Today I would like to provide another excerpt from my novel ‘Retribution.’ In the following passage I return to the historical aspect of the storyline. It is the early nineteenth century and there is a funeral service going on for the two young children Edward and Norma-Louise Marchbank who had been tragic victims of the plague which was sweeping around the neighbourhood. This is a sad event but Victoria Marchbank, the mother of the recently departed, has allowed her grief to take her to a very dark place. She considers the local doctor to have been negligent in his treatment of her young ones and blames him for their deaths. She confronts him when the service is drawing to a close and the mourners are offering their condolences to herself and her husband Samuel:
Victoria stared at the ground below her, almost as if she couldn’t believe that her two dear children were dead. It was too much to take in: too much sorrow all at once. It had seemed only yesterday they were playing around in the house. Now though, she realised she would never hear the sounds of childish delight she used to enjoy so much. For her children were lost to her forever, and nothing she could do would ever change that.
“I’m so very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Marchbank.” It was a far-sounding voice which now reached Victoria, but despite her grievous state, she knew instantly the owner of that voice. How could she fail to, when he was the cause of her distress?
As she looked up to view the man who had uttered these words, she could barely control her anger. ‘There he is with his dear wife,’ thought Victoria, ‘acting as if he cares that my young ones are no longer of this world! He doesn’t care: for if he had done his job properly, my Edward and Norma-Louise would still be with me and not six feet underground.’
“Thank you very much, doctor,” Samuel Marchbank was saying, in return to the other man’s words of comfort. “It came as very much of a shock to us that our children should die in such a fashion. But I know you did all that was humanly possible to save them, and I couldn’t ask for anything more…”
“Oh, that’s right, dear!” boomed out Victoria finally, as her wrathful feelings came flooding out of her. “The doctor here did do all he could, didn’t he? That’s why our children are dead.”
As a disquieting hush came over all those present, Samuel took hold of his wife’s arm in an attempt to calm her. “You’ll have to excuse my wife, doctor,” he apologised. “She’s in such a distressed state at the moment she doesn’t quite know what she is saying.”
“Well, of course,” replied Doctor Mathewson. “I quite understand, of course.”
“Yes” added his wife. “The poor dear: she must be suffering dreadfully at what is a sad time for everyone. You do know how fond everyone was of your children, Mr. Marchbank? They were two angels.”
“Thank you once again,” returned Samuel, although now there were signs of great emotion working within him. This was borne out not only in the tremulous state of his voice, but also in his watery eyes.
Victoria was also feeling strong emotions, but they were in complete variance with the ones shown by her husband. She now glared at Doctor Mathewson with a vindictiveness which was most unlike her. However, her outrage at what had just been said became all of a sudden too much to bear. How could this man, who called himself a doctor, pretend that he had done everything possible to save her children? He had not; for had he done so they would be alive today. No, the doctor had been to blame for her children’s deaths, and Victoria was determined to make everyone aware of the gross negligence which he had taken part in.
“Oh yes, Samuel!” she roared out. “The good doctor and his wife are both sorry our children are dead. But where was the doctor’s concern when Edward and Norma-Louise were fighting so desperately for their rights to live? He was giving up on them, that’s what he was doing…”
“My dear!” Samuel turned on her, visibly shocked by what she had said. “What are you saying?”
“Oh, that’s simple: I’m saying that the doctor here could have saved our children if he had tried. But then you didn’t try, did you, doctor?”
“Mrs. Marchbank!” It was seemingly with a great effort that Doctor Mathewson attempted to keep an authoritative tone to his voice. “As I told you on the day your children died, I did my very best to save them…”
“And your best wasn’t good enough, was it, doctor?”
“But I did my best…” Doctor Mathewson repeated these words as if the very act of repeating them would somehow bring a halt to his accuser’s diatribe. This proved a futile hope.
“Oh, my!” Victoria almost shrieked out, as she increased her look of venom on the unsuspecting doctor. “You really are a poor excuse for a doctor, aren’t you?” As she then turned her cold stare from Doctor Mathewson, to look at the rest of the ceremonial throng, she continued to put her point across.
