Content Advisory: This story contains elements of darkness which may be disturbing to some people. The subject matter that some people may find disturbing is a sudden death brought about with highly malicious intentions. I highly apologize if you are turned off by this story, and let me assure you that I had no intention of delivering a dark message, but I only wanted to show real people going through tough situations. If, however, you feel up to the reading, I sincerely hope and trust you will appreciate the tale.
In the garden of Doctor Cook leaned Ernest the gardener. He was propped against the trunk of an ancient chestnut in deep contemplation. His wizened features were directed to a patch of potatoes directly outside of the chestnut’s canopy. Occupying one half of his mind was the active debate between two prophets, each with an opinion about those potatoes. One told of prospects hopeful, the other, of prospects less to be desired. Ernest would have liked to have given his full attention to the cares of his garden, but the other half his mind was stollen by distant cries from within the house of his employer, Doctor Cook. Perhaps if they had known what calamity their distracting voices might have had on the potato harvest, they would have calmed their tongues. They did not know however, and their shouting continued. The cries were of bitter argument.
The thick grey brows that crowned Ernest’s eyes scrunched in disapproval and he looked up from his potatoes, relaxing into philosophy as he readjusted his position against the chestnut. “No good fighting over the lady,” he mused. “No good at all. Ill will come of it.” There was a pause. “There is a great need for doctors in these days, as I suppose it has been in all days. The Doctor is a fine man, but he has not the skill in healing the ailments of the bitter heart, as he does in healing the ailments of the body. There is a need now for another type of doctor, one who can heal such wounds as lie deeper than the sphere of the human body.”
For some time his mind remain carried away by these thoughts, but he at last rallied himself and stood up. “What are you doing Ernest, leaning forever against this tree like an idler? You are a doctor of sorts yourself; a doctor of plants. You ought to take more care for your patients.” So saying, he returned to his work.
An hour’s time later, the old gardener was tending to an overgrown patch of brambles when he heard a light patter of feet upon the road behind him. Wheeling about he saw Peter McDunklin, an unabashed idler and one addicted to the use of his tongue. Ernest was not much of a friend of Peter McDunklin. Nobody was. Nevertheless, Peter was as much tolerated as he was looked down upon, and almost as much looked down upon as he was listened to. Ernest grunted when he saw the man approach him, but stood waiting.
“Good morning Ernest” Peter crooned in his long soft tone, somewhere between the drawn-out cry of a cowboy and the gentle, dewy, honey-coated words of a gentleman swindler. He was highly famed in the region for that voice of his. There was something enchanting about it which at once put the listener to sleep and captivated his upmost attention. “My, those are some turnips. I’ll tell you, I have seen most of the gardens in this region, and nowhere have I seen such turnips.”
Ernest would have gladly shared the secrets of his success, but Peter, quite hastily, continued without a pause. “Now Tobias Matson has a fine garden, but he hasn’t been out in it for a full week.”
“You know too much Peter,” the gardener remonstrated.
Peter responded with a light laugh like the leap of a deer, “Why yes, just so. It is my business of course. The old Man’s been greatly stricken; hasn’t hardly left his house at all.”
“It is true. I had it from a neighbor. The act of his daughter hits hard.”
“Yes, his daughter. A sad thing it is. It is a wonder that even I heard news of it the way the old man has been all sullen and cooped-up.” Ernest would not have thought it a wonder if Peter knew all the affairs of the cousins of some long forgotten Ethiopian princess. Peter continued. “Eloped she has; gone off with a man not much respected among the respectable. But for all that, he has a fine tongue I must say. I had many a conversation with him down at The Howling Frog Inn. He is rich as well, and if I know Elsie at all, I’ll bet that is what principally attracted her.”
“Why, this is sorry news Peter. If it has been a sore blow to Matson, it will go worse with the Doctor’s lads. Wait now!” Ernest’s voice was lowered to a whisper. “Say no more. I see them. They have just stepped outside.” The two men stood silently waiting till the lads would pass out of earshot. The voices of the two young men were raised in angry strife and could be clearly heard from where they were standing. At last, the younger of the two young men, Daniel, fighting to control himself, broke free from the conflict and fled far out into the fields, disappearing into a cluster of sycamore and willows. Robert, his elder brother, eyed him wrathfully as he retreated, then he himself went indoors.
