Sorrow Whitman was born in 1693, on a Tuesday in early March, just as the sun was rising over the Appalachian hills. Her mother gave a relieved sigh, sweat dribbling from her feverish brow, as the midwife wiped the child clean of blood and handed her to the one who had borne her these past nine months. "Tis a fine wee girl," the midwife said, her thick Irish accent evidencing itself momentarily before the bland Colonial brogue replaced it once more. The mother, originally Sarah Vandross but Mrs. Martel Whitman since two years ago, smiled wearily and brushed the girl's wet hair back. "Chastity, we shall call thee by, if thy father wilt have it," she murmured. Her voice was weak, her face paler than normal, and the midwife was concerned.
"Ma'am?" she asked softly. "Dost thou feel ill? Thy color does speak malady..."
Sarah Vandross Whitman said nothing, but handed the newborn into the midwife's uncertain arms. "Thou wilt care for my child, Martha?" she asked, now speaking in hardly more than a whisper.
"Of course, Ma'am, but thou'lt soon be well and in spirits again, and then wilt thou care for thy own child." The midwife's face was creased in concern, her expression an unsettled frown. "Do not speak so or thou shalt be tempting to the Devil-"
"Martha..." the mother whispered as she let her eyes fall closed, ringed by dark circles in a face the color of ash, "I am unwell..."
The midwife knew at once that, not only was something wrong, but there would likely be little that she would be able to do for it. Straightaway she summoned the house maid, to whom she handed the child, with orders to find the father and a nursing woman in the closest town, Castlekill, and to see that the baby be given something to eat before she wasted away. The house boy the midwife also sent for, and when he had come running she told him to take the master's fastest horse and make for the town to fetch the surgeon - not Castlekill but White Hat Mountain, where the doctor lived and would most likely be found.
"Make all haste, lad," the midwife commanded him in a voice thick with urgency, underscored by fear. "The mistress' life may well rest in thy layabout's hands. If ever there were occasion to be of use, boy, this be the day." The boy sensed the seriousness in her tone, and he obeyed wordlessly and quickly. Even lazy he could not begrudge his kind mistress and her child one night's hurried efforts. The midwife, with the cook to help her, began grimly to examine the lady of the house, hoping that if she could at least discover what was wrong with her that she might possibly be able to fix it, and the house maid and the house boy ran across the lawn for the stables.
The house boy leapt onto a great roan stallion, the master's finest horse, and took off at a gallop for White Hat Mountain; the house maid climbed up onto the mistress' walking mare with the aid of the stable boy, and, clutching the baby tight to her chest within her shawl, raced for Castlekill, though carefully, not wanting to disturb the child. When she reached the little village the cloudy sky had grown bright with the morning sun, and there were one or two people outside in the muddy lane between the town's two rows of wood slat houses, facing each other across the rocky road.
White Hat Mountain was a larger town, and further away. The houses and shops there were of brick, and a fine white church was on the hilltop above it, gleaming in the new dawn light like an angel with wings outspread. The boy hastened to the doctor's house, only to find that he had gone to Riddleville the preceding evening to tend to a child of ten years who had broken his leg when his horse threw him in the woods. There was only one road between Riddleville and White Hat Mountain; if the doctor were returning, the house boy would intercept him along the way.
He was galloping along the backwoods lane when he came upon a tree that had fallen across the road. He kicked his heels into the horse's sides, thinking to jump it, but his mount, tired from being run so hard and fast for so long, clipped the tree with its feet as it leapt, and threw the boy from it back headlong into the road. He landed badly.
The doctor, returning along the road, found the boy lying dead next to the confused horse, which loitered uncertainly by the body, masterless and limping. The boy's neck was broken; the horse's leg was broken and the horse would have to be put down. The doctor took out his pistol and shot it then and there. Then he lifted the boy's body onto his own horse and continued on his way, unaware that Mrs. Martel Whitman lay dying in her bed no more than five short miles away. Only when his wife saw the dead boy in the doctor's arms did he learn the truth, and by then it was too late.
When the house maid found her master and told him the news, he raced home only to find his wife dead. Mad with grief, he took out his pistols and shot the midwife and the cook dead before carefully reloading and then doing the same to himself. The doctor arrived in all haste at the Martel Whitman home to find four bodies in the mistress' bedchamber; reeling from the shock and grief of it, he tripped on the stairs and fell all the way to the ground floor. He was not killed by it, but both legs were broken and thereafter he was a cripple, able only to hobble, in great pain, with the aid of two wooden canes. The young house maid found a nursing woman to care for the infant child while she waited for her master's return. Only after a day and a half had passed did news of the tragedy reach her. She abandoned the Whitman baby then, running off into the woods. No one ever heard from her again, but whether she made it to some distant town and changed her name and survived, or whether wild animals got her and her body was never found, no one could say.
And that was how Sorrow Whitman got her name.
Hey! Did you read this? You should tell me! You should leave a little review saying, "Why yes, Boredom, I did read your chapter! I liked it/hated it/was ambivalent toward it/am not conscious right now and so can make no judgement about it. Please write more/never touch this story again/give me the soul of your first-born child! Thank you!" (Circle appropriate choice.)