Gerald Brower, who was a baby when I came to live at Faraway, and was now eleven, had caught a cold in seed time, and he had never quite recovered. His coughing had begun to keep him awake, and one night it brought alarm to the whole household. Elizabeth Brower was up early in the morning and called Uncle Eb, who went away for the doctor as soon as light came. We ate our breakfast in silence. Father and mother and Grandma Bisnette spoke only in low tones and somehow the anxiety in their faces went to my heart. Uncle Eb returned about eight o’clock and said the doctor was coming. Old Doctor Bigsby was a very great man in that country. Other physicians called him far and wide for consultation. I had always regarded him with a kind of awe intensified by the aroma of his drugs and the gleam of his lancet. Once I had been his patient and then I had trembled at his approach. When he took my little wrist in his big hand, I remember with what reluctance I stuck out my quivering tongue, black, as I feared with evidences of prevarication.
He was a picture for a painter man as he came that morning erect in his gig. Who could forget the hoary majesty of his head — his ‘stovepipe’ tilted back, his white locks flying about his ears? He had a long nose, a smooth-shaven face and a left eye that was a trifle turned. His thoughts were generally one day behind the calendar. Today he seemed to be digesting the affairs of yesterday. He was, therefore, absentminded, to a degree that made no end of gossip. If he came out one day with shoe-strings flying, in his remorse the next he would forget his collar; if one told him a good joke today, he might not seem to hear it, but tomorrow he would take it up in its turn and shake with laughter.
I remember how, that morning after noting the symptoms of his patient, he sat a little in silent reflection. He knew that colour in the cheek, that look in the eye — he had seen so much of it. His legs were crossed and one elbow thrown carelessly over the back of his chair. We all sat looking at him anxiously. In a moment he began chewing hard on his quid of tobacco. Uncle Eb pushed the cuspidor a bit nearer. The doctor expectorated freely and resumed his attitude of reflection. The clock ticked loudly, the patient sighed, our anxiety increased. Uncle Eb spoke to father, in a low tone, whereupon the doctor turned suddenly, with a little grunt of enquiry, and seeing he was not addressed, sank again into thoughtful repose. I had begun to fear the worst when suddenly the hand of the doctor swept the bald peak of benevolence at the top of his head. Then a smile began to spread over his face. It was as if some feather of thought had begun to tickle him. In a moment his head was nodding with laughter that brought a great sense of relief to all of us. In a slow, deliberate tone he began to speak:
‘I was over t’ Rat Tupper’s t’other day,’ said he, ’Rat was sitting with me in the door yard. Purty soon a young chap came in, with a scythe, and asked if he might use the grindstun. He was a new hired man from somewhere near. He didn’t know Rat, an’ Rat didn’t know him. So Rat o’ course had t’ crack one o’ his jokes.