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Poetry and Fiction by Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)


The Doctor

A romance novel (1860)

by: Rebekah Hyneman (1816-1875)

Chapter 12

The chamber was darkened and a profound silence reigned in the house, for the Angel of Death had been hovering over it for several days; and even yet, the silent watcher fancied he heard the mournful rustling of his fearful wings, as if he had not wholly left the spot, but lingered for a victim. All that night and for several preceding ones, a fragile young girl kept watch in the sick man’s chamber. And in his wildest ravings she fancied he knew her, and obeyed her; but it was not so, for when the first cold gray tint of daylight crept through the bowed shuttered, he opened his eyes and looked at her with a strange, bewildered look. She came and laid her cool, soft hand on his forehead.

"Do you want anything?" she asked softly, as she bent above him.

"Go home, why are you here?" he returned half angrily, as he took her hand from his forehead, and turned away his head.

"I came here to nurse you. You are not angry with me; are you?" she asked.

"Where is Betsy?" was his ungracious rejoinder.

"Upstairs, as sick as you are," she replied.

"Was there no one else to come but you?" he said, less sternly.

"I had Tom to help me," she replied. "And I felt as if I could nurse you better than any one else." She did not tell him that neither love nor money could bribe any of the terrified people to face the danger. Those who had recovered from the disease were too weak to be of any service, and they who had so far escaped were unwilling to brave Providence by venturing in its neighborhood.

"I wish Betsy could come down," he said peevishly. "What ails her? Has she had the—"

"Yes," interrupted Charity. "But she is better now. She will, perhaps be able to be down in a few days."

"I’m here now," said the old woman, coming in. "I’ve been well enough these three days to come down, but he," meaning the assistant doctor, "said I mustn’t do it. Did, though, and here I am. How are you?"

"Good heavens!" exclaimed the Doctor, starting as she approached him. "You are enough to frighten a man."

"Humph, as good lookin’ as you are, I guess," growled the old woman. "You never had much beauty to spile, but I guess ef you’d look in a glass you’d find there was room for more ugliness."

Talk of men's want of vanity! It was several weeks after he was entirely well before our Doctor ventured to go out in daylight. Ugly! Well he was ugly, for the horrible disease had seamed and scarred his face terribly. Homely as he had been at all times, he was doubly so now, especially when he appeared beside his handsome assistant. The latter became a great favorite in the town, and seemed in a fair way to monopolize all the practice.

There was one, however, in whom his changed appearance woke no feelings of repugnance or disgust, and Charity’s gentle words and sunny smile allayed the irritation he was too apt to feel at the changed demeanor of others.

But such sympathy was dangerous, and at every meeting he saw more and more plainly how very treacherous his heart was. And it was with a greater struggle than he was willing to confess, even to himself, that he resolved to be tempted no more, but leave the place. He was revolving different plans in his mind as he slowly sauntered home one day, without having passed the cottage, where he well knew a pair of bright eyes were waiting to welcome him. "Better make a beginning," he muttered to keep up resolution. "If I don’t go there today, I won’t look for it tomorrow. It will never do to make a milk-sop of myself. Shan’t do it."

But as the wise resolve passed through his mind, he found himself, he hardly knew how, with his hand on the latch of the little gate, that seemed to swing upon of itself.

"I am a blundering old humbug," he muttered as he saw her face at the window. "But she is not well yet, and this is only a professional visit, and the last. I am determined on that."

"I am so glad you have come," said Charity, opening the door. "You are later today than usual, and not looking so well either. What ails you?"

"Never felt better in my life. What put that notion in your head? You had better look to yourself than to me. I’m not worth looking at. How is the old lady?"

"Mrs. Lescomb? Better today, much better, and very grateful to you for your kindness," she replied.

"Humbug. And how are you? Very well too, and very grateful for my kindness?"

"I have just received a letter from Hope, and you could not guess what she writes," said his hostess, determined not to notice his ill temper.

"Shan’t try," he replied. "Might as well guess what quarter the wind will blow from tomorrow."

