
comfort to me."
The speakers passed on, leaving Evelyn pale with anger, her eyes
keen and hard, her lips smiling scornfully, and her heart full of
bitterness. The roses lay at her feet, and the hand that wore the
ring was clinched as she watched mother and daughter stroll away,
little dreaming that their worldly gossip had roused the girl's worst
passions and given her temptation double force.
"She loves Max and pities me--good! I'll let her know that I
refused him, and teach her to fear as well as envy me. 'A splendid
career'--and she thinks I'll lose it. Wait a day and see if I have
not wit enough to know it, and skill enough to secure it. 'Girlish
romance' shall not ruin my future; I see its folly, and I thank that
woman for showing me how to avoid it. Take comfort while you may,
false friend; to-morrow your punishment will begin."
Snatching up the roses, Evelyn returned to the hotel,
congratulating herself that she had not spoken hastily and pledged
her word to Dorn. Everything seemed to foster the purpose that had
wavered for an hour, and even trifles lent their weight to turn the
scale in favor of the mercenary choice. As if conscious of the
struggle going on within her, Meredith forgot the temporary jealousy
of Dorn, that had held him aloof for a time, and was more devoted
than before. She drove with him, and leaning in his luxurious
barouche, passed Dorn walking through the dust. A momentary pang
smote her as his face kindled when he saw her, but she conquered it
by whispering to herself, "That woman would rejoice to see me walking
there beside him; now I can eclipse her even in so small a thing as
As the thought came, her haughty little head rose erect, her eye
wandered, well pleased, from splendid horses, liveried servants and
emblazoned carnage, to the man who could make them hers, and she
smiled on him with a glance that touched the cold heart which she
alone had ever warmed.
Later, as she sat among a group of summer friends, listening to
their gossip, she covertly watched her two lovers while she stored up
the hints, opinions, and criticisms of those about her.
Max Dorn had youth, manly beauty and native dignity, but lacked
that indescribable something which marks the polished man of fashion,
and by dress, manner, speech and attitude betrayed that he was
outside the charmed circle as plainly as if a visible barrier rose
between him and his rival.
John Meredith, a cold, grave man of forty, bore the mark of
patrician birth and breeding in every feature, tone, and act. Not
handsome, graceful, or gifted, but simply an aristocrat in pride and
position as in purse. Men envied, imitated, and feared him; women
courted, flattered, and sighed for him; and whomsoever he married
would be, in spite of herself, a queen of society.
As she watched him the girl's purpose strengthened, for on no one
did his eye linger as on herself; every mark of his preference raised
her in the estimation of her mates, and already was she beginning to
feel the intoxicating power which would be wholly hers if she
"I will!" she said, within herself. "To-night he will speak and
to-morrow brilliant future shall begin." As she dressed for the ball
that night an exquisite bouquet of exotics was brought her. She knew
who sent them, and a glance of gratified vanity went from the flowers
to the lovely head they would adorn. In a glass on her toilet bloomed
the wild roses, fresh and fragrant as ever. A regretful sigh escaped
her as she took them up, saving softly, "I must return them, but
he'll soon forget--and so shall I."
A thorn pierced her hand as she spoke, and as if daunted by the
omen, she paused an instant while tears of mental, not physical pain,
filled her eyes. She wiped the tiny drop of blood from her white
palm, and as she did so the flash of the diamond caught her eye. A
quick change passed over her, and dashing away the tears, she hid the
wound and followed her chaperon, looking blithe and beautiful as
John Meredith did speak that night, and Max Dorn knew it, for his
eye never left the little figure with the wild roses half hidden in
the lace that stirred with the beating of the girlish heart he
coveted. He saw them pass into the moonlit garden, and stood like a
sentinel at the gate till a glimmer of white foretold their return.
Evelyn's face he could not see, for she averted it, and turned from
the crowd as if to seek her room unseen. Meredith's pale features
were slightly flushed, and his cold eye shone with unwonted fire, but
whether anger or joy wrought the change Dorn could not tell.
Hurrying after Evelyn, he saw her half way up the wide staircase,
and softly called her name.
No one was near, and pausing, she turned to look down on him.
Never had she seemed more lovely, yet never had he found it hard to
watch that beloved face before. Without a word he looked up, and
stretched his hands to her, as if unconscious of the distance between
them. Her rich color faded, her lips trembled, but her eyes did not
fall before his own, and her hand went steadily to her breast as in
silence, more bitterly significant than words, she dropped the dead
roses at his feet.
