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בס"ד

Poetry and Fiction by Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)

The Doctor

A romance novel (1860)

by: Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)
 

Chapter 4

Gerald Lloyd died and was buried. Such things are of daily occurrence, and the world rolls on, as one after another of its millions of ephemera flashes into life, struggles for a brief space, and then sinks into death.

As he has lived, so he died, a hard, unrepentant man, unyielding to the last.

But what his sins had been, or what was revealed on that memorable night, when Doctor Watson kept watch beside him, no one ever knew. The few neighbors who assembled to convey the body to its last resting place, gleaned little to repay them for their trouble.

They saw there was poverty there, and pride that more than matched it, and they found that sympathy or pity would be thrown away on the survivors. They saw three fine shapely women with cold, tearless faces—for they did not simulate sorrow—who bore the uncommon names of Faith, Hope, and Charity. This was the extent of the information they gleaned, and scant enough it was to feed the wonder-living gossips of Westford.

Some attempts were made to establish a friendly intercourse between the three sisters, and the simple villagers, but without success; and finding all their overtures unavailing, the latter at length gave up, and the dwellers in the lonely house on the hill were almost forgotten. Once or twice after the funeral, the doctor turned his horse’s head in that direction, but even he, so uncouth himself, and so little attentive to the courtesies of life, seemed reluctant to enter the inhospitable door, and changed his mind when in sight of the house.

How they lived through that miserable winter was matter of conjecture, for they rarely crossed the path of their neighbors, or came in contact with them. They had been seen stealing out at twilight, and carrying home armfuls of brush from the adjoining woods, and one tender-hearted villager anxious to assist, and yet fearful of offending, hauled a load of well seasoned wood at night, and placed it before their door; but weeks afterwards when he passed the place, he saw it lying as he had left it, not a stick had been touched! Another secretly conveyed a hamper filled with good, nourishing food to their dwelling at night, and the next morning the hamper with its contents untouched, was seen on the summit of the hill in full view of the village.

What could be done with such people? It was no wonder that all Westford was unanimous in pronouncing them ungrateful, and decided upon leaving them to their fate. This was all they asked of their inquisitive, and over zealous neighbors, and their desire was at length granted and they were left alone.

We have described Westford as a collection of unsightly frame houses: but what place, however humble, is without its aristocracy! And our little village boasted several families who laid claim to that title—But their handsome stone dwellings disdained the companionship of the humble Spanish brown frames, and stood at a respectable distance.

"Maplesden," the residence of Squire Singleton, standing on a slight eminence, surrounded by a grove of trees from which it took its name, was decidedly the most imposing. Its broad front, its pretty garden, laid out by a professional gardener, brought at a great expense from the city for that purpose, and its numerous outhouses, gave to Maplesden quite an air.

Its occupants, too, were very popular, for the squire was an active politician, and aspired to an office; and his family consequently played the agreeable to their poorer neighbors. It was no unusual thing to see the handsome carriage of Mrs. Singleton standing before the door of one of the humble village houses, and that lady herself in an elaborate toilette listening to the complaints and distresses of a parcel of people towards whom she played the part of a lady Bountiful, and for whom she cared less than for the pretty poodle she fondled.

It is into one of the rooms of her handsome house we must now introduce our readers. A room which the lady—whose early education had been somewhat neglected—styled her budoor, and which, in spite of a little vulgarity in the combination of colors, had a very comfortable look. The carpet glowed with a variety of tints, only equaled by the grotesqueness of the design, and the drapery was of deep orange and crimson; for Mrs. Singleton, being a brunette, had been advised to choose rich, warm colors, for this, her favorite apartment.

Pictures whose chief beauty lay in their glowing colors and massive frames, adorned the walls; and the firelight was reflected from the rich dark furniture of the favorite Louis the fourteenth style, and the glittering frames of pictures and mirrors.

