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HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
BOSTON AND NEW YORK



A COUNTRY DOCTOR



BY



SAEAH OKNE JEWETT




BOSTON

HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
New York : 85 Fifth Avenue

(3Tbe ttfcer jibe pre#j, Cambridge



Copyright, 1884,
BY SARAH ORNE JEWETT.

All rights reserved.



/



CONTENTS. M A



PAGB

I. THE LAST MILE 1

II. THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN .... 5

III. AT JAKE AND MARTIN S 18

IV. LIFE AND DEATH 31

V. A SUNDAY VISIT 43

VI. IN SUMMER WEATHER 55

VII. FOR THE YEARS TO COME 68

VIII. A GREAT CHANGE 76

IX. AT DR. LESLIE S 89

X. ACROSS THE STREET 117

XI. NEW OUTLOOKS 146

XII. AGAINST THE WIND 155

XIII. A STRAIGHT COURSE 183

XIV. Miss PRINCE or DUNPORT . . . . 196
XV. HOSTESS AND GUEST 215

XVI. A JUNE SUNDAY 234

XVII. BY THE RIVER 250

XVIII. A SERIOUS TEA-DRINKING .... 268
XIX. FRIEND AND LOVER 287

XX. ASHORE AND AFLOAT 310

XXI. AT HOME AGAIN . 330



M85833



A COUNTRY DOCTOR.



THE LAST MILE.

IT had been one of the warm and almost sultry
days which sometimes come in November ; a ma
ligned month, which is really an epitome of the
other eleven, or a sort of index to the whole year s
changes of storm and sunshine. The afternoon
was like spring, the air was soft and damp, and
the buds of the willows had been beguiled into
swelling a little, so that there was a bloom over
them, and the grass looked as if it had been grow
ing green of late instead of fading steadily. It
seemed like a reprieve from the doom of winter,
or from even November itself.

The dense and early darkness which usually
follows such unseasonable mildness had already
begun to cut short the pleasures of this spring
like day, when a young woman, who carried a
child in her arms, turned from a main road of
Oldfields into a foot-path which led southward
across the fields and pastures. She seemed sure
of her way, and kept the path without difficulty,
though a stranger might easily have lost it here
and there, where it led among the patches of
1



2 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

sweet-fern or bayberry bushes, or through shad
owy tracts of small white-pines. She stopped
sometimes to rest, and walked more and more
wearily, with increasing effort ; but she kept on
her way desperately, as if it would not do to ar
rive much later at the place which she was seek
ing. The child ssemed to be asleep ; it looked
too heavy for so slight a woman to carry.

The path led after a while to a more open coun
try, there was a low hill to be climbed, and at ita
top the slender figure stopped and seemed to be
panting for breath. A follower might have no
ticed that it bent its head over the child s for &
moment as it stood, dark against the darkening
sky. There had formerly been a defense against
the Indians on this hill, which in the daytime
commanded a fine view of the surrounding coun
try, and the low earthworks or foundations of the
garrison were still plainly to be seen. The wo
man seated herself on the sunken wall in spite of
the dampness and increasing chill, still holding
the child, and rocking to and fro like one in de
spair. The child waked and began to whine and
cry a little in that strange, lonely place, and after
a few minutes, perhaps to quiet it, they went on
their way. Near the foot of the hill was a brook,
swollen by the autumn rains ; it made a loud
noise in the quiet pasture, as if it were crying out
against a wrong or some sad memory. The wo
man went toward it at first, following a slight
ridge which was all that remained of a covered



THE LAST MILE. 3

path which had led down from the garrison to
the spring below at the brookside. If she had
meant to quench her thirst here, she changed her
mind, and suddenly turned to the right, follow
ing the brook a short distance, and then going
straight toward the river itself and the high up
lands, which by daylight were smooth pastures
with here and there a tangled apple-tree or the
grassy cellar of a long vanished farm-house.

It was night now ; it was too late in the year
for the chirp of any insects ; the moving air, which
could hardly be called wind, swept over in slow
waves, and a few dry leaves rustled on an old haw
thorn tree which grew beside the hollow where a
house had been, and a low sound came from the
river. The whole country side seemed asleep in
the darkness, but the lonely woman felt no lack
of companionship ; it was well suited to her own
mood that the world slept and said nothing to
her, it seemed as if she were the only creature
alive.

