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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLizzy Glenn - Chapter 3. Death Of Mrs. Gaston's Child.--A Mother's Anguish
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Lizzy Glenn - Chapter 3. Death Of Mrs. Gaston's Child.--A Mother's Anguish Post by :Scottfab Category :Long Stories Author :T. S. Arthur Date :May 2012 Read :1868

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Lizzy Glenn - Chapter 3. Death Of Mrs. Gaston's Child.--A Mother's Anguish

CHAPTER III. DEATH OF MRS. GASTON'S CHILD.--A MOTHER'S ANGUISH

ON the next morning, at the earliest dawn, Mrs. Gaston arose. She found Ella's fever still very high. The child was restless, and moaned a good deal in her sleep.

"Poor little thing!" murmured the mother, as she bent over her for a moment, and then turned away, and commenced kindling a fire upon the hearth. Fortunately, for her, she had saved enough from her earnings during the summer to buy half a cord of wood; but this was gradually melting away, and she was painfully conscious that, by the time the long and severe winter had fairly set in, her stock of fuel would be exhausted; and at the prices which she was receiving for her work, she felt that it would be impossible to buy more. After making the fire, she took her work, and drew near the window, through which the cold faint rays of the morning were stealing. By holding the work close to the light, she could see to set her needle, and in this way she commenced her daily toil. An hour was spent in sewing, when Emma aroused up, and she had to lay by her work to attend to her child. Ella, too, had awakened, and complained that her head ached badly, and that her throat was very sore. Half an hour was spent in dressing, washing, and otherwise attending to her children, and then Mrs. Gaston went out to get something for breakfast. On entering the shop of Mrs. Grubb, she met with rather a more courteous reception than had been given her on the morning previous.

"Ah! good-morning, Mrs. Gaston! Good-morning!" said that personage, with a broad, good-natured smile. "How is Ella?"

"She seems very poorly, Mrs. Grubb. I begin to feel troubled about her. She complains of a sore throat this morning, and you know the scarlet fever is all about now."

"Oh, no! never fear that, Mrs. Gaston. Ella's not down with the scarlet fever, I know."

"I trust not. But I have my fears."

"Never take trouble on interest, Mrs. Gaston. It is bad enough when it comes in the natural way. But what can I do for you?"

"I think I must have a cent's worth of coffee this morning. My head aches so that I am almost blind. A strong cup of coffee I am sure will do me good. And as I have a hard day's work before me, I must prepare for it. And then I must have a pint of milk and a three-cent loaf of bread for the children. That must do me for the present. We have some molasses left."

"You'll want a little dried meat, or a herring, or something to give you a relish, Mrs. Gaston. Dry bread is poor eating. And you know you can't touch molasses." Half in sympathy did Mrs. Grubb utter this, and half as a dealer, desirous of selling her goods.

"Nothing more just now, I believe," the poor woman replied. "I must be prudent, you know, and count over every cent."

"But you'll make yourself sick, if you don't eat something more than you do. So come now; treat yourself to a herring, or to a penny's worth of this sweet butter. You'll feel all the better for it, and do more than enough work to pay the cost twice over."

Mrs. Gaston's appetite was tempted. The hard fresh butter looked inviting to her eyes, and she stooped over and smelled it half involuntarily.

"I believe you are right, Mrs. Grubb," she said. "You may give me a couple of cents' worth of this nice butter."

An ounce of butter was carefully weighed out, and given to the customer.

"Isn't there something else, now, that you want?" said the smiling shopkeeper, leaning her elbows upon the counter, and looking encouragingly into the face of Mrs. Gaston.

"I've indulged myself, and I shall not feel right, unless I indulge the children a little also," was the reply; "so weigh me two cents' worth of your smoked beef. They all like it very much."

The smoked beef was soon ready, and then the mother hurried home to her children.

