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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Hoosier Rascal

By Margret Holmes Ernsperger Bates (1844–1927)

[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 father’s 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. “That’s 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, we’re 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 Gatsimer’s twins”; but they didn’t. Now that this thorn in the flesh was out of sight, he’d forget it for a while anyway. He was quite tractable.

He took the directions for Miriam’s medicine from Becky when she went to bed, and at eleven o’clock, when Stephen came in, he found his patient sleeping, and her watcher sitting near her, wakeful and attentive.

Miriam moved uneasily when Stephen laid his finger on her wrist, but opening her eyes and seeing who had disturbed her, she gave a sigh that seemed to be of relief, and slept again.

After the professional part of the visit was over, the brothers stood on the porch and talked in low tones. The night was clear and cool.

“There’ll be frost to-night. You’d better have a little fire in the grate, Hugh; it’ll make you more comfortable and do good besides. You know I’ve great faith in purification by fire.”

“Yes, I was thinking of a fire. But what of Miriam? Is she very sick?”

Stephen answered deliberately: “Yes, she’s very sick. Her symptoms are the same as her mother’s were. They were both worn out before taking the fever. She’ll need the most constant care, so you’d 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, you’ll not want to be entirely worn out.”

“I’ll try and manage that all right. Of course mother can’t help us much, with that army of young ones on her hands.”

“No, but she’ll be in often for an hour or two, and so will Aunt Hester. Letty will come, I know; and she’s one of the best nurses I ever saw.”

“If Letty had been born our brother instead of our sister, what a man she’d have been!”

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 who’re not afraid to use their wits and speak their minds, the world would be all the better. Dick Scott wouldn’t 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. I’ll see her in the morning and send her to help you.”

“All right, if she can.”

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 invalid’s airing, while her mother held the lines.

Letty told Hugh she’d 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. Lowe’s money, she’s in constant fear of what he may say or do. Whenever he’s near, in sight even, she talks about it. No matter how delirious she may be, she always knows him. I’m afraid he’s said some very cruel things about her father’s will.”

“I’m afraid so too”; and Stephen looked thoughtfully into the fire. Turning to face his sister, his back to the room in which Miriam lay, he said:

“I’ve 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 shouldn’t weather the storm. With this disease, a little neglect in nursing, a little mistake of remedies or diet, and off she goes. I don’t want to be the one responsible for the mistake, if one is made; I know you won’t be, and that is the great reason why I insisted on your coming.”

The brother and sister looked into each other’s 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.

“I’ve been here so much. Hugh’s careless, not in the least considerate; don’t 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 it—said 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 we’d be in a pretty fix.’”

“Yes,” Stephen laughed, “I took unmeasured care to impress her with Hugh’s absent-mindedness.”

“Well, she believes in you implicitly, and obeys your directions to the letter.”

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 tone—a 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, no—you did; you did—Oh, Letty! Becky—Oh, Stephen, do come! No—I won’t—no”—and 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.

“Lie there, then! And I hope to God you’ll be a corpse before morning!”

Stephen stepped into the light and grasped Hugh’s arm.

“In mercy’s name, what are you saying?”

Hugh trembled in every limb, and his face was bloodless. He pulled himself away from his brother.

“She won’t take her medicine; hasn’t had any since seven o’clock. I’m worn out with her perversity.”

Miriam, quivering like a wind-shaken leaf, made inarticulate sounds, while tears rolled over her cheeks, and her thin fingers were clutched in Stephen’s coat.

“You must take your medicine, Miriam,” he said coaxingly. He picked up the spoon and the glass that held the mixture. “You’ll take it now, won’t you?”

“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 wouldn’t look at Hugh. If the medicine had been tampered with he must have other evidence than that to be read in his brother’s eyes.

“She takes the queerest fancies,” Hugh said, “and sticks to them too, and that makes her wholly unmanageable. She’s got the notion now that I put something in her medicine.”

Stephen took up the glass. “I think it’s stale. I’ll see, and perhaps change it.”

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 brother’s 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.

“Go away, Hugh—go to bed—and—sleep if you can. You’re in greater danger than your wife is. I’ll watch with her till morning.”

Hugh hesitated, but Stephen waved him away with his hands, saying: “Go, go; don’t let me see your face again, till morning, at least.”

And this problem, “How shall he be saved from himself?” racked the doctor’s 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 Stephen’s 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.

Next morning, as Stephen was going away, Hugh said: “I suppose Mim’ll chatter to everybody her silly suspicions of last night, and make a sensation—give people something to talk about.”

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 you’d bestow on one of your dogs or horses if they were sick and helpless. When she gets well—and she will get well—if 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. There’s 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 won’t be with a cowardly crime—a 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.”