"Is Doctor Dorn at home?"
The servant glanced from the pale, eager speaker to the elegant
carriage he had left, and, though past the hour, admitted him.
A room, perfect in the taste and fitness of its furnishing, and
betraying many evidences, not only of the wealth, but the cultivation
of its owner, received the new comer, who glanced hastily about him
as he advanced toward its occupant, who bent over a desk writing
"Doctor Dorn, can you spare me a few moments on a case of life and
death?" said the gentleman, in an imploring tone, for the sight of a
line of carriages outside, and a crowded anteroom inside, had
impressed him with the skill and success of this doctor more deeply
than all the tales he had heard of his marvelous powers.
Doctor Dorn glanced at his watch.
"I can give you exactly five minutes."
"Thanks. Then let me as briefly as possible tell you the case. My
wife is dying with a tumor in the side. I have tried everything,
every physician, and all in vain. I should have applied to you long
ago, had not Evelyn positively forbid it."
As the words left his lips both men looked at one another, with
the memory of that summer night ten years ago rising freshly before
them. John Meredith's cold face flushed with emotion in speaking of
his suffering wife to the man who had been his rival. But Max Dorn's
pale, impassive countenance never changed a muscle, though a close
observer might have seen a momentary gleam of something like
satisfaction in his dark eye as he answered in a perfectly
business-like tone: "I have heard of Mrs. Meredith's case from Doctor
Savant, and know the particulars. Will you name your wish?"
He knew it already, but he would not spare this man the pang of
asking his wife's life at his hands. Meredith moistened his dry lips,
and answered slowly:
"They tell me an operation may save her, and she consents. Doctor
Savant dares not undertake it, and says no one but you can do it. Can
you? Will you?"
"But Mrs. Meredith forbids it."
"She is to be deceived; your name is not to be mentioned; and she
is to think Doctor Savant is the man."
A bitter smile touched Dorn's lips, as he replied with significant
"I decline to undertake the case at this late stage. Savant will
do his best faithfully, and I hope will succeed. Good morning,
Meredith turned proudly away, and Dorn bent over his writing. But
at the door the husband paused, for the thought of his lovely young
wife dying for want of this man's skill rent his heart and bowed his
spirit. With an impulsive gesture he retraced his steps, saying
"Doctor Dorn, I beseech you to revoke that answer. Forgive the
past, save my Evelyn, and make me your debtor for life. All the honor
shall be yours; she will bless you, and I--I will thank you, serve
you, love you to my dying day."
Hard and cold as stone was Dorn's face as the other spoke, and for
a moment no answer came.
Meredith's imploring eyes saw no relenting sign, his outstretched
hands fell at his side, and grief, resentment and despair trembled in
his voice as he said, solemnly:
"For her sake I humbled myself to plead with you, believing you a
nobler man than you have proved yourself. She took your heart, you
take her life, for no hand but yours can save her. You might have won
our gratitude forever, but you refused."
"I consent." And with a look that went straight to the other's
heart, Dorn held out his hand.
Meredith wrung it silently, and the first tears that had wet his
eyes for years fell on the generous hand that gave him back his
The affair was rapidly arranged, and as no time was to be lost,
the following day was fixed.
Evelyn was to be kept in ignorance of Dorn's part in the matter,
and Doctor Savant was to prepare everything as if he were to be the
operator. Dorn was not to appear till she was unconscious, and she
was not to be told to whom she owed her life till she was out of
The hour came, and Dorn was shown into the chamber, where on the
narrow table Evelyn lay, white and unconscious, as if dead. Savant,
and two other physicians, anxious to see the great surgeon at work,
stood near; and Meredith hung over the beautiful woman as if it was
impossible to yield her up to them. As he entered the room Dorn
snatched one hungry glance at the beloved face, and tore his eyes
away, saying to the nurse who came to him, "Cover her face."
The woman began to question him, but Meredith understood, and with
his own hands laid a delicate handkerchief over the pallid face. Then
he withdrew to an alcove, and behind the curtain prayed with heart
and soul for the salvation of the one creature whom he loved.
The examination and consultation over, Dorn turned to take up his
knife. As he did so one of the physicians whispered to the other,
with a sneer:
"See his hand tremble; mine is steadier than that."
