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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 7

Spring came at length in its glory of blossom and flower, and all Westford was redolent with sweets, but the invalid of the cottage was only able to breathe them as they came on the soft air through the window by her bed. The old pear tree that stood by the window, was white with blossoms, and the bees came humming around it, and even into the room where she lay. A handful of pale blush roses lay on the coverlet of her bed, and one wasted white hand toyed with them; but it was not of roses she was speaking to the gray-haired man who sat beside her, of thorns, rather; for she spoke of herself, and her pathway had not been strewn with flowers.

"We have wanted the common necessaries of life, but it is not of that I would speak," she was saying, and still the long slender fingers toyed with the flowers. "What are they in the balance! Nothing, only tell me they have not been born in vain. Tell me that I will not die! Oh, if there is a God, let him show Himself now, and raise me. I must live."

"Faith!" exclaimed the gentleman. But she went on in her old, stern way.

"Yes, it is not so much I ask. A poor, frail, human life! I pray for no wealth, nor honors, not even for mercy; I only ask to live. To live till my revenge is sated! Till I have placed my foot upon the neck of mine enemies! Till my ear is soothed with their vain appeals for forgiveness! For that, for that be my span of life lengthened. I ask no more!"

"Faith!" said the gentleman, rising. "I have often wondered how a being so lovely and loving as your mother was, could ever have been the wife of a man like your father, I now wonder how you can be her child!"

"Who made me what I am?" she rejoined, hastily. "Was I different from others in my infancy and youth? You should know, for you have known me ever since I am in the world. Whatever the perfidy and treachery of others has made me, I once was human. Once lavished all a woman’s love upon one of your vile, hateful sex. Was I not true to him? Did I not, in my blind folly, make a God of him? Showing him the reverence we should yield to a superior being! And when shame came upon us, a shame in which I had no part, did he not spurn and reject me, and cast me from his heart? Oh, again I say, if there be a God, let Him grant me life, till I have paid back my debt ten-fold upon him!"

In her vehemence she clutch the roses, not heeding their thorns, although the blood trickled from her delicate fingers, as she grasped them. "Let there be one drop of mercy in my cup of bitterness," she continued, wildly. "And hunger, cold, disease and death shall be welcome."

"I am doing you more harm than good by listening to you," said her companion, moving from the bed. "And since that is the case, I must shorten this interview. Remember what your physician told you. An imprudent act may snap the thread of life at any moment."

"Stay," she said, laying her hand on his arm, and speaking less vehemently. "There seems to be a foreboding at my heart that I shall never see you again. It may be so; my appeal may not be heard! I may not live to taste the sweets of revenge; if this be so, pledge me your word that you will tell all this to my child. Tell her how her mother’s heart was outraged by one whom they bid her call father. Promise me this, or my restless spirit will return to earth to torture you as well as him."

"Idle threat," he answered, as a smile crossed his thin features. "May I never meet anything to worry me more than that, Faith."

"Promise it," she said, excitedly.

"Not I," he replied. "I would deserve to be haunted by every unquiet ghost in Hades, if I were to poison a child’s heart against her father. Do you thank those who told you unwelcome news of yours?"

"I forgive him, for he was guilty to himself as well as to us, but he—" She paused and her pale lips were compressed, as if she with difficulty suppressed a malediction.

"Let him go his way, Faith," said her companion. "He will be punished. And now let us turn to another subject. Have you strength enough to sign those papers?"

"No. Tomorrow will be time enough," she replied.

"You know I am a man of business," he said. "One ‘today’ is worth twenty ‘tomorrows’, sometimes."

He brought the materials and spread them in a book before her, and propped her up with pillows.

"That is right," he said, as she took the pen from him. "Come, Faith, be quick.—What are you doing?" he said, hastily, as he saw the pen making strange characters over his lawyer-like writing. "Not there! Down here, in this corner. Whatever are you thinking? Let me guide your hand."

He took the attenuated hand, but dropped it instantly, and looked into her face. It was hard and cold as ever, and the eyes were fixed with a dull gaze on him.

"Faith!" he called, laying his hand on her shoulder, and slightly shaking her. "Faith!" He waited a moment, and passed his hand quickly before her eyes, but they did not move. He touched his finger to her cheek. It was cold. "Gone!" he muttered, as he gathered up his papers. He went to the door of the room, and called Hope. Both sisters came in.

"What is the matter?" exclaimed the elder. "What is this?"

