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Before The Low Green Door
by [?]

Matilda Bent was dying; there was no doubt of that now, if there had been before. The gruff old physician–one of the many overworked and underpaid country doctors–shook his head and pushed by Joe Bent, her husband, as he passed through the room which served as dining-room, sitting-room, and parlor. The poor fellow slouched back to his chair by the stove as if dazed, and before he could speak again the doctor was gone.

Mrs. Ridings was just coming up the walk as the doctor stepped out of the door.

“Oh, doctor, how is she?”

“She is a dying woman, madam.”

“Oh, don’t say that, doctor! What’s the matter?”


“Then the news was true–“

“I don’t know anything of the news, Mrs. Ridings, but Mrs. Bent is dying from the effects of a cancer primarily, which she has had for years–since her last child, which died in infancy, you remember.”

“But, doctor, she never told me–“

“Neither did she tell me. But no matter now. I have done all I can for her. If you can make death any easier for her, go and do it. You will find some opiate powders there with directions. Keep the pain down at all hazards. Don’t let her suffer; that is useless. She is likely to last a day or two; but if any change comes to-night, send for me.”

When the good matron entered the dowdy, suffocating little room where Matilda Bent lay gasping for breath, she was sick for a moment with sympathetic pain. There the dying woman lay, her world narrowed to four close walls, propped up on the pillows near the one little window. Her eyes seemed very large and bright, and the brow, made prominent by the sinking away of the cheeks, gave evidence that it was an uncommon woman who lay there quietly waiting the death angel.

She smiled, and lifted her eyebrows in a ghastly way.

“Oh, Marthy!” she breathed.

“Matildy, I didn’t know you was so bad or I’d ‘a’ come before. Why didn’t you let me know?” said Mrs. Ridings, kneeling by the bed and taking the ghostly hands of the sufferer in her own warm and soft palms. She shuddered as she kissed the thin lips.

“I think you’ll soon be around ag’in,” she added, in the customary mockery of an attempt at cheer. The other woman started slightly, turned her head, and gazed on her old friend long and intently. The hollowness of her neighbor’s words stung her.

“I hope not, Marthy–I’m ready to go. I want to go. I don’t care to live.”

The two women communed by looking for a long time in each other’s eyes, as if to get at the very secretest desires and hopes of the heart. Tears fell from Martha’s eyes upon the cold and nerveless hands of her friend–poor, faithful hands, hacked and knotted and worn by thirty years of ceaseless daily toil. They lay there motionless upon the coverlet, pathetic protest for all the world to see.

“Oh, Matildy, I wish I could do something for you! I want to help you so! I feel so bad that I didn’t come before! Ain’t they somethin’?”

“Yes, Marthy–jest set there–till I die–it won’t be long,” whispered the pale lips. The sufferer, as usual, was calmer than her visitor, and her eyes were thoughtful.

“I will! I will! But oh, must you go? Can’t somethin’ be done? Don’t yo’ want the minister to be sent for?”

“No, I’m all ready. I ain’t afraid to die. I ain’t worth savin’ now. Oh, Marthy, I never thought I’d come to this–did you? I never thought I’d die–so early in life–and die–unsatisfied.”

She lifted her head a little as she gasped out these words with an intensity of utterance that thrilled her hearer–a powerful, penetrating earnestness that burned like fire.

“Are you satisfied?” pursued the steady lips. “My life’s a failure, Marthy–I’ve known it all along–all but my children. Oh, Marthy, what’ll become o’ them? This is a hard world.”