"You are angry," she said, hurt at his continued abruptness. "Have I done anything to offend you?"

"What does Hope write? There is no nonsense about her at any rate," he said less gruffly.

"You will think it nonsense, perhaps," she replied. "As for myself, I can hardly believe it. She is about to be married!"

"Well, is there anything so strange in that?" he said, looking at her. "As for the wisdom of such a step that is another thing. But it is nothing unusual, I believe, for a handsome woman to marry, provided the right one asks her."

Her eyes fell beneath his, and the blood rose to her face, for she could not mistake the meaning of his look, it spoke his admiration too plainly.

"Sometimes she may meet with the right one and yet not marry," she said in a low voice, and not without embarrassment.

"Yes, you are thinking of Shakespeare. ‘The course of true love,’ and all that; but sometimes it runs smooth, does it not? Sometimes there are neither cruel parents, nor stern guardians, nor designing rivals in the case."

"There are other obstacles which may prevent a woman from accepting even the right one, sometimes," she replied in the same low tone, and the long, curling lashes swept the pure cheek.

"Aye! For instance?" queried he, watching her closely.

"There may be sin and shame," she replied as before. "Not hers, but still so closely allied to her, that she would not sully another with it, and that other one she loves!"

There was a husky tremor in her voice as she spoke, and the crimson deepened on her face, and even her white throat flushed a faint rose tint, as if she feared that she had said too much.

The Doctor watched her face, as dark and frowning as if he was about to pronounce sentence upon her.

"What do you mean by this?" he demanded sternly, keeping down his feelings with gigantic force.

"Shall I tell you my own story?" she said looking timidly up.

"Yes, it will be entertaining if not instructive, go on," he replied.

"I can’t, if you speak in that gruff way," she said.

"You know it is my way," he said, more gently. "But hurry on, for I have a presentiment it will be tedious."

She bit her lip, and smiled mischievously. "After all, I believe I won’t tell you," she said, "for you would not believe it true."

He got up and walked to the window, looking out so long that Charity went up and laid her hand on his arm. He turned, but not towards her, however. His hat lay upon the table near him, he snatched it up, and planted it in his own firm, defiant manner on his head.

"Won’t you stay and listen?" she said, still keeping her hand on his arm.

"I thought you had decided not to tell," he replied and Charity almost fancied there was a tear glittering on his eyelash. If it was so, it did not stay long, for he held up his head in his old, saucy, careless way.

"I came to tell you something, too," he said lightly, "and I will not keep you in suspense on the subject. I am going to leave here next month."

"To stay?" she asked hurriedly.

"To stay," he returned. "Do you think the village will go in mourning for me?"

She did not reply, she did not even look up, but he felt the hand upon his arm tremble a little. Still he kept firm and resolute, determined that no weakness should get the better of him.

"Well," he said, after a little pause, "you have not yet answered me. Do I leave one here who will miss me?"

"You know it well enough," she said, her eyes glittering, and her lip quivering, as she tried to be as firm as he was. She removed her hand from his arm, and folded them both on her bosom, as if determined to keep down all emotion.

"Know what well enough? What do I know?" he asked, leaning against the window frame, and watching her keenly. "You won’t answer, so I must speak for you. I know I am a fool, that is the amount of my knowledge just now, Charity, and it is time I leave the place, while I still have the credit of being sane. Nothing but downright madness could have urged me to take this step and rush into the pitfall I thought to avoid."

She did not reply, but still kept her hands crossed, and her eyes bent down, but he could see the chest heave, and the ripe, red lips quiver. She is sorry to part with an old friend, he thought. She will feel lonely without me. For how long? A month, pshaw! A day will suffice to obliterate all this sentimental display of feeling.

"Goodbye, Charity. We part friends, don’t we?" he said, extending his hand. He had conquered, and was speaking now in his natural voice, and took one of the unresisting hands in his own. "Won’t you speak to me, Charity? Won’t you say goodbye? I don’t know that we will ever meet again, and I would like to hear you speak once again."

"If you ever loved me—you would not—leave me—now," she stammered, hardly knowing what she was saying.