A little this side of the river shore there was
an old burial place, a primitive spot enough, where
the graves were only marked by rough stones, and
the short, sheep-cropped grass was spread over de
parted generations of the farmers and their wives
and children. By day it was in sight of the pine
woods and the moving water, and nothing hid it
from the great sky overhead, but now it was like
a prison walled about by the barriers of night.
However eagerly the woman had hurried to this



4 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

place, and with what purpose she may have sought
the river bank, when she recognized her surround
ings she stopped for a moment, swaying and irres
olute. " No, no ! " sighed the child plaintively,
and she shuddered, and started forward ; then, as
her feet stumbled among the graves, she turned
and fled. It no longer seemed solitary, but as if a
legion of ghosts which had been wandering under
cover of the dark had discovered this intruder,
and were chasing her and flocking around her and
oppressing her from every side. And as she
caught sight of a light in a far-away farmhouse
window, a light which had been shining after her
all the way down to the river, she tried to hurry
toward it. The unnatural strength of terror urged
her on ; she retraced her steps like some pursued
animal; she remembered, one after another, the
fearful stories she had known of that ancient
neighborhood ; the child cried, but she could not
answer it. She fell again and again, and at last
all her strength seemed to fail her, her feet re
fused to carry her farther and she crept painfully,
a few yards at a time, slowly along the ground.
The fear of her superhuman enemies had forsaken
her, and her only desire was to reach the light
that shone from the looming shadow of the house.
At last she was close to it ; at last she gave
one great sigh, and the child fell from her grasp ;
at last she clutched the edge of the worn doorstep
with both hands, and lay still.



II.

THE FAKM-HOUSE KITCHEN.

INDOORS there was a cheerful company; the
mildness of the evening had enticed two neigh
bors of Mrs. Thacher, the mistress of the house,
into taking their walks abroad, and so, with their
heads well protected by large gingham handker
chiefs, they had stepped along the road and up the
lane to spend a social hour or two. John Thacher,
their old neighbor s son, was known to be away
serving on a jury in the county town, and they
thought it likely that his mother would enjoy
company. Their own houses stood side by side.
Mrs. Jacob Dyer and Mrs. Martin Dyer were
their names, and excellent women they were.
Their husbands were twin-brothers, curiously alike
and amazingly fond of each other, though either
would have scorned to make any special outward
demonstration of it. They were spending the
evening together in brother Martin s house, and
were talking over the purchase of a bit of wood
land, and the profit of clearing it, when their
wives had left them without any apology to visit
Mrs. Thacher, as we have already seen.

This was the nearest house and only a quarter



6 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

of a mile away, and when they opened the door
they had found Mrs. Thacher spinning.

"I must own up, I am glad to see you more n
common," she said. " I don t feel scary at being
left sole alone ; it ain t that, but I have been get
ting through with a lonesome spell of another kind.
John, he does as well as a man can, but here I be,
here I be," and the good woman could say
no more, while her guests understood readily
enough the sorrow that had found no words.

" I suppose you have n t got no news from
Ad line ? " asked Mrs. Martin bluntly. " We was
speaking of her as we come along, and saying it
seemed to be a pity she should nt feel it was best
to come back this winter and help you through ;
only one daughter, and left alone as you be, with
the bad spells you are liable to in winter time
but there, it ain t her way her ambitions ain t
what they should be, that s all I can say."

" If she d got a gift for anything special, now,"
continued Mrs. Jake, " we should feel it was dif
ferent and want her to have a chance, but she s
just like other folks for all she felt so much above
farming. I don t see as she can do better than
coma back to the old place, or leastways to the vil
lage, and fetch up the little gal to be some use.
She might dressmake or do millinery work ; she
always had a pretty taste, and twould be better
than roving. I spose t would hurt her pride,"
but Mrs. Thacher flushed at this, and Mrs. Mar
tin came to the rescue.



THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN. 1

" You 11 think we re reg lar Job s comforters,"
cried the good soul hastily, " but there, Mis
Thacher, you know we feel as if she was our own.
There ain t nothing I would n t do for Ad line,
sick or well, and I declare I believe she ll pull
through yet and make a piece of luck that 11 set
us all to work praising of her. She s like to , ~^
marry again for all I can see, with her good looks.
Folks always has their joys and calamities as they
go through the world."

Mrs. Thacher shook her head two or three
times with a dismal expression, and made no an
swer. She had pushed back the droning wool-
wheel which she had been using, and had taken
her knitting from the shelf by the clock and
seated herself contentedly, while Mrs. Jake and
Mrs. Martin had each produced a blue yarn stock
ing from a capacious pocket, and the shining steel
needles were presently all clicking together. One
knitter after another would sheathe the spare
needle under her apron strings, while they asked
each other s advice from time to time about the
propriety of " narrerin " or whether it were not
best to " widden " according to the progress their
respective stockings had made. Mrs. Thacher had
lighted an extra candle, and replenished the fire,
for the air was chillier since the sun went down.
They were all sure of a coming change of weather,
and counted various signs, Mrs. Thacher s lowness
of spirits among the number, while all three de
scribed various minor maladies from which they



8 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

had suffered during the day, and of which the
unseasonable weather was guilty.

" I can t get over the feeling that we are watch-
in with somebody," said Mrs. Martin after a
while, moved by some strange impulse and look
ing over her shoulder, at which remark Mrs.
Thacher glanced up anxiously. " Something has
been hanging over me all day," said she simply,
and at this the needles clicked faster than ever.

" We ve been taking rather a low range,"
suggested Mrs. Jake. "We shall get to telling
over ghost stories if we don t look out, and I for
one shall be sca t to go home. By the way, I
suppose you have heard about old Billy Dow s
experience night afore last, Mis Thacher?"

" John being away, I ain t had nobody to fetch
me the news these few days past," said the host
ess. " Why, what s happened to Billy now ? "

The two women looked at each other : " He
was getting himself home as best he could, he
owned up to having made a lively evenin of it,
and I expect he was wandering all over the
road and did n t know nothin except that he was
p inted towards home, an he stepped off from the
high bank this side o Dunnell s, and rolled down,
over and over ; and when he come to there was
a great white creatur a-standin over him, and he
thought twas a ghost. T was higher up on the
bank than him, and it kind of moved along down s
if t was coming right on to him, and he got on to
his knees and begun to say his Ten Command-



THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN. 9

ments fast s he could rattle em out. He got em
mixed up, and when the boys heard his teeth
a-chattering, they began to laugh and he up an*
cleared. Dunnell s boys had been down the road
a piece and was just coming home, an twas their
old white hoss that had got out of the barn, it
bein such a mild night, an was wandering off.
They said to Billy that t wa n t everybody could
lay a ghost so quick as he could, and they did n t
spose he had the means so handy."

The three friends laughed, but Mrs. Thacher s
face quickly lost its smile and took back its wor^
ried look. She evidently was in no mood for jok
ing. * Poor Billy ! " said she, " he was called the
smartest boy in school ; I rec lect that one of the
teachers urged his folks to let him go to college ;
but t wa n t no use ; they had n t the money and
could n t get it, and t wa n t in him to work his way
as some do. He s got a master head for figur s.
Folks used to get him to post books you know,
but he s past that now. Good-natured creatur as
ever stept ; but he always was afeard of the dark,
seems s if I could see him there a-repentin and
the old white hoss shakin his head," and she
laughed again, but quickly stopped herself and
looked over her shoulder at the window.

" Would ye like the curtain drawed ? ." asked

Mrs. Jake. But Mrs. Thacher shook her head

silently, while the gray cat climbed up into her

lap and lay down in a round ball to sleep.

" She s a proper cosset, ain t she ? " inquired Mrs,



10 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

Martin approvingly, while Mrs. Jake asked about
the candles, which gave a clear light. " Be they
the last you run ? " she inquired, but was answered
to the contrary, and a brisk conversation followed
upon the proper proportions of tallow and bay-
berry wax, and the dangers of the new-fangled oils
which the village shop-keepers were attempting to
introduce. Sperm oil was growing more and more
dear in price and worthless in quality, and the old-
fashioned lamps were reported to be past their
usefulness.