“Look at him: would any of you put your lives or those of your loved ones in the hands of such a gibbering wreck as that? I mean look at him: trembling away like an old man, unable to stand up without the assistance of a cane. I warn all of you not to seek out his services whenever any ailment strikes one of you down. Look far and wide for another doctor to cure your poor condition. Even though he is the only doctor within miles of this village, surely it would be better to seek out the services of a doctor far away rather than put your lives in the hands of such a negligent soul as that one over there.”
Instead of receiving any answer to her wailing cries from the attendant villagers, Victoria was addressed by the doctor’s wife. She had been trying to comfort the doctor while Victoria had been making her critical remarks about him, but this seemed to do no good in the face of such open hostility from an embittered woman. So it was that Anne Mathewson decided now was the time to act, to stick up for her husband’s good name. She could see that she had to do something, as his very livelihood, and thus hers too, was being threatened by the strength of Victoria’s words.
“Look,” Anne boomed out at a startled Victoria. She had clearly not been prepared for a reply to her words coming from that quarter. Now, though, Anne had her undivided attention, which was all she needed to let out her own emotions. These were strained, but she was able to keep a firm enough control over them so she could say what she knew she must. “Both Charles and I are very sorry for the losses which you and your husband have suffered…”
“Oh, you might be, my dear,” Victoria surmised. “But your husband is most certainly not!”
“How can you say that?” screeched out Anne. “As he’s said, he did his very best to save your children, but there was no hope for them.” This time, Victoria did not interrupt Anne. This allowed her to continue to put her point over as firmly and concisely as she could. “I know you are suffering badly in your time of great loss, and I can sympathise with that, but what you have said about my husband is cruel and heartless. He did all he could to save your children, but they had the plague. Do you understand that, Mrs. Marchbank? The Plague! Surely you must know, like everyone else here, that nobody has ever survived the plague. So, you see, there was no chance for your children once they had contracted the killer disease. It was an appalling thing to happen, but please don’t blame my husband. It wasn’t his fault.”
As Anne’s words hit home, Victoria stood apparently dumbstruck by what the woman had said. So it appeared, to all those present, that the courage of the doctor’s wife in the face of such open hostility on the part of Victoria had brought the proper perspective to the situation. As Anne now led away her husband, who to the sadness of the onlookers seemed to have the look of a beaten man, Victoria had the aspect of a tortured soul which had been becalmed.
However, this proved to be only a temporary situation, not a permanent one. It did not take Victoria long to snap out of her dream-like state. For, as she turned to watch the retreating figure of Doctor Mathewson and his wife, all of her earlier venom returned. Taking no heed of Samuel’s attempts to calm her, Victoria let out some of her pent-up fury.
“You are the one to blame for my children’s deaths, doctor! You and no one else: do you hear? How could you let my young ones die?”
It was at this point that Harold Turner, a local cobbler by trade, came up to Victoria to utter his protest on Doctor Mathewson’s behalf. “Mrs. Marchbank: I realise that you must be distraught at losing your children, but that is no reason to take it out on the good doctor.” So saying, he turned to his fellow villagers to gain some support for the stand he was taking. “I assume I am not alone in believing that Doctor Mathewson would have done all that was humanly possible in his efforts to save the two young ones?”
There was a general murmur of agreement on this score, as the doctor was an enormously popular figure in the local community. It was simply incomprehensible, as far as the villagers were concerned, that he would not do his utmost to save the lives of two young children. Further to this, there was a general outburst of discontent that Victoria should have seen fit to cast the aspersions she had in the direction of Doctor Mathewson. Why, he was a pillar of the community, and criticism of him was a thinly-disguised attack on the whole constitution of the area.
“Oh, yes!” Victoria sneered in a vitriolic way. “That’s right: stick up for the good old doctor, eh? It doesn’t seem to bother you that he was negligent in his duties as our local doctor, does it? But then that’s not what this is about, is it? You’re more concerned about his position in our community than the fact he let my children die. Why he’s no better than a murderer, do you hear me? A murderer, that’s what he is!”