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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 6

What he had not learned of their past history, on the night upon which the old man died, Doctor Watson gleaned from the incoherent ravings of his patient, when her fierce delirium had, in a measure, subsided. That there had been guilt and shame, he knew, but, woman-hater as he was, he felt glad that no stain rested on the three unprotected girls thus strangely thrown in his way. No true man can contemplate the wreck of female purity, but with feelings of regret, even though their infamy may not smirch him; for it is as if one of God’s best works had been made in vain, when woman falls.

He could not love the sex, he had little cause; nor did he trust them, but for his mother’s sake, he respected purity; and for her sake too, a feeling of pity nestled somewhere down in his heart, for the unfortunate, although he never allowed it to be seen. And these forlorn ones, isolated by their pride, even more than by their poverty, from their fellows; holding communication with none, seeking aid from none, living, no one knew how; somehow, in spite of his boasted stoicism and misanthropy, touched him; and when he saw the miserable shifts pride made to mislead him, in regard to their real state, he felt pity rather than contempt for them. He had leisure now, in his frequent visits, to notice their appearance and manners, and it required no great amount of penetration to see that they were far above their situation.

Faith, the eldest, was one whom it seemed presumption to pity, there was such a high imperious tone about her; but there was also little to love. She had once been handsome, but poverty and grief had made sad inroads on her beauty. There still remained the clear cut features, and brilliant steel grey eyes, but the face was wasted and sallow, the eyes were hard, and the noble brow was corrugated. a fierce storm had swept over her, and removed every trace of feminine softness, leaving the chiseled features cold and hard as marble.

Hope resembled her; but with her, all softness had not been crushed out. Her face like that of her sister’s, was perfectly colorless, and she had the same regular features, and steel grey eyes, and broad forehead; but the cheek still retained its youthful roundness, and a faint blush sometimes flitted across it; the broad brow, too, was unwrinkled, and although there was almost as much haughtiness in her manners, she was not all ice as Faith was.

The youngest sister differed from them both, and interested the Doctor less than either. Neither so tall, nor regal in her bearing, and with less pride and strength of character, she was not calculated to enlist the sympathies of one who hated softness and sentiment. Her large brown eyes, indicative of affection rather than intellect, were very beautiful; and even poverty with its horrid concomitants, hunger and cold, had failed to rob her cheek entirely of its faint rose tint, or pale her bright red lips. Her features were less regular than her sisters, but perhaps for that very reason, more pleasing; her brow lower, and more feminine, and her whole appearance far less striking, but at the same time more loveable. In one thing alone she resembled them. The eyelashes of all were remarkably long, thick, and curling, imparting a peculiar expression to the face, which made one involuntarily pause to look at them a second time.

They dressed precisely alike, and their dress was invariably the same. A dark grey stuff, made close to the throat, without any trimming or adornment whatever. Somber and monotonous they looked at all times, but more especially in the dull twilight, as they flitted like ghosts around their small cottage.

Spring came very slowly, and Faith’s strength did not, as they hoped it would, some with it. The sharp March winds seemed to rack her frail body almost beyond the powers of endurance. And when April set in cold and wet, it retarded her recovery still more.

It was wonderful to see how her strong will upheld her, when those fierce paroxysms assailed her. True to her proud nature, she never uttered a complaint, or allowed a moan to escape, even when she was suffering most intensely. She defied pain, as she defied hunger and cold, with Spartan-like courage and endurance.

She was seated in a corner of the capacious fireplace, propped up with pillows, and wrapped in shawls and coverlets, for the day was damp and chilly, and she more than usually weak. Her eyes had been closed for some time, for she had just recovered from one of her fits of coughing, and they always left her prostrated; only by the faint quivering of the pale lips, or the dilation of the thin nostrils, you would see that there was life in her.

The two girls sat before the fire, almost as motionless, and quite as quiet. Hope, with her proud lips curled, and her queenly head thrown back as some thought not so pleasant as it might have been, swept through her mind. Charity, on a low form, with both hands clasping her knees, was gazing intently on the glowing embers, also thinking, but her thoughts appeared more pleasing than those of her sister, for a scarcely perceptible smile lit up her dark eyes, as the firelight flickered on them.

"Hope," she said at last, in a quiet whisper, "do you ever wonder where all these things come from?" glancing around the room, and at the blazing fire. The room certainly bore a more cheerful aspect than it had done since they came into the cottage. A plain, thick carpet covered the floor, the windows were screened with comfortable dark chintz curtains. Faith reclined in a large, easy, well-cushioned arm chair, and the table spread for their evening meal, with its white cloth, and its plentiful though simple repast, all clearly indicated that the gripping hand of poverty had been removed.

Hope roused herself from her unpleasant reverie at the question, and glanced around the room.

"We bought them," she answered curtly in the same tone.

"I know," responded her sister. "But the money, where did that come from?"

"From some of father’s debtors, of course. Where should it come from?" returned the other.

"I know that was what was written in the letter in which the money was sent," replied Charity. "But it seemed strange to me then, and it does yet, how any of papa’s debtors could find us out."

"What are you driving at?" exclaimed her sister, half angrily. "Who would send it, and make up a story about it, do you think?"

"The doctor," whispered Charity.

If I thought he had dared," exclaimed Faith, suddenly starting up, but she did not finish the sentence. A stream of blood from her lips followed the hasty movement, and the two girls frightened at this unlooked-for catastrophe, were glad to hear the familiar sound of Dr. Watson’s carriage wheels driving up at the door, at that critical moment.

The grace and beauty of the sisters had no weight with the rough, eccentric physician, who would have exercised his professional skill as readily upon the meanest outcast of earth; but their stern heroism, and uncompromising pride, commanded his respect. And he came into the humble cottage with a more subdued, gentlemanly air, than he would have entered the gorgeous drawing-room of the proudest beauty.

There was no roughness in his tone, when he gave his directions to the two frightened girls, and he assisted them tenderly in carrying the invalid to her bed. And from that day forward he was a constant and, not an unwelcome guest to the little cottage. Next Chapter