Submitted for Project # 19 "The Gift of Vision"
About this Project: (For details see the post entitled "An Angel in Flanders")
The second card for which I wrote a Project # 19 story was this one called "Pox" by Cornelius Brudi:
This is a scene from my work-in-progress novel.
The Doctor's Hammer
Inside, Abraham Hammatt lay deathly ill, a victim of the infliction. His sons Abraham and William had been warned to stay away and tend to the family business. The Hammatt's could not afford to shut down the rope walk, their only source of income. The young men must not risk getting sick.
His daughter-in-law, Priscilla, nursed him, trying her best to lessen his discomfort. She had been inoculated years earlier by her father, the great French Doctor Lazarus LeBaron, and was immune to the disease. She stayed by Abraham's side day and night.
Feverish, his swollen face almost unrecognizable and covered with the red lesions of smallpox, Abraham asked her to send in Nero. The nine-year-old Negro had come along with seven-year-old sister, Gina, to live with the Hammatts when Priscilla had married young Abraham after the death of her father. Dr. LeBaron had bought the children at auction upon learning that they were in danger of being separated, each sold to a different bidder. Priscilla had been raising them as her own, teaching them to read and write and even perform simple arithmetic. Nero had once voiced his intention to become a doctor like "Papa LeBaron".
Now "Papa Hammer" wanted to talk to him.
Nero, still sporting some of the bruises he'd received at the hands of the other Negro boys in town, suspected that his papa was going to scold him for fighting and so entered timidly the room in which the dying man lay. He stared at his shoes and tried not to fidget.
“Not too close, Nero, ” Abraham warned in a raspy voice, “Mama tells me you quit your booklearning.”
“Because of those boys?”
Abraham grimaced. His head throbbed and his back ached, but the importance of this conversation outweighed his pain.
“What did they say?”
“They said I's a nigger no better than them and didn't need no book learnin' nohow. I said I's gonna be a doctor and they said I's gonna need a doctor if I thought I's so smart.”
“They want you to stop learning letters and numbers, don't they?”
“Do you want to do what they want or what Papa wants?”
“I wanna do what you want, Papa.”
“Papa needs a doctor, doesn't he, Nero?”
“But Doc LeBaron isn't here anymore, is he?”
“No, Papa, he's gone to Heaven.”
“Pray Papa Hammer goes there, too,” Abraham said hoarsely.
“No, Papa!” the boy cried.
“Hush, child. Someday you be Doctor LeBaron and you help people just like he did. Will you do that for me; tell Mama you want to resume your studies?”
“Yes, Papa,” Tears welled up in the boy's eyes.
“You're a good boy, Nero. Go find Mama and Nana Hammer too; I'd like to see them just now.”
With that young Nero left the room. Years later, people of Nantucket wondered about the colored doctor with the French name who would only say that it was a hammer that made him a doctor and in whose lifetime smallpox lost its place as a killer of man.