(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the story opens, the narrator, a young doctor beginning practice in an isolated section of Virginia near the turn of the century, is on his way to Jordan’s End, a country estate at some remove from a small town. He has been sent for to examine Alan Jordan, the owner of the place. As he goes along in his horse and buggy, he encounters a fork in the road: One branch of its gives indications of having been well traveled; the other, deeply rutted but covered with grass and overhanging leaves, appears to have been little used. As he ponders which road to take, a voice from the bushes by the side of the main trail advises him to take the well-traveled road if he is going to the country store. Emerging from the woods, a stooped old man appears in the road, and when the doctor inquires the way to Jordan’s End, the fellow points to the less used trail and says that if the doctor is going in that direction he would like to ride along.

As the two travel the road to Jordan’s End, Father Peterkin, in response to the young doctor’s questions, provides information about the ill fortune that has beset the master and mistress of the place. It appears that ever since the Civil War the fortunes of the Jordan family have been in severe decline. Now, according to Father Peterkin, young Alan Jordan has been taken ill and the management of the place is in the hands of his wife, Judith, the mother of their nine-year-old boy. Aside from a few black field hands, the only other personages at Jordan’s End are three old women related to Alan by blood or marriage.

When the doctor arrives at the Jordan place, he is seized by a kind of foreboding, a feeling that is intensified by the appearance of the house itself—a crumbling Georgian manor house, with rotting eaves and windows without panes. Everywhere there is evidence of deterioration, of decline. His conversation with Father Peterkin provided him with information about the history of insanity among the male members of the Jordan family, but nevertheless he is unprepared for the sight of this...

(The entire section is 839 words.)