"Death," replied the lawyer, quietly. Hope bent in silence over the body, but Charity, with a loud wail of grief, threw herself across the bed.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" asked their guest. "Any one in the village I can send here?"

Hope raised herself from the cold face she had been bending over in tearless silence. He repeated the question.

"Tell Doctor Watson to come over, no one else," she replied.

"No one else! No woman?" he asked.

"No one," she replied. Her words and manner were calm enough, but there was a slight tremor in her voice. And when the door closed on their late guest, and not till then, she gave way to a burst of womanly feeling, and throwing herself beside her sister, passed her arm around her waist, and mingled her tears with hers.

"A queer lot, the whole of ‘em," muttered the lawyer, as he left the house. "Father, son and daughters, hard as rocks, all of ‘em. I’ve seen a girl show more feeling for a dead bird, than she did for her own sister."

He found the Doctor, and delivered his message.

"I was told to tell you, and no one else," he said, by way of finding out how the physician stood in regard to them. "Strange, is it not, that they sent for no one but you? You can do no good now; she is dead as dead can be. You have been there pretty often, I suppose?"

"Not often enough," tartly replied the doctor. "I should have been there today, instead of you. What have you been doing or saying, that caused this? She was mending rapidly. What excited her, for it must have been excitement, nothing else could have carried her off in this way."

"Well, perhaps it was," replied the other, "but it was of her own getting up. She was the very devil incarnate for temper. I’ve known her from her childhood, and ought to know. I thought there was some human feeling about Hope, but they’re all of a piece, sir, all of a piece. You might as well try to check the storm as to turn one of ‘em from a purpose. They’ve known trouble, it is true, pretty hard trouble some would call it; but lord, I’ve seen people have as much, but it never converted ‘em into stone. And the strangest thing is that their mother was one of the meekest and mildest women, heaven ever sent on earth."

"You are acquainted with their pecuniary affairs," said the Doctor. "Have they anything to fall back upon?"

"There is a suit now pending, which, if they should gain it would make them rich, but the chances are ten to one against them," said the lawyer.

"Have they no relations?"

"No near ones. And what they have are as poor as they are themselves. But if they owned the Indies, those girls would die. They’d starve, sir, or freeze, or both, before they’d accept a dollar from anyone. They are all alike, father, son, and daughters, as I said before."

"Son!" exclaimed the Doctor. "They have a brother, then?"

"In prison," returned the other, in a whisper. "That’s what they are here for. Forgery, a clear case, no hope. You see the blow came on them like a thunderclap. The old man was implicated, and the girls got him off somehow. Took another name, and all that, and brought him out here. It was the most fortunate thing in the world he died when he did, for it was just beginning to be guessed where they had gone. And officers were on the track."

"Then Berkley is not her name!" said the Doctor.

"No, no more than Lloyd was his. They had to take those names, you see, to escape detection. It is astonishing, sir, what energy of character that girl had. I have seen all kinds of people in my time, but I never yet met with her equal. It is a wonder to me that she died, when she had made up her mind to live. It is, upon my word, sir, I actually thought she could have come off first best in a battle with the ‘King of Terrors,’ as he is called."

"Is she a widow?" again asked the Doctor.

"That is the worst part of the business," replied the other. "She married for love but whether he had never loved her, or whether he had grown tired of her imperious temper, I don’t know, but no sooner had the news of this affair reached him, than he wrote her a cold, cutting letter, took her child, a little thing of four years old, and left the place. It was that roused the demon in her for she had loved him in her proud, fierce way; loved, I suppose, like a lioness, but at any rate truly and with her whole heart, and his coldness, his villainy I may say, for it was a villainous act, stung her to the soul. It would have broke any other woman’s heart, but it turned hers to stone. Then there was a chap, a sea-captain, or something of that sort," continued the garrulous old man. "Who had been paying attention to Hope, and when this affair came out, she wrote to him, and released him from his obligations."

"Well," said the Doctor suddenly, as the other paused.

"I don’t know how the affair stands now," replied the old man. "His family are pretty high, and I suppose, if he even wanted to marry her, they would oppose it."

They had been walking up the street during this colloquy. The Doctor suddenly paused.

"Do you return to the cottage?" he asked.

"No. I have an appointment in B. at four," replied the other, consulting his watch. "It is now near twelve."

"We part here, then," said the former, slightly touching his hat.

"Good morning," said the old man, courteously. "If you ever come to town, drop in at No. 814 – Street. My name is Bradbury, at your service." Next Chapter