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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

“A sort of rapid consumption, I’d have to call it, if I called it anything,” continued the doctor. “I’m no surgeon, or I should insist upon having a post-mortem.”

    A third funeral; and Hetty Calhoun was buried in the little cemetery just out of the village, where all the village fathers and mothers slumbered—undisturbed by the busy tramp of the civilization of the century which respects not even graves, and runs railroads through graveyards—and seemed likely so to slumber for centuries at least. Poor Hetty! I saw her in her coffin. She was absolutely wasted to skin and bones, as if some horrible something had eaten away, buzzard-like, every ounce of flesh from that grinning anatomy—as if, in fact, some horrible vampire had sucked the arteries of vitality dry, leaving of her nothing but a mere withered anatomical framework.

    I returned to my office the day after the funeral, haunted with a vague horror, and thinking, half-fancying, perhaps, that I saw the symptoms in the deadly pallor of Hannah’s face. I had had a long, quiet talk with Florry, not having, however, mentioned the legend of the Dunbar family of course; but having hinted to her, pleaded and implored that she and Hannah would leave the old house on the hill, at least for a few days. Florry would have consented; but Hannah shook her head mournfully.

    “I wouldn’t like to leave the old homestead just now,” she negatived, with a shake of the head. “Besides, I dreamed of seeing poor dead Hetty last night, and she begged me, oh, so piteously, not to. It was just so with Hetty, the very night after mother died. She dreamed she saw mother.”

    Florry and I looked up with sudden apprehension. Hannah had the old wearied-out look on her face I had seen on Hetty’s not six days before—only it was yet scarcely developed; and there was a vague, far-off look in her eyes. The worm of ephemera—the demon of quick consumption was, I fancied, already gnawing internally; and, more than this, I was sure that she knew or expected it. Dr. Bloupil’s simple prescription was tonics. He might as well have prescribed tonics for a corpse; in about three weeks—exactly three weeks, as I remember it—Hannah was dead. It was the old, old story: took to her bed, and wasted, wasted, wasted away to nothing, so that you could almost see the process. It was a disease that really had no symptoms, except that the patient wasted away without apparent cause. No hetic fever, no hacking cough, no tubercular disease—nothing upon which or to which to tie the thread of a rational diagnosis. Only a deadly wasting away, and a funeral.

    Poor Florry, she was frantic with grief; and with that grief was mingled a certain sense of superstitious awe and terror. From the day of Hannah’s funeral I did not leave the old house for six hours at once.

 
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