" I must own I set most by good candle light,"
said Mrs. Martin. " T is no expense to speak of
where you raise the taller, and it s cheerful and
bright in winter time. In old times when the
houses were draftier they was troublesome about
flickering, candles was ; but land ! think how com
fortable we live now to what we used to I Stoves
is such a convenience ; the fire s so much handier.
Housekeepin don t begin to be the trial it was
once."

" I must say I like old-fashioned cookin better
than oven cookin ," observed Mrs. Jake. " Seems
to me s if the taste of things was all drawed up
chimbly. Be you going to do much for Thanks-
givin , Mis Thacher ? I spose not ; " and moved
by a sudden kind impulse, she added, " Why
can t you and John jine with our folks ? t would
n t put us out, and t will be lonesome for ye."

" T won t be no lonesomer than last year was,
nor the year before," and Mrs. Thacher s face quiv



THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN. 11

ered a little as she rose and took one of the can
dles, and opened the trap door that covered the
cellar stairs. " Now don t ye go to makin your
self work," cried the guests. " No, don t ! we
ain t needin nothin ; we was late about supper."
But their hostess stepped carefully down and dis
appeared for a few minutes, while the cat hovered
anxiously at the edge of the black pit.

" 1 forgot to ask ye if ye d have some cider ? "
a sepulchral voice asked presently ; " but I don t
know now s I can get at it. I told John I should
n t want any whilst he was away, and so he ain t
got the spiggit in yet," to which Mrs. Jake and
Mrs. Martin both replied that they were no hands
for that drink, unless t was a drop right from the
press, or a taste o good hard cider towards the
spring of the year ; and Mrs. Thacher soon re
turned with some slices of cake in a plate and
some apples held in her apron. One of her neigh
bors took the candle as she reached up to put it
on the floor, and when the trap door was closed
again all three drew up to the table and had a lit
tle feast. The cake was of a kind peculiar to its
maker, who prided herself upon never being with
out it ; and there was some trick of her hand or
a secret ingredient which was withheld when she
responded with apparent cheerfulness to requests
for its recipe. As for the apples, they were grown
upon an old tree, one of whose limbs had been
grafted with some unknown variety of fruit so
long ago that the history was forgotten ; only that



12 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

an English gardener, many years before, had
brought some cuttings from the old country, and
one of them had somehow come into the possession
of John Thacher s grandfather when grafted fruit
was a thing to be treasured and jealously guarded.
It had been told that when the elder Thacher had
given away cuttings he had always stolen to the
orchards in the night afterward and ruined them.
However, when the family had grown more gen
erous in later years it had seemed to be without
avail, for, on their neighbors trees or their own,
the English apples had proved worthless. Whether
it were some favoring quality in that spot of soil
or in the sturdy old native tree itself, the rich
golden apples had grown there, year after year,
in perfection, but nowhere else.

" There ain t no such apples as these, to my
mind," said Mrs. Martin, as she polished a large
one with her apron and held it up to the light,
and Mrs. Jake murmured assent, having already
taken a sufficient first bite.

" There s only one little bough that bears any
great," said Mrs. Thacher, " but it s come to that
once before, and another branch has shot up and
been likely as if it was a young tree."

The good souls sat comfortably in their splint-
bottomed, straight - backed chairs, and enjoyed
this mild attempt at a festival. Mrs. Thacher
even grew cheerful and responsive, for her guests
seemed so light-hearted and free from care that
the sunshine of their presence warmed her own



THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN. 13

chilled and fearful heart. They embarked upon
a wide sea of neighborhood gossip and parish
opinions, and at last some one happened to speak
again of Thanksgiving, which at once turned the
tide of conversation, and it seemed to ebb sud
denly, while the jjray, dreary look once more over
spread Mrs. Thacher s face.

" I don t see why you won t keep with our folks
this year ; you and John," once more suggested
Mrs. Martin. " T ain t wuth while to be mak
ing yourselves dismal here to home : the day 11 be
lonesome for you at best, and you shall have what
ever we ve got and welcome."