But as if to redeem the room, or at least the taste of its occupant, from utter vulgarity, a copy of Pradier’s Sappho graced the mantle. It was a perfect gem. The complete despondency of the whole figure; the fair head bending forward, the delicate hands clasping the knees, the neglected lute with its myrtle wreath lying silent by her side; no other emotion that that of despair on the fair face—all had been admirably copied by the artist, who, with true Parisian cunning, had converted the beautiful statuette into a useful ornament, and a miniature clock pointed with silver hands to the hours marked on the base of the lute.

It was its utility that recommended it to Mrs. Singleton, who had had no partiality whatever for statuary, but gave a decided preference to pictures.

"For them we can have as bright and pleasant as we please," she observed to her friends. "They are furniture in a room, and the frames are nice. But these stone things, without a bit of color, always look like corpses to me. I can’t bear ‘em."

A small couch had been drawn up before the fire, and a very pretty young girl lay gazing idly at the fair despondent above her. She was quite young, almost too young to understand the cause of Sappho’s despair, but she had been an invalid, and felt sympathy with all who suffered.

She had been looking at the clock, counting the minutes between the nauseous doses she was still obliged to take, but gradually she became attracted by the beauty of the figure, and took to watching that.

"Who was she, mother, did she ever live?" she asked, pointing towards the subject of her thoughts.

"La, child, how should I know?" responded her mother, who was deep in an interesting item on her husband’s character, which, by the bye, he was strongly suspected of having written himself. "What’s the use of sending you to boarding school, and spending so much money on you, if you don’t learn such things yourself. Here comes the doctor, ask him."

"Ask him no impertinent questions, if you want to be treated civilly," said the individual she named, entering the room. "Good gracious, madam! Have you no more sense than to wheel that sofa before such a blaze of light, and her eyes are hardly able to bear an unclosed shutter?" He whirled it away with its little occupant, and thereby prevented her from contemplating the pretty toy.

"I was just asking mother whether that lady ever lived, and who she was, doctor," said the child, "and she told me to ask you. Do you know?"

"She was a fool," curtly responded the doctor, "and killed herself when she found it out. Let me look at your tongue."

That member was submitted to his inspection.

"I hope it is in talking order, doctor," said the girl, with a pretty smile. "I have been kept quiet so long."

"And that was the worst medicine I could prescribe to one of your sex," he replied.

"Ah, doctor, you are always too severe with us poor women," said Mrs. Singleton. "I often say to the squire, I would give anything to know what makes Doctor Watson so hard on the sex’s failings. He will have it is your nature, but I insist on it you must have been crossed in love."

"Continue to take your medicine," he said, fairly turning his back on the speaker, and addressing the invalid. The latter glanced timidly up into his face, for there was something strange in his voice, but her eyes fell when she encountered his. It seemed as if a spasm of intense pain had convulsed his dark face, and made it, for the moment, terrible; but it passed as suddenly as it had come on.

"You need not take it so often," he continued, in his natural tone. "Every three hours is enough now."

"Good morning, doctor; fine weather," said the squire, in his hearty, off-hand way, as he bustled into the room. He was a stout, middle-aged man, with a round and rather rubicund face, indicative of a love of the good things of this world; a voice admirably calculated for stump speaking—loud, clear and ringing; and an easy, friendly manner that told well with the lower classes.

"Well, puss, how are we," he continued, stroking the girl’s head with his great hand. "Better, hey! Well, that’s right. Keep on; that’s all the doctor asks, isn’t it, doctor?—do the best we can, say I, and that’s all that’s expected of us. By the by, have you heard the news? There’s quite a rumpus at Lloyd’s. Old Garrit’s been over there, and threatens to turn ‘em out; swears he won’t let ‘em stay if they don’t pay him, and breathes vengeance against the whole lot. Queer set, all of ‘em."

The squire rarely spoke against any one, but as there were no voters at Lloyd’s, he felt free to indulge a little. They had no political weight to bear against him.

"Poor as poverty and proud as Lucifer: two things that don’t hang well together.—Pride is bad enough when there is something to keep it up, but it’s a luxury poor folks have no right to indulge in. Bad season, though, to turn three girls out of house and home; told him so, but he says he’s got a tenant for the first of April and can’t afford to be fooled by ‘em."
 

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