“It makes no difference,” replied the humane physician, “whether she is rich or poor, if she requires the attention of a physician she must not be neglected; I will certainly call in the afternoon.”
The physician accordingly called in the afternoon, and, after some conversation with Mrs. Harwood, prescribed for her some medicines, and left her, promising to call again in a short time. Before leaving the house, however, he informed Mrs. Humphrey that he thought the woman alarmingly ill. “As near,” said he, “as I can judge from her appearance, I think that consumption has been for a long time preying upon her constitution, and over-fatigue has thus suddenly prostrated her. The powers of life,” continued Dr. Merton, “are fast failing, and in my opinion a few weeks will terminate her earthly existence. I have prescribed for her some simple medicines, but I fear her case is already beyond the aid of medicine. All we can do,” said the physician in conclusion, “is to render her as comfortable as may be, for she will soon require nothing which this world affords.”
The lonely situation of the stranger had deeply touched the kind heart of Dr. Merton.
As the Doctor had predicted, Mrs. Harwood failed rapidly. She suffered but little bodily pain, but her strength failed her daily, and it soon became evident to all who saw her, that the day of her death could not be far distant.
She gave to Mrs. Humphrey a brief sketch of her past life, which will be made the subject of another chapter.
Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey had reared a family of five children; three of them now slept in the village church-yard; the remaining two had married, and removed to a long distance from their paternal home, consequently the worthy couple had for some years dwelt alone in the home where once had echoed the glad voices of their children.
They soon decided that, should Mrs. Harwood not recover, they would gladly adopt her little boy as their own, if she felt willing to leave him to their care. So great was the anxiety of Mrs. Harwood regarding her child, that it was long ere she gave up hopes of recovery, but when she at length became aware that she must die, she at first found it very difficult to resign herself to the will of Heaven.
“Were it not for my child,” she would often say, “the prospect of death would not be unpleasant to me, for I have a comforting hope of a life beyond the grave; but who will care for my orphan boy when I am no more? I must not distrust the goodness of the orphans’ God.”
Mr. Humphrey, in reply to these remarks one day, said to her—
“I hope you will make your mind perfectly easy in regard to your child; for, should it please God to remove you by death, I have already decided to adopt little Ernest as my own son, if you feel willing to consign him to my care; and you may rest assured that while my life is spared he shall be tenderly cared for, as though he were my own son.”