The Doctor's Apprentice
Here's another of those weekly contests I've doing: I'll share the prompt and the story!
Guess what! You get to do a story based off of a painting… and here it is!
The idea is that you write a 2,500 word short story based off of this painting. Don’t just write what’s happening in the painting, describing how she’s sleeping perfectly and not drooling like the best of us or that he’s being a sweety-pie and leaving her flowers, but delve into the painting. Get inside his head… or her thoughts… or whatever. Be creative!
Life is a curious thing. It has been said before, and I believe I will not be the last to remark upon the subject. It twists and turns so quickly, just when we thought things were going so well. And these bends in the road are less than tactful, for they appear so suddenly and sometimes without warning. William Longfellow was about to experience one of his first interesting turns in his life.
He grew up in the sunny little town of Rossford, which is tucked away in the hills of England, and is seldom mentioned by fashionable people of London, for it is, if anything, a rural town. Farmers lived there alongside the more well-to-do families, and neither seemed to have a problem with that. But to think! The scandal of daily associating with a… well, farm-hand, was too much for those fashionable peacocks, so those Londoners who knew of Rossford spoke little of it, if at all. Our William, who we shall endeavor to name as the hero of our tale, was studying to be a doctor under the well-renown and respected village practitioner, Dr. Morrison. It must be said, before anything else, that Dr. Morrison was not at rooted in the old ways of medicine, though those who did not know him would have suspected him to be so on account of his grey hairs. In fact, he read all the medical journals he possibly could get his hands on, sent away for the latest concoctions and tools, and ran late-night medicinal experiments in the dark of his backroom.
William had always known the good doctor, and loved him well, as did all who lived in Rossford. When he had been taken with the croup as a boy of nine, he could not forget the gentle and expert care of Dr. Morrison, and from that time on, he longed to be just like him. So, when he turned eighteen, he stopped the doctor on the street to ask the question. The doctor looked at him with a humored expression.
“Look at you, boy! You’re as skinny as a boy from the great towns! If you spent more time doing good work instead of lazily passing the days reading and attending gatherings, I might be tempted to take you on.”
Disappointed and rejected, William watched the doctor walk on. Resolved to prove to the doctor that he could be strong, he went to his house and tried to think of ways he could improve himself. He saw the man-servant, Mark, chopping wood vigorously in the back. Even though chopping wood was something he detested, he realized that he could not become stronger without sacrifice. Biting his lip hard, he strolled out into the yard and told Mark that he was to take a break.
“I… um… well, I wanted to chop the wood.”
Mark laughed so hard that he could not stop for the life of him. Angered, William took the axe from his hand, and took aim at the piece of wood Mark had been working at.
“Stand back!” he cried, and Mark, still laughing, went a few paces away.
His first hit, I’m sorry to say, was less than successful, but he tried again, this time splitting the wood in two. Mark stopped laughing, and sat down to watch his work being done for him.
“Well done, sir! I didn’t think you could do it! But try taking off your coat so you don‘t get too hot.”
William smiled, and obliged him.
“Now, sir, if you don’t mind me saying, just hold the axe with one hand over the other -that’s it-, and swing strong and firm. That’s it! You’ve done it!”
From that day on, William forced himself to wake early and help Mark with his chores. He cleaned stalls, split wood, and ran errands to the farms. By the time he was done, he was so tired that he had no energy to go to balls and dinner parties. Nearly a year passed before he gained the courage to speak to Dr. Morrison again. This time, however, he was more tactful, and went to the doctor’s office instead waiting on the street. When he entered the building, he noticed a curious smell that resembled burning hair. The doctor was no where to be seen, so William sat down on one of the benches provided for waiting patients. A cry from the backroom aroused him, and caused him to run into that selfsame room. The sight that greeted him upon entering was so amusing that William could not help but to stifle a smile. The good doctor was standing over what looked like an exploded test tube, with the contents splattered across the whole table and on the doctor’s clothing. Dr. Morrison noticed William standing in the doorway, and, breaking his own custom of enjoying everything that occurred, did not laugh.
“Well, don’t just stand there, boy, help me clean this mess up!”
From that day on, both men just informally accepted the fact that William was now the doctor’s apprentice. William now did less chores with Mark, for his time was almost entirely consumed with helping his new master. I cannot say exactly what he did from day to day, for even he himself could not say, for the days seemed to run into one another. The bulk of his work consisted in the comforting of invalids and the mixing of medicines for patients, while the doctor took care of all the ‘dangerous’ work, as he liked to call it. He meant the few surgeries and contagious illnesses, as well as the ‘experimentation’ in the backroom. However, it wasn’t long before William disappeared entirely from the social life of Rossford, so much so that the invalid gossips were his only link to the life he once knew.
Good work can make a man out of any boy, but as they say, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And it was the doctor noticed his student, though progressing rapidly in his studies, was becoming quiet and bent on always working. He knew that William was always a boy who loved to laugh and joke with his fellows, and decided that he needed a break. So, he told William that he was to visit one last invalid before going home to spend a week of rest.
“Why? Have I done something?” William questioned.
“That’s just it, my boy. It’s more like what you haven’t been doing that’s been worrying me.”
And so, the doctor went on about his worries for William’s state of mind. William immediately began to argue the idea of a rest.
“Why, sir, I’m perfectly fine as I am! I don’t need to be a man that is always attending all those garden parties!”
“It’s just a week, William.”
“Just do as you’ve been told, and I know that it will do you a world of good. You’re almost twenty, and the only single female friends you have are either old maids or little girls. I want you to have a good time! Now go, Mrs. Wilkerson needs your aid!”
