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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 8

All Westford was astonished when, some three months after Faith Berkley died, her youngest sister was installed at Maplesden as governess to the fair invalid of whom mention has before been made. And the most wonderful part of the story was, that Mrs. Singleton had been induced to take her solely because Dr. Watson had proposed it! Not that he, the woman hater, the man who never mentioned one of her sex without a sneer, or a bitter word, should take such an interest in one of them, especially in one of that poverty-stricken family, was indeed, enough to puzzle the gossips of Westford.

They found various pretexts for visiting his den, and plied Betsy with questions innumerable, but they went away as wise as they came. "He could have but one motive for his conduct," they said, "and what he could see in the little insignificant chit to admire, was more than they could tell. There were dozens of girls in the place, a hundred times prettier, and, they hoped, a little higher too! But men were so strange."

"What do you know?" demanded Betsy, plucking more vigorously at the feathers of the chicken she was preparing. "I have known Jeremiah Watson man and boy, for upwards of twenty years, and I’d like to see the woman that could make a fool of him again."

"Oh, then he has been disappointed in love?" said a sentimental elderly miss. "I always said it."

"I didn’t," growled the old woman, angry at herself for having said so much. "And my ‘pinion is, that it don’t look well any how for women to go about and make such a fuss about a man. It would be a mighty soft man that ‘ud take a woman that run after him."

"Dear me!" hastily ejaculated Miss Grigg, with a sneer. "You don’t think there is one of us would have him! I hope not; but we think it a pity that a man of sense like Doctor Watson, should be the dupe of an artful, designing woman."

"Let him alone," said the old woman. "He’s old enough to know what he’s about, I guess."

"Well, we came with the best intentions," said one of them. "But don’t say anything to him about it, Betsy. Men are so vain."

"Ef you don’t talk more about him than he does about you, I guess there won’t be much breath wasted," returned Betsy. "A passel of softs," she growled, as her visitors left her. "Ef they had common sense they’d know that they’re jist doin’ what they oughtn’t. Let ‘em live as long as I have, and they’ll know that the very way to make a man do a thing, is to oppose it. On’y tell him that he mustn’t go sich a road, and ef his heart never dreamt of it afore, he’ll jist go that road and no other. Don’t I know ‘em?"

She was still in her unamiable mood when her master returned, and answered him very short and snappishly when he spoke. She brought in her knitting as usual, while he took his tea, and sat grim and silent at the tea board, knitting as if her life depended on it.

"So, it was you that got that gal a place," she said at length, breaking a silence which even to her, was becoming irksome. He looked up to her.

"What gal?" he asked.

"You know well enough. One of them poor ones, over the hill. I’ve had the whole town here, today, to know what you meant by it."

"Tell them to come to me, if they want to find out," he returned.

"Not likely they’ll trouble us again, I sent ‘em away with a flea in their ear," she replied, grimly. "That Grigg gal said she on’y come to put you on your guard or somethin’ of that sort. She thought it was a pity you should be took in by an artful woman."

The doctor chuckled. "I have withstood her arts for above a year," he said. "She ought to know by this time that I am not very vulnerable."

"Hey! What are you saying?" said his companion.

"Nothing. Your chicken is cooked to a turn, and I’ll take another cup of tea," he replied, handing his cup.

# # #

The September evenings were quite cool enough to make a fire requisite, although the days were still warm, and a cheerful one blazed on the open hearth in Squire Singleton’s drawing-room that evening, when the Doctor entered. His patient had roused herself to play a game of draughts with her father, but when he came in, she resigned her seat to him, and resumed her place on the sofa.

"She is more than a match for me," said the squire. "Sit down, doctor, and let me take my revenge out of you. I have been beaten shamefully tonight."

The Doctor noticed by a glance, that Mrs. Singleton was engaged in some little fancy work at the table, and that the new governess was bending over a piece of embroidery in a frame. She just raised her head when he came in, and acknowledged his presence with a smile, then bent again above her work.

The room had a very comfortable look, with its glowing fire and rich furniture, and group of well dressed people gathered under the heavy chandelier. Mrs. Singleton evidently thought so, for glancing around it, with a well satisfied air, she observed to the governess, "You must find a great difference Miss Lloyd, between our place and your old home."

"Madame!" exclaimed the young girl, her face growing crimson as she raised her head quickly, and looked at the lady with flashing eyes. The latter had not expected such an explosion from her little spark. She stammered, as she tried to explain.

