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Poetry and Fiction by Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)


The Doctor

A romance novel (1860)

by: Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)

Chapter 5

Night was fast closing around Westford, and the cold was intense, yet no column or smoke had been seen all day from the old cottage on the hill; and now when every house sent forth a friendly ray of light, not the faintest glimmer was visible from all its windows.

"They’ve flitted, sure enough," said a man to his neighbor, as both were hastening to their comfortable homes. "And old Garrit may whistle for his rent, I’m thinkin’."

"Why, la, don’t you know their rent has been paid the whole year in advance," responded the other. "You don’t think Garrit would have been fool enough to let ‘em stay all this time if it hadn’t."

"Sure!" ejaculated the first speaker, in a tone of surprise. "Why who in airth paid it?"

"Don’t know. Garrit says he’s bound not to tell, and he don’t keer, either, now he’s got it."

"Well, I’m glad of it," rejoined the other. "It did seem hard to turn the poor gals out in this weather."

"It’s like to be a backward spring," said his companion. "I’m afeard there won’t be much chance for grain this year."

"Seems to me," said the other, "that our springs ain’t what they used to be when I was young. I guess we’ll have to turn the world t’other way a while, it’s kinder goin’ wrong lately," and with a hearty laugh at his wit, the two separated.

Night had fairly set in, and yet there was no sign of life around the miserable home of the three sisters. Everything was dark and silent without, and within all was as dark and almost as silent. Crouching together on the bed were the three girls: two of them creeping there for warmth, and one, the eldest, forced there by sickness. They were speaking so low that no one outside the house could have heard even the murmur of their voices.

"He will come," Faith was saying, in her firm, decided way. "It is a month almost since he was here. Don’t speak in that whining tone, Charity. I hate it."

"But it is so long to wait," responded the younger sister. "So long without food or fire. Hark, how the wind roars and howls! It seems as if the very elements were in league against us."

"Be quiet, will you?" said Faith, impatiently. "It makes me angry to hear you. As if nature took cognizance of three miserable girls, and lashed the elements into fury on purpose to punish them. Such words are unbecoming in you Charity; you should know better."

"I am not so strong as you, Faith. I wish I was," said the poor child, shivering. "It seems hard to me to lie here in cold and darkness and hunger, when light and warmth and food might be had."

"By begging?" demanded her sister sternly.

"No, Faith, by working," responded the other. "To me it seems sinful to do as we are doing. I don’t speak of you; of course we would never think of your working; but I could teach or sew, and Hope, so much wiser and more learned than I, could do even better, if you would but let us try."

"What did I bring you here for?" said Faith. "That we might hide from the world for a time, until this dark cloud passed over. It is passing—it will soon be over; only have patience."

"I think Charity is right," said Hope. "It seems worse than useless to perish here by inches, when we should be up and doing."

"Who speaks of perishing?" angrily demanded the elder. "It has not been so long since your animal wants were gratified; does one day’s cold and hunger make you forget yourself? Tomorrow I shall be better, and if he is not here, I can go over to him. Rouse yourselves, and prove yourselves faithful, by patiently bearing what is sent. There, be quiet, both of you. My head aches again; let me sleep."

Before daybreak the doctor’s bell was violently rung, and before he could put his head out of the window to ascertain who had disturbed him, a second and louder peal rang through the house.

"What in the fiend’s name is the matter?" he exclaimed. "Who are you?"

"Oh! Come. Come quickly, doctor," replied a female voice. "She is dying."

"She, I thought it was a woman," he muttered, as he descended and opened the door. "Come in, don’t freeze me. Who is sick?"

"My sister Faith, Mrs. Berkly," replied the shivering intruder. "Oh! Hurry, doctor, she is very ill."

"Yes, and so will you be. Why couldn’t she get sick at a decent time, and not drag people out of their beds at this hour?"

"She has been sick for some time, but she would not let us come for you, and last night she woke us with her raving. She does not recognize either of us. Oh! Hurry, I am afraid to leave Hope so long along with her."

"I am hurrying as much as I can. You don’t want me to freeze, do you?" he retorted. "And you, like all your sex, had not sense enough to wrap yourself up before coming out. There, drink that wine, and then wrap this cloak around you, or I shall be obliged to carry you home."

Common civility compelled him to offer his arm when they started, but he was not sorry that she declines it. For a while she kept beside him, but was soon obliged to slacken her pace, and after stumbling several times finally fell forward on the ground.

"Why, what a baby you are," he said, assisting her. The words were rough, but the tone was more gentle than usual. "Are you hurt?"

"Only weak," she gasped. Her fictitious strength had left her, and she could not help giving way to her feelings.

"Don’t cry," he exclaimed. "If there is anything on earth I abominate it is a woman’s tears—especially if she cries because of a hurt."

"I am not crying for that," she said, trying to rally.

"No! For what then? Your sister has too much energy to die yet. She’ll never die until she wants to. I never met a woman with such a nature. I honor her for it."

"We cannot change our nature," she replied. "She and Hope were always strong; I never was."

"Why? You are young and vigorous, and could be if you wanted to. But you are the youngest, and I suppose have been pampered and petted by your mother," he returned. "I get out of all patience when I see the injudicious fondness of mothers. How many milksops and poppets are turned loose upon the world, who might have been men and women with proper training."

"I never had a mother to pet me," she replied in a low tone. "She died when I was a babe. And Faith is not one to pet or spoil anyone."

"No, I’ll be sworn she is not," he said, as they came near the house. "Why, you are in darkness, here," he continued, as he entered. "Get a light, how can I find my way?"

Charity put her mouth close to his ear. "Hush," she whispered. "Don’t let Hope hear you. We have no light."

"Come, quick!" Hope called as she heard the outer door close. "I can’t hold her any longer."

It was a matter of wonder to the physician, as he took the strong form in his arms, how the girl had held her at all; it required all his strength to restrain her. He was glad when he saw daylight creeping through the window, although it lighted up a miserable looking group. Its cheerful rays fell upon Faith, her long black hair streaming over her shoulders, her face flushed and distorted, and her tall form writhing with madness; upon Hope, white as a corpse, as she stood with compressed lips and stern brow beside the sufferer, and upon Charity overcome by excitement, cold, and hunger, crouching at the foot of the bed. And lastly it fell upon the wretched looking room, with its scant furniture and fireless hearth. All looked even more bleak and desolate to the doctor than when he first entered it, to minister to the comfort of the dying old man. Next Chapter