The two onlookers stood awkwardly there for a moment, unable to think of aught but what they had just seen. At last, Peter McDunklin began to long for a more attentive audience. “Well, I’d better be off now. I will see you again Ernest. I may have to ask your advice on pumpkins soon.”
“Very well Peter, but no word of this to anyone.”
A hint of reluctance began to form on Peter’s features, but it was speedily subdued and he nodded. With that Peter was off.
Ernest returned to his work, but every now and again he would shoot a glance towards the cluster of sycamores and willows. There was no movement there for nearly an hour. “There’s no saying what that may mean,” said Ernest to himself. “Could mean a proper sort of reflection, or it could not.” Whatever sort of reflections they were, however, they came to an end when a young, sturdy-looking fellow appeared down the road approaching towards the doctor’s residence. Ernest saw Daniel rise from his den and go to meet the lad. “That is enough now. No more spying, Ernest. You should learn to mind your own business.” So saying, he returned to his work.
After a time though, the old gardener heard voices over by the house. For a moment his eyes bounced toward that direction, but the thought crossed his mind that it was none of his business and they bounced back. In that flash though, he saw the doctor’s sons together. They were talking, though what they spoke, he could not tell.
Near supper time, Ernest looked up at the sky, and seeing that the evening was just approaching, he plucked up his lunch sack and headed off toward the road. Thinking of some matters concerning the garden that he needed to tell the doctor about, he redirected his steps toward the house. With a light careless step, he walked up nearly to the back door. Then he stopped. On the right side of the house he heard a faint rustle as of some object grazing against a shrub. The noise was followed by the sound of heavy breathing and a light gasp. There was something chilling about the noise. The old man shuddered and than sprang towards the sound. Darting around the corner he was shocked and nearly stumbled in his haste to check himself.
“Oh Ernest, it is over!”
The gardener started up, his face terrified as he looked upon the ghastly figure of Daniel. The young boy lay on the ground, his hand grasping at the side of his neck from which issued a stream of blood.
“Wha – What has happened?”
The boy made an effort to prop himself up, but he collapsed and the blood spurt forth in a great volume. His eyes were filled with utter terror and his face was contorted in agony and anger. “I am done for, Ernest. I am done for. It was my brother. He sprung on me from behind and stabbed me with his knife. Avenge me Ernest.” A sudden panic seized him. “Avenge me!” Then, with a shuddering convulsion, he collapsed lifeless.
Ernest knelt by the body in a daze. There was no doubt he was dead. “Oh, this is a great ill, a great ill.” He heard behind him the sound of swift racing feet. Turning about he beheld the doctor running towards him, anguish painted on his face. It was evident he had seen or heard enough to tell him that his son was dead. When he came close though, the truth seemed to hit him with double force and he reeled, stumbling backwards. Ernest went over to him. “Courage doctor, courage. Let me help you up.”
With Ernest’s assistance, the doctor rose. “Oh, Ernest, why? How did it happen? Who? Did -?” He looked suddenly and threateningly at Ernest but then he turned away as if ashamed. “No, I should have known better. I heard him beg you for vengeance. It cannot be you. Forgive me. But vengeance – the attacker is known. Who is it?
“I saw nothing Doctor, but when I arrived the lad was already seconds from death. His attacker could have easily fled before I arrived. Yet I know his attacker Doctor, for he told me. And you had better sit down now before I tell you.” The doctor trembled and then seated himself upon the grass. “Who is it Ernest? Do not conceal it from me.”
“As he drew his final gasps, Daniel told me that he was ambushed and stabbed from behind with a knife by … Robert.”
The doctor leaped to his feet. “No, not my son! My son. Why? Why would he do such a thing?”
“You know doctor, best of all people why he would do such a thing.”
The poor doctor sank against the wall of his house moaning. “It is too much. Too much.”
Shortly, there was the sound of a door opening and there appeared around the corner none other than the accused Robert himself. Ernest’s eyes flashed him a warning, but the doctor covered his face, not daring to turn and see him.
The brother of the deceased paused when he saw the scene and his face turned white. Ernest sprang towards him. “Let me see your knife.” Not waiting for sanction, he drew the blade. He eyed it carefully. “There is no stain on it, but then it could have been washed.”
Robert looked at him in horror. “You cannot think that I killed him?”
