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Poetry and Fiction by Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)


The Doctor

A romance novel (1860)

by: Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)

Chapter 11

If our Doctor had pitied the forlorn Charity before her bereavement, he pitied her far more now, for she really loved the child and grieved for it with almost a mother’s grief. He would have given a great deal if he had not been hurried to say what he had said that evening in the garden; in fact, when he thought of it afterwards, he was as much surprised at himself as she had been, for it had not been in his thoughts when he began to speak. But it was over now, and it shut him out from the part he wished to assume towards her, for how could he be the calm, disinterested friend of a woman who had refused him. The most he could do was to stop as he passed her little cottage, and lean on the fence, to chat a few words with her, as she weeded her garden, or watered her flowers. He generally saw her there when school had been dismissed, and usually strolled that way, without intending it, as he flattered himself, but somehow, always happier if he could find her so engaged.

He knew, too, that he was the only one in the place for whom she felt a real friendship, for there was no affinity between her and the really kind, but over-officious villagers; the poor were ignorant, and the rich purse proud, and she had nothing in common with either. He therefore flattered himself that he was not altogether unwelcome; in fact, he half believed she had learned to recognize his step, and watch for his coming, for he never surprised her. It was strange that he should seek these interviews for he certainly was not altogether at ease when with her; he never could look at her without recalling his indiscretion, and generally went away grumbling at his stupidity.

But when the cold weather came, and the flowers no longer needed her care, he rarely met her, and he then began to realize how deep a hold she had taken on him. He, so cynical and gruff, and such a hater of all softness and sentiment, it was truly surprising how she had crept into his rugged heart.

"Served me right," he muttered, as he sat one evening in his office, his feet on the desk, his chair tilted back, and the fragrant fumes of his favorite Havana floating around him. "Just good for me. What business have I got to be thinking of one of the senseless sex. I deserve to be laughed at, and I suppose she does chuckle when she thinks of it.

He got up and took two or three turns through the room, and as he passed the mirror, he stopped.

"A splendid looking fellow you are, by Jove!" he said, apostrophizing the reflection. "Just the one a soft, pretty woman could love ain’t you? Go to, Jeremiah, thou art an ass!"

He lighted a fresh cigar, took down a medical book from the shelf, and, as a faithful chronicler, we are bound to confide, soon forgot all about Charity and every one of her sex, in the interesting pages before him. He became so absorbed that he did not hear his bell, nor even the opening of the office door, and startled to hear a strange voice addressing him.

"I haint skeered you, have I?" said the intruder, one of the laborers of the place, coming forward, and seating himself. "I jist stepped in to see what ails me, doctor. I don’t feel as spry as I’d like to; and my old woman thought maybe you could give me something to make me feel better."

"Why, what is the matter with you," said the Doctor, rousing himself. "You are looking as fat and hearty as ever."

"I dunnow, Doctor. I am all over goose pimples, and my back aches dreadful; feel how hot my hands is, and there’s all sorts of noises in my head, and my throat feels sorish, and I ain’t got no spirit in me, don’t feel a bit like workin’."

"Do you know, Doctor," continued the man, as the other, having made the usual examination, turned to write a prescription. "Do you know that they say they’ve got the small pox down at Evanses? I am pesky afeard of ‘em, I had a sister died of ‘em, when I was a little chap, and I never seed anything so ugly. You don’t think it’s them I’ve got, do you, Doctor?"

"Nonsense," replied the Doctor, who feared from the symptoms, that it was very likely. "Don’t get such cobwebs in your head, John. Blair will put up this medicine for you, then go home, drink as much hot herb tea as you can drink, and creep into bed. I will see you in the morning."

Unfortunately, the man’s fears were verified. The smallpox was in the village, beyond a doubt, and he was one of the first victims. It was a hard case, but not an isolated one, for, before Christmas, there were few houses in the place that had not felt the scourge.

Hitherto, our Doctor had been able to attend the inhabitants of Westford, alone; but at that time he was fain to send to a neighboring town for an assistant, and even with his aid, found himself well worn out before the loathsome disease abated.

"He’ll kill himself, that’s what he’ll do," muttered Betsy, as she removed the almost untasted breakfast one morning. "Night and day slavin’ himself for a parcel of people that wouldn’t turn an inch out of their way for him, and see what he’s eat this mornin’, not more’n enough for a chicken, and he with such a good appetite as he used to have. It was a pleasure to cook for him then, but now, it goes agin me to see good vittles wasted so."

# # #

When the epidemic was at its height, our Doctor often met Charity, for in spite of him, she insisted on helping to nurse the poor victims, fearful and loathsome as the disease was.

She felt no fear, she told him, and where should her place be, but besides those more forlorn than herself? She asked.

At which the Doctor gruffly said, that she was like her sex, bent on having her own way, if she died for it. If she expected to be canonized for what she was doing, she did not know the people, that was all. They would forget her as soon as they could do without her.

She did not want canonization, she replied. She did not even want thanks, why should she.

"It will spoil your beauty," growled the Doctor.

"Let it," she returned, so calmly that he began to think she was indifferent on the subject, as if a woman ever could be!

"Well, if you can risk that, you don’t care much for life," he replied. "But I insist upon your obeying me in one thing. Take your regular food and rest, no sitting up at nights, mind, or I shall have you sick upon my hands, too."

"Like all your profession, you can give advice much better than you can take it," she responded, as she turned down the street.

"Take care; the walking is dangerous," he called after her. He had hardly spoken when she slipped and fell. In an instant he was beside her, and had raised her.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, as he held her for a moment.

"Not hurt, but sorely ashamed of my awkwardness," she replied, forcing a laugh, but blushing deeply, as she released herself. "I insist upon your going home this minute," he said. "Awkwardness, no, it is weakness, and you shall not make a martyr of yourself while I can prevent it."

He escorted her to the door and bade her disobey him at her peril. She was forced to obey him for a while, for her fall had wrenched her greatly, and her side pained her, so that she was glad to have a few days rest, to nurse herself up again.

"I am glad it ain’t no worse, Miss," said the woman who did her chores. "I was afeard at first to come over, for I thought sure she’s gone and got the smallpox too, thinks I, and I was dreadful afeard to come over. But did you hear that the poor Doctor’s gone and took it, miss. Yes, sure as fate, he’s laid up at last, is Dr. Watson. I’m glad it ain’t that likely young feller he’s got for a partner."

"What do you mean?" said Charity. "I am sure Dr. Watson has never spared himself. He has attended you all faithfully, the poor as well as the rich."

"Oh, I know that," responded the woman. "I am sure I wish him well, but it don’t seem so hard for sich an ugly man like the doctor, as it would for sich a purty young man as Mr. Brown. And they say his housekeeper, that cross old Betsy’s gone and got it, too. I am sure I don’t see what they’ll do over there now." Next Chapter