"I only thought—I mean of course—that it is more cheerful, more lively—it must have been dreadful mopy over there, just you two."

The girl did not reply, but bent her head again over her work, but the doctor noticed that the deep crimson which had dyed neck and face, only subsided to a rose tint, it did not die out.

There is fire under that snow, he thought, as he glanced at her, that look and tone were worthy of Faith.

"Oh, Doctor, will you never quit playing?" said the invalid. "I want you to come here and tell me about that statuette, as you promised so long ago to do. Won’t you?"

"Ask your governess," he replied, intent on his game.

"Do you know, Miss Lloyd?" she asked, languidly. "You said something about it when you first came here but I never thought of asking you, for it seemed to me you were too young to know much."

"Do you think your parents would have engaged me if they thought me incompetent to teach you?" asked her preceptress.

"I don’t know. I am tired of everything, and I want to hear something new. Who was she?"

"I will tell you tomorrow."

"No; tell me now, I want to hear it. Tomorrow I shall not think about it, perhaps; tell me now."

"She was a Poetess who lived many years ago on the island of Lesbos. She loved one who did not love her."

"What was his name, do you know?" interrupted Myra.

"Phaon, and hers was Sappho," said Charity.

"Well, what did she do? Did she make him love her?" queried Myra.

"No. That was impossible, so she threw herself into the sea, and died," returned the governess.

"What a fool!" ejaculated the girl. "Would you have done so?"

"I think not," replied Charity. "But even in this enlightened age, we find people foolish and wicked enough to kill themselves for love, sometimes. So we must not condemn poor Sappho, who lived in an age when suicide was considered honorable in some cases.

"For all she was a fool," said the girl. "The Doctor said so, when I asked him, and he was right. She ought to have lived and married someone else, just to let him see that she could live without him. Were you ever in love, Miss Lloyd?"

"That is an abrupt question, Miss Singleton. You should never ask questions like that."

"I know, but I want to talk tonight. I feel so dull and ugly. So answer me, were you ever in love? Oh, you need not look over at them, they don’t hear us, and if they did it would not matter. I would like someone to tell me a real love story. Won’t you tell me one?"

The Doctor was deep in his game. He prided himself on his skill, but somehow he saw that the rosy tint had entirely subsided and Myra’s rude question did not call it up again.

"What are you chattering about, love, over there?" asked Mr. Singleton, looking at them. "What do you know about it, puss?"

"Nothing, papa. I am only asking Miss Lloyd to tell me."

"Miss Lloyd is entirely ignorant on the subject," returned that young lady, with a smile. "It is a part of your education she can have no control over."

"How old are you, Miss Lloyd?"

"I told you, you should never ask abrupt questions, Miss Myra. That is one."

"I know it is, but I am privileged. Tell me? You can’t be much older than I am, but you know a great deal more. I am almost fourteen. You are not more than eighteen, are you?"

"You are a very inquisitive little girl," returned Charity, with a smile. "Yes, I am more than twenty. Now, don’t ask any more questions tonight."

"Yes, but I will, though, for I want to know where your sister is. I am so glad she did not come here instead of you. I should have hated her I know."

"You should not speak so, it is not proper. She is very superior in every respect to me. You would have learned much more with her."

"I don’t think so. Where is she?"

"At Memphis, a great way from here. She is engaged as teacher in a large seminary, and will not come on here for a long time. Now, I have told you all that without being asked, so you must be satisfied, and not ask any more questions."

# # #

The fall and winter passed drearily enough to the young governess, surrounded as she was by persons of such uncongenial tastes and habits. The glitter and tinsel of the world, the desire to raise herself higher than her neighbors, and at the same time to advance her husband’s interests, occupied all Mrs. Singleton’s thoughts; and her naturally weak-minded daughter, made more peevish and exacting by sickness, grew more intolerable every day. Her most extravagant whims had to be gratified, no matter at whose expense; and Charity sometimes found it difficult to keep pace with her absurd demands upon her time and patience. But worst of all was her utter isolation from all companionship; for even in their deepest poverty the sisters had not been separated—and it was only in reading Hope’s letters and answering them, that she found any pleasure, anything to cheer her on her dull, tedious way.

As for the doctor, she rarely met him, and when she did, seldom heard him address a word to her; and if she addressed an observation to him that required an answer, it was always given in the shortest and gruffest manner. So she, after a while, finding him too unamiable, did not put herself out of the way to conciliate him.