“I not only suspect it, your brother’s dying words condemned you. He told me that you attacked him from behind, plunging your knife into his neck.”
Robert cried out loudly. “It is a lie! How can you believe such a thing?”
At these words the Doctor raised his head and turned so that he could just see his son, the one who yet lived, out of the corner of his eye. Hope began to rise in him. Grief and horror had overwhelmed him at the sight of his dead son, and there was such a reverence for the words of the departed that he had nearly been forced to accept that Daniel had been killed by his brother. When, however he heard his living son, Robert, plead his innocence, he wished desperately to believe it. Ernest saw the look in his eyes and feared that the Doctor might put too much trust in his son’s denial. He therefore renewed his investigation with double vigor.
“If you did not, then what have you been doing? Where have you been?”
Robert paused for a moment in confusion as if unable to think. Ernest noted the fact. “… I last saw Daniel around a half an hour ago. He took me outside saying he had something he wished to say to me. I doubted it would be anything good, but I followed him. He took me to this exact place and then turned and faced me. ‘Robert,’ he said. ‘You will never win Elsie. It is over. It is all over.’ I asked him how he could think so much of himself and his face grew suddenly terrible. He told me that I should not ask him about his own state. His voice was scarcely above a whisper, but I felt strangely afraid and left at once. Since then I have stayed inside and done nothing but wonder what he could mean.”
Ernest had been looking steadily into Robert’s eyes as he told his tale. “There is some truth in what you say. You talked with your brother at least, that I know. I do not believe though that you have told me the full truth. Who else could have killed him but you?”
Robert’s voice rose in passion. “I do not know who did it! I can only say that I am innocent. If none of us killed him, than either a murderer has snuck among us in broad daylight without our knowing, or some blade fell from heaven and sliced his neck.”
The Doctor laughed sarcastically; it was scarcely a laugh at all. “A blade fell from heaven and sliced his neck.” His words were full of bitterness and sorrow. At these words, Ernest looked with sudden interest at the dead body.
Robert was almost desperate now. “Father, won’t you believe me?”
The doctor looked up slowly. For a moment he beheld his son’s eyes, but he could not endure to see them. They were his son’s eyes. They were dear to him. Still, he was forced to believe that those very eyes had guided a knife to murder. What else could he believe? He turned his face away with shame. Ernest was now by the body. “Ernest,” said the doctor, “What are you doing?”
Ernest was feeling the wound. “I am examining the wound Doctor, as you should have done.” He withdrew his hand as if he had found what he was looking for.
“Your face is white Ernest. What is it.”
The gardener sprang to his feet. “Only a suspicion, but…” He raced over to a nearby shrub close against the house and began to search through it. A glittering object caught his eye. He pulled it out. “It is worse than I thought Doctor,” he said. “Robert is innocent.”
“Worse? Innocent? What are you saying Ernest?”
“It is very simple,” said Ernest, holding forth a small blade the doctor used for surgery. It was stained with blood.
“I do not understand.”
“The wound, Doctor, was small. It was only a thin slice across the side of the neck. Daniel’s words were that he was stabbed with a knife, but that would have left a deep cut. The body shows only a mathematically precise incision at the exact position of what I judge to be a major vein.”
“But who’s knife is it? You evade the point. And how did you know where it was?”
“As for its location, that is simple. What drew me to this site were two sounds: the sound of a rustling as if something had brushed against a shrub, and a frightening gasp. When I examined the wound, I knew what had caused the rustling sound. The knife had been flung into the bushes right before I came so that it would not be seen. As for whose knife this is, it is Envy’s knife, a knife from the deepest darkness of the heart of man. I notice today Daniel talking with a lad from town today. At that time I could not guess what it was about, but I see it clearly now. During that conversation, Daniel heard news which made him despair of ever winning his love. I should not say now what the news was, but I will later. Even though he knew that his brother would never be able to win her either, yet he hated him still. In his despair, he sought to bring down his brother by framing him with a murder. He envied him as a rival even though they were both doomed to failure. Because of his despair, he took his own life.” Ernest handed the blade to the doctor.
The Doctor began to weep. “Oh my sons! my sons!” There was a long pause before the Doctor spoke again. “You are innocent, Robert. Yet I am no less distraught than before. Destroy this knife, Ernest. It is a grief to me. Utterly destroy it.”