"Charity," he ejaculated harshly, grasping the little hand like a vice. She almost cried out with the pain. "Let that folly rest I had hopes of you; thought you superior to your sex, more noble, and honorable, but you all delight to torture." He flung her hand from him as he spoke, and strode to the door, he laid his hand on the knob, but he turned one more look at her before he left her, he could not avoid it, and the expression of her face arrested him. For a moment he paused, undecided, the next he was beside her.

"Have I pained you, Charity? Forgive my rudeness. God knows I would suffer a great deal before I would cause you a moment’s pain. If I thought—but no, that is a wild, sinful thought," he said, strongly agitated, then, after a while, "Charity, what shall I do?"

"Stay," she whispered, raising her eyes for a moment. He was fighting bravely against all outward display of feeling; keeping every emotion subdued by an iron will, but he could not resist that glance.

"Charity," he exclaimed, grasping both her hands, "for your sweet name’s sake, have pity, Let me go."

"No. I would have you stay," she replied.

"To torture me?"

"Not so; to soothe, to lo—" She paused, fearful of saying too much.

"Not that! Not that!" he exclaimed. "You know well enough you can never love me."

"Oh, you are willfully blind," she said, the crimson spreading to her very temples. He held her from him at arm’s length, and looked sternly at the blushing face bent before him.

"I am a drowning man clutching at a straw, am I not, Charity?" he said.

"You are a very stupid man," she replied, trying to rally.

"You refused me once, and I was then not quite so hideous as I am now," he said bitterly, still keeping her at a distance.

"You would not stop to hear me," she replied. "There was a heavy shadow resting on the name, and I would not bring dishonor to the one I love. Now, Hope writes, that the accusation was, if not altogether false, at least, greatly exaggerated, and the mitigating circumstances attending the case, have induced his prosecutors—it is of my brother I am speaking—to intercede for him, and he is at liberty. The cloud has passed! Do you understand me now?"

"And that was your only objection? Could you have loved me, then? He asked, shortening the distance between them.

"Then, and now, and forever," she whispered.

"Can I believe it? Dare I drink the intoxicating draught? Will it not turn to gall and absinthe? Tell me, Charity, is all this real?"

It must have been somewhat difficult to convince the stubborn doctor, for it was quite late when he returned home, and found his worthy housekeeper chafing about her long-delayed supper.

# # #

"That gal!" ejaculated Betsy, as the doctor informed her of the intended change in his menage.

"That gal," he replied, quietly.

"Shan’t stay with you," she exclaimed, jerking at her yarn until it snapped, and the ball rolled to the other end of the room. "Goin’ to make a fool of yourself at your time o’life, and for sich trash, too. Shan’t do it. Ef I’d a’know’d you’d a done sich a thing, I wouldn’t a’ fou’t for you as I did. To go and make a liar of me, and for sich truck, too. Ef it had been a lady, I wouldn’t a said nothin’. Tho’ for that matter, you might a had more sense than to trust any woman agin. Think you’ve had ‘sperience enough in ‘em."

Her master winced, and took refuge behind a book and a cigar, for her words stirred up a fountain of bitter waters.

"I have decided upon my course," he replied. "I shall be sorry to lose you, for you have served me faithfully and well. And for the future, when you speak of Miss Fleming, speak of her with the deference and respect due to a lady, for she is one."

"Shan’t do it," she replied. "Won’t stay another minit under your roof. Ain’t a goin’ to be cowed down by nobody, let alone the likes o’ her."

But Betsy, in spite of her roughness and ill temper, had a womanly heart, and did not forget the gentle girl, who had nursed her so faithfully during her sickness. It was impossible to withstand the gentle, loving ways of the unassuming Mrs. Watson, when she took possession of her husband’s new home, far away from Westford. And although it was hard for the old woman to believe there was any one good enough for the Doctor, she thought he could not have got a better gal. And she was even heard to say, years afterwards, that she was glad none of the children looked like him, ‘cept Jerry, and she believed that was all owin’ to the name, but Mrs. Watson would have it.