" T won t be lonesomer this year than it was
last, nor the year before that, and we ve stood if
somehow or nother," answered Mrs. Thacher for
the second time, while she rose to put more wood
in the stove. " Seems to me t is growing cold ; I
felt a draught acrost my shoulders. These nights
is dreadful chill ; you feel the damp right through
your bones. I never saw it darker than t was
last evenin . I thought it seemed kind o stived
up here in the kitchen, and I opened the door and
looked out, and I declare I could n t see my hand
before me."

" It always kind of scares me these black
nights," said Mrs. Jake Dyer. " I expect some
thing to clutch at me every minute, and I feel as
if some sort of a creatur was travelin right be
hind me when I am out door in the dark. It
makes it bad havin a wamV moon just now



14 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

when the fogs bangs so low. It al ays seems to
me as if t was darker when she rises late towards
mornin than when she s gone altogether. I do
know why t is."

" I rec lect once," Mrs. Thacher resumed,
" when Ad line was a baby and John was just
turned four year old, their father had gone down
river in the packet, and I was expectin on him
home at supper time, but he did n t come ; t was
late in the fall, and a black night as I ever see.
Ad line was taken with something like croup, and
I had an end o candle in the candlestick that I
lighted, and t wa n t long afore it was burnt down,
and I went down cellar to the box where I kep
em, and if you will believe it, the rats had got to
it, and there was n t a week o one left. I was
near out anyway. We did n t have this cook-
stove then, and I cal lated I could make up a
good lively blaze, so I come up full o scold as I
could be, and then I found I d burnt up all my
dry wood. You see, I thought certain he d be
home and I was tendin to the child n, but I
started to go out o the door and found it had
come on to rain hard, and I said to myself I
would n t go out to the woodpile and get my
clothes all damp, count o Ad line, and the candle
end would last a spell longer, and he d be home by
that time. I had n t a least o suspicion but what
he was dallying round up to the Corners, long o
the rest o the men, bein t was Saturday night,
and I was some put out about it, for he knew



THE FARM-HOUSE KITCHEN. 15

the baby was sick, and I hadn t nobody with me.
I set down and waited, but he never come, and it
rained hard as I ever see it, and I left his supper
standin right in the floor, and then I begun to be
distressed for fear somethin had happened to
Dan l, and I set to work and cried, and the candle
end give a flare and went out, and by V by the fire
begun to get low and I took the child n and went
to bed to keep warm ; t was an awful cold night,
considerin t was such a heavy rain, and there I
laid awake and thought I heard things steppin
about the room, and it seemed to me as if t was a
week long before mornin come, and as if I d got
to be an old woman. I did go through with every
thing that night. T was that time Dan l broke
his leg, you know ; they was takin a deck load of
oak knees down by the packet, and one on em
rolled down from the top of the pile and struck
him just below the knee. He was poling, for
there wan t a breath o wind, and he always felt
certain there was somethin mysterious about it.
He d had a good deal worse knocks than that
seemed to be, as only left a black and blue spot,
and he said he never see a deck load o timber
piled securer. He had some queer notions about
the doin s o sperits, Dan l had ; his old Aunt
Parser was to blame for it. She lived with his
father s folks, and used to fill him and the rest o
the child n with all sorts o ghost stories and stuff.
I used to tell him she d a be n hung for a witch
if she d lived in them old Salem days. He al-



16 A COUNTRY DOCTOR.

ways used to be tellin what everything was the
sign of, when we was first married, till I laughed
him out of it. It made me kind of notional.
There s too much now we can t make sense of
without addin to it out o our own heads."

Mrs. Jake and Mrs. Martin were quite familiar
with the story of the night when there were no
candles and Mr. Thacher had broken his leg, hav
ing been present themselves early in the morning
afterward, but they had listened with none the
less interest. These country neighbors knew
their friends affairs as well as they did their own,
but such an audience is never impatient. The
repetitions of the best stories are signal events,
for ordinary circumstances do not inspire them.
Affairs must rise to a certain level before a narra
tion of some great crisis is suggested, and exactly
as a city audience is well contented with hearing
the plays of Shakespeare over and over again, so
each man and woman of experience is permitted
to deploy their well-known but always interesting
stories upon the rustic stage.

" I must say I can t a-bear to hear anything
about ghosts after sundown," observed Mrs. Jake,


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Online LibrarySarah Orne JewettA country doctor → online text (page 1 of 21)