"He is as pale as the sheet; it's my opinion that his success is
owing to lucks' accidents more than to skill or science," returned
the other. In the dead silence of the room, the least whisper was
audible. Dorn flushed to the forehead, he set his teeth, nerved his
arm, and with a clear, calm eye, and unfaltering hand made the first
incision in the white flesh, dearer to him than his own.
It was a strange, nay, an almost awful sight, that luxurious room,
and in the full glow of the noonday light that beautiful white
figure, with four pale men bending over it, watching with breathless
interest the movements of one skillful pair of hands moving among the
glittering instruments or delicately tying arteries, severing nerves,
and gliding heedfully among vital organs, where a hairs-breadth slip
might be death. And looking from behind the curtains, a haggard
countenance full of anguish, hope and suspense.
With speechless wonder and admiration the three followed Dorn
through the intricacies of this complicated operation, envying the
steadiness of his hand, firm as iron, yet delicate as a breath;
watching the precision of his strokes, the success of his treatment,
and most of all, admiring his entire absorption in the work; his
utter forgetfulness of the subject, whose youth and beauty might well
unnerve the most skillful hand. No sign of what he suffered during
that brief time escaped him; but when all was safely over, and Evelyn
lay again in her bed, great drops stood upon his forehead, and as
Meredith grasped his hand he found it cold as stone. To the praises
of his rivals in science, and the fervent thanks of his rival in
love, he returned scarce any answer, and with careful directions to
the nurse went away to fall faint and exhausted on his bed, crying
with the tearless love and longing of a man, "Oh, my darling, I have
saved you only to lose you again!--only to give you up to a fate
harder for me to bear than death."
Evelyn lived, and when she learned to whom she owed her life, she
covered her face, saying to her hungry heart, "If he had known how
utterly weary I was, how empty my life, how remorseful my conscience,
he would have let me die."
She had learned long ago the folly of her choice, and pined in her
splendid home for Max, and love and poverty again. He had prospered
wonderfully, for the energy that was as native to him as his
fidelity, led him to labor for ambition's sake when love was denied
him. Devoted to his profession he lived on that alone, and in ten
years won a brilliant success. Honor, wealth, position were his now,
and any woman might have been proud to share his lot. But none were
wooed; and in his distant home he watched over Evelyn unseen,
unknown--and loved her still.
She had tasted the full bitterness of her fate, had repented and
striven to atone by devoting herself to Meredith, who was unalterable
in his passion for her. But his love and her devotion could not bring
happiness, and when he died his parting words were, "Now you are
She reproached herself for the thrill of joy that came as she
listened, and whispered penitently, "Forgive me, I was not worthy of
such love." For a year she mourned for him sincerely; but she was
young, she loved with a woman's fervor now, and hope would paint a
happy future with Max.
He never wrote nor came, and wearying at last, she sent a letter
to a friend in that distant city, asking news of Doctor Dorn. The
answer brought small comfort, for it told her that an epidemic had
broken out, and that the first to volunteer for the most dangerous
post was Max Dorn.
In a moment her decision was taken. "I must be near him; I must
save him--if it is not too late.
"He must not sacrifice himself; he would not be so reckless if he
knew that any one cared for him."
Telling no one of her purpose, she left her solitary home and went
to find her lover, regardless of danger. The city was deserted by all
but the wretched poor and the busy middle class, who live by daily
labor. She heard from many lips praises, blessings and prayers when
she uttered Doctor Dorn's name, but it was not so easy to find him.
He was never at home, but lived in hospitals, and the haunts of
suffering day and night. She wrote and sent to him. No answer came.
She visited his house to find it empty. She grew desperate, and went
to seek for him where few dared venture, and here she learned that he
had been missing for three days. Her heart stood still, for many
dropped, died, and were buried hastily, leaving no name behind
Regardless of everything but the desire to find him, dead or
living, she plunged into the most infected quarter of the town, and
after hours of sights and sounds that haunted her for years, she
In a poor woman's room, nursed as tenderly by her and the child he
had saved as if he had been her son, lay Max, dying. He was past help
now, unconscious, and out of pain, and as she sat beside him,
heart-stricken and despairing, Evelyn received her punishment for the
act which wrecked her own life and led his to an end like that.
As if her presence dimly impressed his failing senses, a smile
broke over his pallid lips, his hand feebly groped for hers, and
those magnificent eyes of his shone unclouded for a moment, as she
"I loved you best; forgive me, Max, and tell me you remember
"You said I might hope a little longer; I'll be patient, dear, and
And with the words he was gone, leaving her twice widowed.