After the morning meal had been prepared, Mrs. Gaston sat down and ate her bread and butter, tasting a little of the children's meat, and drinking her coffee with a keen relish. She felt braced up on rising from the table, and, but for the illness of Ella, would have felt an unusual degree of cheerfulness.

Henry attended the common school of the district, and, soon after breakfast, prepared himself to go. As he was leaving, his mother told him to call at Doctor R--'s, and ask him if he would be kind enough to stop and see Ella. She then seated herself once more beside her little work-table. The two foreparts of the jacket had been finished, except the button-holes; and the sleeves were ready to put in as soon as the body of the garment was ready for them. As the button-holes tried the sight of Mrs. Gaston severely, she chose that part of the day, when her eyes were fresh, to work them. The jacket was double-breasted, and there were five holes to be worked on each side. She had nearly completed one-half of them, when Doctor R--came in. He looked serious upon examining his patient. Said she was very ill, and required immediate attention.

"But you don't think it the scarlet fever, doctor?" the mother said, in a low, alarmed voice.

"Your child is very sick, madam; and, to tell you the truth, her symptoms resemble too closely those of the fever you have named," was the undisguised reply.

"Surely, my cup is full and running over!" sobbed Mrs. Gaston, clasping her hands together as this sudden announcement broke down, for a moment, her self-control, while the tears gushed from her eyes.

Doctor R--was a man of true feeling. He had attended, in two or three cases of illness, the children of Mrs. Gaston, and had observed that she was a woman who had become, from some cause, greatly reduced in circumstances. His sympathies were strongly awakened at seeing her emotion, and he said, in a kind but firm voice:

"A mother, the safety of whose child depends upon her calm and intelligent performance of duty, should never lose her self-control."

"I know that, doctor," the mother answered, rallying herself with a strong effort. "But I was over-tried already, and your sudden confirmation of my worst fears completely broke me down."

"In any event, however," the doctor replied, "you must not permit yourself to forget that your child is in the hands of Him who regards its good in a far higher sense than you can possibly. He never permits sickness of any kind without a good end."

"I know that, doctor, but I have a mother's heart. I love my children, and the thought of losing them touches me to the quick."

"And yet you know that, in passing from this to another state of existence, their condition must be bettered beyond comparison."

"Oh, yes. Beyond comparison!" replied the mother, half abstractedly, but with touching pathos. "And yet, doctor, I cannot spare them. They are every thing to me."

"Do not suffer yourself to indulge needless alarm. I will leave you medicine now, and call again to-morrow. If she should be decidedly worse, send for me toward evening."

After the doctor went away, Mrs. Gaston gave the medicine he had left, as directed, and then forced herself from the bedside, and resumed her work. By the time the button-holes of the garment she was engaged upon were all completed, and the back and shoulder seams sewed up, it was time to see about something for dinner. She put aside the jacket, and went to the bed. Ella lay as if asleep. Her face was flushed, and her skin dry and hot. The mother looked upon her for a few moments with a yearning heart; then, turning away, she took from a closet her bonnet and shawl, and a little basket. Passing quickly down-stairs, after telling Emma to keep very still and be a good girl until she came back, she took her way toward the market-house. At a butcher's she obtained, for three cents, some bones, and then at one of the stalls bought a few herbs, a head of cabbage, and three turnips; the whole at a cost of sixpence.

With these she returned home, renewed her fire, and, after preparing the bones and vegetables she had procured, put them into an iron pot with some water, and hung this upon the crane. She then sat down again to her work.

At twelve o'clock Henry came in from school, and brought up an armful of wood, and some water, and then, by direction of his mother, saw that the fire was kept burning briskly. At one, Mrs. Gaston laid by her work again, and set the table for dinner. Henry went for a loaf of bread while she was doing this, and upon his return found all ready. The meal, palatable to all, was a well-made soup; the mother and her two children ate of it with keen appetites. When it was over, Henry went away again to school and Mrs. Gaston, after administering to Ella another dose of medicine, sat down once more to her work. One sleeve remained to be sewed in, when the garment would only require to have the collar put on, and be pressed off. This occupied her until late in the afternoon.