William rolled his eyes, then took the invalid’s formula and went out the door. Mrs. Wilkerson lived only three doors down from the clinic, so it didn’t take him long at all for him to reach her bedside. Rather, it was a large, comfy couch that sat next to the front window so that she could observe all that was occurring on the main street of the town. Simply put, Mrs. Wilkerson was a gossip, and she enjoyed her work of ‘enlightening’ the minds of all those around her. Almost as soon as William had doffed his hat and entered the room, she was chattering away.
“Oh, Master Longfellow! Dear, I shouldn’t be calling you that anymore, Lord love you! You’re well nigh on twenty!”
William smiled and began to prepare her medicine for her as he listened to her banter.
“You’ll never guess what has happened!”
“Someone new has arrived in town?”
“How ever did you know?”
“I suppose the fact that I noticed a great deal of luggage on the stagecoach this morning might have betrayed that notion.”
“I never! Well, I don’t think you know just who has come to town, now do you?”
“Now there is where I’m at a loss, Mrs. Wilkerson.”
Mrs. Wilkerson was glad at this. She proceeded to inform him of the exacting details of this new person; she had it from Miss Triloby that the innkeeper’s daughter had told her that the new person was a young lady of considerable beauty. Her name was Miss Claire Young, and she was coming to visit her aunt for the summer. Of course, William pretended to be interested, but he really did not care, for he probably would never meet this Miss Young. But Mrs. Wilkerson’s acute interest in the lives of everyone else amused him, so he tried his best to look as if he was most absorbed in the whole matter.
When he got home, he heard the whole story over again from his sister Eliza, who was, in turn, informed by her brother that he was to be ‘resting’ for an entire week. She immediately invited him to half a dozen little gatherings, one of which was to be that very evening to welcome Miss Young to Rossford. It had been some time since he had vested himself for such an event, so he had to take extra time to dust off his fine waistcoat and evening jacket and to remember how to elegantly tie a cravat. He finally got through the terrors of dressing, and escorted his sister down the street to the party.
Everyone was surprised to see William. They were glad to see him at first, and tried to include him in their conversations. But his lack of knowledge on the inside jokes and banter that was going on made them soon forget his presence, so he was left to stand by the mantle and pretend to be most engrossed in the figurines that were arranged upon it. However, he was not to be left long in his silent reverie, for his sister was anxious that he should meet Miss Young. When he turned as Eliza hailed him, he was almost struck dumb at the girl he saw standing next to her. It was not just that she was quite lovely, or that she was graceful and elegant… no, there was something else that made her beautiful that he could not quite finger at the moment. First, he had to speak to her to make his introduction complete. His sister, of course, formally introduced them, but he had to say something so that the lovely Miss Young would not walk away. But she spoke first.
“I hear you are the doctor’s apprentice?”
“Yes, I am. And you only just arrived in town today?”
“Well, in fact, it was yesterday, but my luggage had to come by another coach.”
Silence. Oh, that aggravating silence! How it does get in the way of good conversation! William inwardly cursed the blank that crossed his mind and all the interesting things that he could have said to be able to keep in her company longer. Thankfully, she found something else to say, and this time, it entirely broke the bounds of awkward silence.
“Even though everyone has been so kind as to host this gathering for my welcoming, I feel so…”
“…out of place?”
“Exactly the words I was looking for! You see, I’m not very good when it comes to making new acquaintances, or enjoying large groups of people.”
“I know what you mean. What with all my work at Dr. Morrison’s, I have had no time for these social functions.”
“Your work? What kind of work do you do? Oh, please forgive my boldness, but I’m quite interested in such things.”
William suddenly had quite a few things to say to her. They passed the evening conversing together, and each secretly hoped that they would see one another had the other gatherings that they would be attending that week. And so they did.
William went back to the office feeling quite refreshed, and full of things to tell the doctor… especially about Miss Young. But there was a grim look on Dr. Morrison’s face as he entered the office.
“William, don’t come into this room just yet. I need to tell you something.”
William paused on the threshold.
“What is it?”
“There’s an outbreak of cholera in the outlying farmhouses. You don’t have to help me, and you can leave now. But if you decide to help, once you enter this office, you cannot frequent the streets. I can’t have a full-blown epidemic on my hands, not now!”
William stood thinking for a while.
“Can I do something first?”
“Certainly. On your way back, though, be sure to bring some clothing and some extra blankets with you. This one’s going to be long, and so you’ll have to stay here with me. Oh- before you go, try not to interact with many people. You‘re probably already contagious.”
William nodded gravely, and went back into the street. The sun suddenly did not shine as brightly as before, and he knew he had to act fast. He ran to his yard, where several rose bushes were in full bloom. Not caring how many thorns pricked his fingers, he picked a bouquet of them. Mark came out to question him.
“What are you doing, sir?”
“I can’t tell you all now, I’ve got to got. Please gather a few of my clothes and a few blankets, and leave them at the doorstep of the clinic! There’s an outbreak of cholera, and I have to stay there for a while.”
Mark nodded, and went back into the house. William ran to the house where Miss Young was staying. He knew that he shouldn’t go in… he could be contagious… but he had to see her one last time. So, he circled around the house, and found an open window. Looking in, he saw her sleeping on the window seat. Not daring to wake her, he left the flowers in a spot that she would be sure see them immediately upon waking. He hastily wrote a note explaining his actions, folded it, and placed it next to the roses. Breathing a sigh, he walked away.
He knew that the days would be long, that perhaps he would catch the cholera, or that he might not see her before she left for home. But one thing he knew; that his life, though altered some, would be far the better for having met her, for his days would have a life and light to them- yes, the doctor’s apprentice was a different man.