"I should die, if it were not for your letters," she wrote to Hope. "Here in this uncongenial place, without books, without a companion except the simple girl I am to teach, and her more simple mother; I could not manage to exist if they did not come, like sunbeams, to cheer me. As for the doctor, he is worse than ever, and I should positively hate him if it were not for what he has done for us. He does not tax my civility often, however, for he hardly ever notices me, and I return the compliment by not seeming to see him. Oh! Hope, if it was not that by our united efforts we may free poor Harvy, I could wish to be once more in our miserable hut, with hunger, and cold, and grim poverty around us. But as you said when you urged me to come here, it is that thought which buoys me up, and makes me overlook all the coarseness and vulgarity of these people. I seem to have grown so strong, too, since I am here, I am often astonished at myself. I that used to be so weak and dependent while I had you and Faith to lean on, you don’t know how brave I have become."

It was thus that Charity found the only comfort her cheerless life afforded, and letter days were the white days in her calendar. The mail only came in once a week to Westford, in those days, and regularly as mail days came, there came a letter for Charity Lloyd, and when the old stage left next day, it carried an answer to Hope.

"Anything for me this evening, Mr. Hinckley?" she asked, as she stood before the little window of the post office, one evening. The man was sorting his scanty mail on the floor; he stopped and looked up.

"Well, no, Miss, I believe not," he replied, looking at her over his spectacles. "I’ve got through with all but these few, and I’ve not found one for you." She grew nervous.

"Oh! Please look again, Mr. Hinckley," she said, hardly able to restrain her tears. "I am sure Hope would not disappoint me."

He shook his head, but got up and took the L’s from their box.

"You can see for yourself, Miss," spreading them before her. "Not a Lloyd here. I know I remarked it when I was sorting them, for it is the first time there has not been one for you, since your sister left."

"You have not got through with them all," she said, pointing to those on the floor. "It may perhaps be among them."

"No, Miss, I’ve got a way of my own for sorting my letters," returned the old gentleman. "I go through them in alphabetical order, for you see I have plenty of time, and not many to sort. And I have got through now to the R’s, so you know I cannot have made a mistake."

"Still, you will oblige me by looking over them while I wait," she replied, but after a tedious and vain search among the remainder, the old gentleman triumphantly declared he knew it, for he never made a mistake. Her lips quivered, and the tears almost made themselves visible as she turned to leave, and in doing so she brushed against the doctor. He stepped aside and touched his hat as she passed.

"What’s up?" he asked, as her light form quickly descended the steps.

"No letter from Memphis, and the poor thing seems quite put out about it," said the old gentleman.

"Women will make themselves miserable if they can," replied the cynic. "They like to pump up tears, and excite compassion."

"I don’t think that of her, doctor," said the old man. "She comes of a proud stock, I am thinking. There was more pride than sentiment about all of ‘em."

"Why couldn’t she have kept her tears and her tremors to herself till she got home, then," returned the doctor, taking his letters.

"You know, I suppose, that Blair’s child is dead, doctor," said the postmaster, who generally retailed the news of the village.

"No, I didn’t, but I might have guessed as much from the way that woman treated it. Ye Gods! If I dared frame a code of laws prohibiting any woman to marry until she had proved herself, before competent judges, fit to take charge of a family!" said the irascible doctor. "I would punish all with death who should infringe upon it."

The old man laughed. "You should not be so severe upon indiscreet mothers," he said. "For it is to them you must look for encouragement in your profession, Doctor."

"And do you think, sir, that a man delights to batten on the miseries of his fellows?" said the doctor, sternly. "That it is a pleasure to him to see them writhing in agony, or slowly wasting away the life God has given them? Good heavens! It drives me mad to see the turpitude of the world, and listen to its cant. Encouragement! Profession! Forsooth. As if such things were to be weighed against human suffering."

"No. Oh! No," said the postmaster, apologetically. "I didn’t mean that, Doctor. But where would you be if everybody was well and hearty? That’s it."

"Doing something else, sir, and rejoicing that I had no need to exercise my professional skill," returned the doctor. "By Jove, I sometimes think I would rather be a hedger and ditcher than be what I am, and witness the misery I am unable to relieve. And where does it spring from, sir? One half aye, two thirds of the misery of the world may be traced to woman; to her negligence, her stupidity, her imbecility, whatever you will, but to her as surely as nearly all crime can."

"A queer chap," said the postmaster to a new applicant, as the doctor left. "Hates the women folks terribly, but has got a good heart in him for all that." Next Chapter