"Thirty cents for all that!" she sighed to herself, as she laid the finished garment upon the bed. "Too bad! Too bad! How can a widow and three children subsist on twenty cents a day?"

A deep moan from Ella caused her to look at her child more intently than she had done for half an hour. She was alarmed to find that her face had become like scarlet, and was considerably swollen. On speaking to her, she seemed quite stupid, and answered incoherently, frequently putting her hand to her throat, as if in pain there. This confirmed the mother's worst fears for her child, especially as she was in a raging fever. Soon after, Henry came in from school, and she dispatched him for Doctor R--, who returned with the boy. He seemed uneasy at the manner in which the symptoms were developing themselves. A long and silent examination ended in his asking for a basin. He bled her freely, as there appeared to be much visceral congestion, and an active inflammation of the tonsils, larynx, and air passages, with a most violent fever. After this she lay very still, and seemed much relieved. But, half an hour after the doctor had left, the fever rallied again, with burning intensity. Her face swelled rapidly, and the soreness of her throat increased. About nine o'clock the doctor came in again, and upon examining the child's throat, found it black and deeply ulcerated.

"What do you think of her, doctor?" asked the poor mother, eagerly.

"I think her very ill, madam--and, I regret to say, dangerously so."

"Is it scarlet fever, doctor?"

"It is, madam. A very bad case of it. But do not give way to feelings of despondency. I have seen worse cases recover."

More active medicines than any that had yet been administered were given by the doctor, who again retired, with but little hope of seeing his patient alive in the morning.

From the time Mrs. Gaston finished the garment upon which she had been working, she had not even unrolled the other roundabout, and it was now nine o'clock at night. A sense of her destitute condition, and of the pressing necessity there was for her to let every minute leave behind some visible impression, made her, after Henry and Emma were in bed, leave the side of her sick child, though with painful reluctance, and resume her toil. But, ever and anon, as Ella moaned, or tossed restlessly upon her pillow, would the mother lay by her work, and go and stand beside her in silent anguish of spirit, or inquire where she suffered pain, or what she could do to relieve her.

Thus passed the hours until twelve, one, and two o'clock, the mother feeling that her child was too sick for her to seek repose, and yet, as she could do nothing to relieve her sufferings, she could not sit idly by and look upon her. For fifteen or twenty minutes at a time she would ply her needle, and then get up and bend over the bed for a minute or two. A thought of duty would again call her back to her position by the work-table, where she would again devote herself to her task, in spite of an aching head, and a reluctant, over-wearied body. Thus she continued until near daylight, when there was an apparent subsidence of Ella's most painful symptoms. The child ceased to moan and throw herself about, and finally sunk into slumber. In some relief of mind, Mrs. Gaston laid down beside her upon the bed, and, in a little while was fast asleep. When she awoke, the sun had been up some time, and was shining brightly into the room. Quickly rising, her first glance was toward her sick child. She could scarcely suppress a cry of agony, as she perceived that her face and neck had swollen so as to appear puffed up, while her skin was covered with livid spots. An examination of the chest and stomach showed that these spots were extending themselves over her whole body. Besides these signs of danger, the breathing of the child was more like gasping, as she lay with her mouth half opened.

The mother laid her hand upon her arm, and spoke to her. But she did not seem to hear the voice.

"Ella, dear! how do you feel this morning?" repeated Mrs. Gaston in louder and more earnest tones.

But the child heeded her not. She was already past consciousness! At an early hour Doctor R--came in. The moment he looked at his patient his countenance fell. Still, he proceeded to examine her carefully. But every symptom was alarming, and indicated a speedy fatal termination, this was especially the case with the upper part of the throat, which was black. Nothing deeper could be seen, as the tonsils were so swollen as to threaten suffocation.

