Then a sudden strange gleam had come into John Upham’s blue eyes. “Thank the Lord,” he cried out, in a trembling fervor of wrath—“thank the Lord, He gives all the time there is to His debtors, an’ no commonwealth on the earth can make laws agin it.” He had actually then raised a great fist and shaken it before the doctor’s face. “Now, don’t you ever darse to darken my doors again, Doctor Seth Prescott!” he had cried out. “If my wife or my children are sick, I’ll let them lay and die before I’ll have you in the house!” So saying, John Upham had stridden forth out of the doctor’s yard, where he had held the conversation with him, with Jake Noyes and two other men covertly listening.
After that Jake Noyes had given surreptitious advice, with sly shoving of medicine-vials into John Upham’s or his wife’s hands when the children were ailing, and lately Jerome had taken his place.
“Guess you had better go there instead of me when the young ones are out of sorts,” Jake Noyes had told Jerome. Then he had added, with a crafty twist and wink: “When ye can quarrel with your own bread an’ butter with a cat’s-paw might as well do it, especially when you’re gettin’ along in years. You ’ain’t got anything to lose if you do set the doctor again ye, and I have.”
The house in which the Uphams had taken shelter was in sight of the old homestead, some rods farther on, on the opposite side of the road. It stood in a sandy waste of weeds on the border of an old gravel-pit—an ancient cottage, with a wretched crouch of humility in its very roof. It had been covered with a feeble coat of red paint years ago, and cloudy lines of it still survived the wash of old rains and the beat of old sunbeams.
Behind it on the north and west rose the sand-hill, dripping with loose gravel as with water, hollowed out at its base until its crest, bristling with coarse herbage, magnified against the sky, projected far out over the cottage roof. The sun was reflected from the sand in a great hollow of arid light. Jerome, nearing it, felt as if he were approaching an oven. The cottage door was shut, as were all the windows. However, he heard plainly the shrill wail of the sick baby.
John Upham opened the door. “Oh, it’s you, Jerome!” said he. “Good-day.”
“Good-day,” returned Jerome. “How is the baby?”
“Well, he seems kind of ailin’. Laury has been up with him all night. Thought maybe you might give him something. Come in, won’t ye?”
There were only two rooms on the lower floor of the cottage—one was the kitchen, the other the bedroom where John Upham and his wife slept with the three youngest children.
Jerome followed Upham across the kitchen to the bedroom beyond. The kitchen was littered with all John Upham’s poor household goods, prostrate and unwashed, degraded even from their one dignity of use. One of the kitchen windows opened towards the sand-hill; the room was full of its garish glare of reflected sunlight, and the revelations were pitiless. Laura Upham, once a model housekeeper, had lost all ambition and domestic pride, now she had such a poor house to keep and so many children to tend.