Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
A Hoosier Rascal
By Margret Holmes Ernsperger Bates (18441927)
[Born in Fremont, Ohio, 1844. Died in New York, N. Y., 1927. The Chamber over the Gate. 1886.]
WHEN Hugh came to supper and found the house so much quieter than he had left it, and a more than ordinarily good supper waiting for him, his spirits revived. That his children were absent because of the illness of his wife diminished his satisfaction not one whit. He acknowledged to himself what he never would to any other person: He really did not enjoy being quite so much of a family man. That there were three sons in his fathers family only added worth to the name. He and his brothers were not near each other in point of age or pursuits in life. One of these older Gatsimers would never be mistaken for the other. John remained on the farm, and even now, young as he was, was known, far and near, as one of the best authorities on stock-raising and subsoil-culture in his part of the state. He was heart and soul an agriculturist, and dignified his work quite as much as did Stephen his profession or Hugh his business. Thats as it should be, Hugh was in the habit of saying. Whatever our folks know or do, they know it or do it twice as well as anybody else. Thank the Lord, were not common! And yet, no matter how safe and above the herd that generation might be, The Gatsimer twins had a common sound. If people would only take the pains to say Hugh Gatsimers twins; but they didnt. Now that this thorn in the flesh was out of sight, hed forget it for a while anyway. He was quite tractable.
He took the directions for Miriams medicine from Becky when she went to bed, and at eleven oclock, when Stephen came in, he found his patient sleeping, and her watcher sitting near her, wakeful and attentive.
Stephen answered deliberately: Yes, shes very sick. Her symptoms are the same as her mothers were. They were both worn out before taking the fever. Shell need the most constant care, so youd better sleep all you can to-night, and, unless the disease works more rapidly than I expect, for several nights to come. When the worst stage comes, youll not want to be entirely worn out.
Stephen answered dryly: She can be just as much as a woman; more, really, because women, as a rule, have so much more adaptability than men. If we had more strong, level-headed women whore not afraid to use their wits and speak their minds, the world would be all the better. Dick Scott wouldnt be half the man he is if he were not trying to live up to her ideal. Ah, yes; Lettice is one in a thousand. Ill see her in the morning and send her to help you.
The morning sun shone on a white frost, and the air was clear and bracing, but before noon it was warm and soft, and pale faces were seen here and there peering from doors and windows, and shaky figures walked slowly and aimlessly on the sunny sides of the streets.
May Crandall was out for the first time in two months. Her father carried her in his arms to the carriage, where, nestled amongst pillows and cushions and drowned in shawls and rugs, and supported by the ever faithful Coral, she took her invalids airing, while her mother held the lines.
Letty told Hugh shed stay with Miriam each alternate night. So she did, and there were many strange things said to her by her weak little sister-in-law in her delirium. One night when Miriam had dropped into a fitful sleep Letty said to Stephen, as they stood together by the fire:
I never would have believed how unhappy Miriam has been all these years; and now that Hugh is disappointed about Mr. Lowes money, shes in constant fear of what he may say or do. Whenever hes near, in sight even, she talks about it. No matter how delirious she may be, she always knows him. Im afraid hes said some very cruel things about her fathers will.
Ive felt, ever since the day Hugh told me she was sick, that it would maybe be a mercy to her, maybe save her from worse things, if she shouldnt weather the storm. With this disease, a little neglect in nursing, a little mistake of remedies or diet, and off she goes. I dont want to be the one responsible for the mistake, if one is made; I know you wont be, and that is the great reason why I insisted on your coming.
The brother and sister looked into each others eyes, and Letty turned pale to the lips. She felt as if in the presence of some undefinable evil. A creeping chill went over her, and she reached out her hand blindly. Stephen took and held it between both his own while he talked.
Ive been here so much. Hughs careless, not in the least considerate; dont believe, in some instances, notably a case of fever, that a trifle can make much difference. Becky knows exactly what Miriam must have for nourishment, and how often she must have it. The keys to the pantry are in her possession, to be given to no one but yourself or mother.
Yes, she hands them to me every night; never by any chance lays them down anywhere. I wondered at itsaid to her once, Put them there on the table; but she said, It would be just like Mr. Gatsimer to pocket them by mistake. Then wed be in a pretty fix.
A night or two after this, a night when Hugh was to watch with his wife and Becky was to be roused at certain hours to give her beef-tea, Stephen came in an hour earlier than had been his custom. He noiselessly opened the side-door, and entered the room adjoining that in which his patient lay. She was awake, and was talking or trying to talk in a very excited manner. At this stage of the fever her voice was almost entirely different from what it was in health, but Stephen thought there was still a foreign tonea sharp ring of fright, remonstrance, pleading,what was it?
Hugh stood over the bed, supporting her with one arm; in the other hand he held a spoon which he was trying to force into her mouth. He had grasped one of her arms with the hand that raised her from the pillow, and her other skeleton hand was thrown about wildly in resistance, and as well as she with her swollen lips and tongue could articulate, she called out:
No, noyou did; you didOh, Letty! BeckyOh, Stephen, do come! NoI wontnoand one frantic reach of her pale fingers touched the spoon, and the contents were spilled on the bed-clothing. Hugh dropped her head on the pillows.
No, no! she cried, and with a great effort she raised herself from her pillows, and with gestures and half-words she told Stephen something that made his heart stand still. He wouldnt look at Hugh. If the medicine had been tampered with he must have other evidence than that to be read in his brothers eyes.
He was raising the glass to his lips. Miriam screamed with all her strength, rising again from her pillows, and Hugh starting forward, ostensibly for the purpose of restraining her, shook the glass from his brothers hand, and it fell to the floor in a hundred pieces. The eyes of the two men met. There was no need of words. For an instant both seemed turned to stone. Stephen spoke first.
And this problem, How shall he be saved from himself? racked the doctors mind through the hours he watched and tended his brothers wife. Her fright and agitation made her fitful slumber still more uneasy than usual, but the touch of Stephens hands, the sound of his voice, reassured her as often as she started from her pillows after dreaming over again that dreadful thing she but faintly realized in her weakness and delirium.
Stephen wondered, What can this brother of mine be made of? There was confession in his look and manner last night, and he knows I saw the confession; yet he braves me this way. He said aloud: Take care, Hugh, that you give her no further reason for strange fancies. Treat her with the kindness youd bestow on one of your dogs or horses if they were sick and helpless. When she gets welland she will get wellif you find for better for worse so much worse than you bargained for, let the law sever the bond you made against your own judgment. Theres more than one way out of an uncongenial marriage. Divorce is low, common, a disgrace to humanity, but many very excellent people justify it and avail themselves of it; and if one of our name must be smirched, I hope it wont be with a cowardly crimea mere matter of brute strength. Let us, at least, keep within the law, and be able to think ourselves clean in the eyes of our neighbors, though despising ourselves.