"Is there any hope, doctor?" asked Mrs. Gaston, eagerly, laying her hand upon his arm as he turned from the bed.

"There is always hope where there is life, madam," he replied, abstractedly; and then in a thoughtful mood took two or three turns across the narrow apartment.

"I will come again in an hour," he at length said, "and see if there is any change. I would rather not give her any more medicine for the present. Let her remain perfectly quiet."

True to his promise, Doctor R--entered the room just an hour from the time he left it. The scene that met his eye moved his heart deeply, all used as he was to the daily exhibition of misery in its many distressing forms. The child was dead! He was prepared for that--but not for the abandoned grief to which the mother gave way. The chords of feeling had been drawn in her heart too tightly. Mind and body were both out of tune, and discordant. In suffering, in abject want and destitution, her heart still clung to her children, and threw around them a sphere of intenser affection, as all that was external grew darker, colder, and more dreary. They were her jewels, and she could not part with them. They were hidden away in her heart of hearts so deeply, that not a single one of them could be taken without leaving it lacerated and bleeding.

When the doctor entered, he found her lying upon the bed, with the body of her child hugged tightly to her bosom. Little Emma had crept away into a corner of the room, and looked frightened. Henry was crouching in a chair, with the tears running down his cheeks in streams.

"You are too late, doctor," said the mother, in a tone so calm, so clear, and yet to his ear so thrilling, that he started, and felt a chill pass through his frame. There was something in the sound of that voice in ill accordance with the scene.

As she spoke, she glanced at the physician with bright, tearless eyes for a moment; and then, turning away her head, she laid her cheek against that of the corpse, and drew the lifeless body with trembling eagerness to her heart.

"This is all vain, my dear madam!" urged Dr. R--, approaching the bedside, and laying his hand upon her. "Come! Be a woman. To bear is to conquer our fate. No sorrow of yours can call back the happy spirit of your child. And, surely, you would not call her back, if you could, to live over the days of anguish and pain that were meted out to her?"

"I cannot give up my child, doctor. Oh, I cannot give up my child! It will break my heart!" she replied, her voice rising and trembling more and more at each sentence, until it gave way, and the hot tears came raining over her face, and falling upon the insensible cheek of her child.

"'The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away,' Mrs. Gaston. Can you not look up, even in this sore affliction, and say, 'Blessed be the name of the Lord?' It is your only hope. An arm of flesh cannot support you now. You must look to the Strong for strength."

As Doctor R--thus urged her to reason and duty, the tears of the bereaved mother gradually ceased to flow. She grew calmer, and regained, in some degree, her self-possession. As she did so, she slowly disengaged her arm from the body of her child, placed its head, as carefully as if it had been asleep, upon the pillow, and then arose, and stood with her hands tightly clasped across her forehead.

"I am but a weak woman, doctor, and you must bear with me," said she, in a changed voice. "I used to have fortitude; but I feel that I am breaking fast. I am not what I was."

The last two sentences were spoken in a tone so sad and mournful, that the doctor could scarcely keep back the tears.

"You have friends here, I suppose," he remarked, "who will be with you on this afflicting occasion?"

"I have no friends," she replied, in the same sad voice. "I and my children are alone in this hard world. Would to heaven we were all with Ella!" Her tears again gushed forth and flowed freely.

"Then I must send some one who will assist you in your present need," said Dr. R--; and turning away he left the room, and, getting into his chaise, rode off at a brisk pace. In about a quarter of an hour, he returned with a woman who took charge of the body of the child, and performed for it the last sad offices that the dead require.

Upon close inquiry, he ascertained from Mrs. Gaston that she was in a state of extreme destitution; that so far from having the means to bury her dead child, she was nearly without food to give to her living ones. To meet this pressing need, he went to a few benevolent friends, and procured money sufficient to inter the corpse, and about ten dollars over. This he gave to her after the funeral, at which there were only three mourners, the mother and her two children.

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