Waitaruna: A Story of New Zealand Life
Chapter XVII. — The Doctor's Letter
The Doctor's Letter
"Men some to business some to pleasure take."
Among the letters brought by Harry Ewart, there was one from the doctor at Muttontown for Gilbert Langton, which must have been written the day after the latter left Waitaruna on his way to Hawera.
"Your lady love writes a bold hand, Langton," said Harry as he handed him the letter.
"Lady love! I—I've none," said Gilbert, blushing to the very roots of his hair.
"Oh! well there's no need to look so guilty, old man; but who else would follow you up with a letter so quickly? I expect you have posted a note at every post office on the way up here, if the truth were known. I am afraid you are a sly dog, Langton."
"Nothing of the sort; I write to nobody," said Gilbert testily. "I don't know who this is from any more than you do."
"There now, don't get huffy," said Harry in reply; "but go and read your letter."page 231
Gilbert opened his letter and glancing at the signature "William Raymond," saw it was from the doctor at Muttontown, and that it ran—
"My dear Langton,—I daresay you will wonder at my writing to you at Hawera, but I happened to hear that you had just started off for that part of the world from Mr. Ramshorn, who appeared on the scene here to-day. But I promised to write and let you know how Arthur Leslie was getting on, and I was on the point of writing to you, when Ramshorn came in, so I have carried out my intention, and here I am. By the way, do you know that I think your boss has a soft place for a certain young lady at Pakeloa, who shall be nameless; for when he spoke of going there and I told him that I had just returned from visiting the old lady, who was the only one at home, as Mr. and Miss Ewart had gone to Hawera, his face grew longer by several inches; and I noticed that when he left the township he did not take the direction of Pakeloa after all. He looked very glum, too, I thought, for the rest of the time he stayed at Muttontown, though he should have been in rather good spirits, for the news from the quartz claim he is in, is first class, and I hear the prospects are A 1.
"But my object in writing was to tell you about Leslie, not Ramshorn. Things came to a climax page 232with Leslie much quicker than I expected, or I should have written you sooner. Ever since you were here, Leslie has been hanging about Goodall's bar when off work. I can't say I ever saw him actually drunk, but he was generally more or less affected by liquor; and though I spoke to him once or twice, and tried to get him away from the place, I found it was no use. At last I heard a report that he was going to marry the barmaid best known as the 'Stringer,' but seeing I had heard a similar report regarding one or two other men, which had come to nothing, I did not think anything of the rumour at first; but by and by it assumed a definiteness, which had not belonged to any previous whisperings. Happening to meet Leslie the other day as he was going to the claim, I asked him pointedly if the rumour had any foundation. He replied, that he supposed what every one said must be true. I spoke to him very strongly about the matter, but he shut me up by remarking, that if he and Jenny were satisfied, he did not see that it was any one else's business. I could only apologise, and say that I had spoken so, merely because I had felt so strongly that he was taking a step which his friends would not like, and that you had asked me to befriend him. 'My friends,' said he, 'never tried to please me, and I don't see why I should think of pleasing them, especially as I shall never see them page 233again; and as for Gilbert—he and I are different; and though he is a very good fellow, he is too jogtrot in his style for me. No, doctor, it's no use your talking, and you can tell Gilbert that it's all right.' It was no use talking, so I said no more. I have been particularly busy, or I should have written to you before the marriage took place, but the day before yesterday the event came off. The happy couple were made one by the registrar, and the 'Stringer' is now Mrs. Arthur Leslie. The occurrence was made the occasion for a great spree, and old Goodall gave a ball and supper in the evening. I don't know whether you know anything of that style of entertainment, but if not you can guess the kind of thing it is when I tell you the landlord provides all the eatables for the supper and a room to dance in, and the guests supply themselves with whatever they desire in the way of drinkables at their own expense. A hospitable entertainment, truly, of the landlord by his guests. I looked in at the ball in the course of the evening as I had received an invitation, and saw the company hard at work at the varsovianna. The fair sex was decidedly in the minority, and there were several diggers dancing with men for partners. I only stayed for a few minutes, and after spending half-a-crown 'for the good of the house' I went home to bed. But I had not been asleep long before I was wakened by the page 234din caused by a lot of the diggers tin-kettling the newly-married pair. They had taken up their abode in a new frame tent which has been put up by Mrs. Leslie, that is, has been paid for by her out of her savings. I hear, too, that Leslie even borrowed from his intended wife the fiver which he gave to the registrar. When I heard these stories I thought that perhaps, after all, your friend had the best of the bargain, for though he is a friend of yours, I can't help thinking that a man who would do that must be a very mean cuss.
"If I have delayed writing I think I have made full amends by the length of this epistle, especially as I hardly ever write to a soul. I am nearly as bad as Leslie seems to be, with regard to my friends in the old country—but personal details can't interest you. You won't forget the pig hunt I spoke of, and if you can come round this way on your return from Hawera, I shall be glad to see you if I'm at home. I think that is worthy of your friend Mike, who has, by the way, gone off in search of fresh fields.
"Good-bye, my boy; take care of yourself, and don't let Miss Ottalie bewitch you.—I remain, yours ever,
"What a fool Arthur is!" was Gilbert's comment, page 235as he finished the letter. "He seemed to be unable to make any way for himself, and now he has weighted himself with a wife who will keep him down. And yet I must confess he always appears to be supremely happy, which is more than I can say for myself. I wish I could marry, but my prospects in that way are anything but bright. Ramshorn, too, evidently is in love with Ottalie, but I wonder why he did not tell me he was going up to Pakeloa, for he must have intended going there before I started to come here. Surely I can't have shown my feelings for Ottalie so that even he can know! I have once or twice half hoped, half feared, that Ottalie divined them. If Ramshorn marries Ottalie, what shall I do? I could not live at Waitaruna and see her living there the wife of another man. No, that would be too much! I could not survive it." And he buried his face in his hands and shuddered at the very idea.
Gilbert had been left alone in the parlour as he read his letter, and his reverie was disturbed by Harry Ewart calling from the verandah.
"Come on, Langton, you have surely read that love letter of yours two or three times over by this time. I want you to come and look at a colt I have got."
"My letter is from Dr. Raymond, telling me that Arthur Leslie has gone and married a barmaid at page 236Muttontown," said Gilbert as he joined Harry on the verandah, where he found the ladies sitting with their work.
"He'll live to repent that step, I fancy," replied Harry; "but hurry up, old fellow, and come and have a look at the colt. I want to try and back the animal," he added, as soon as they were round the corner of the house, and out of the ladies hearing. "I have had him in for a day or two, but we have only been handling him a bit. We had rather an awkward job roping him at first, as owing to there being few cattle here, there is not a very good stockyard, but we managed it. He played up too, considerably, when we tried to get him into the stable."
"How's the colt doing, Tom?" asked Harry of the man at the stable, when they arrived.
"Oh! pretty well, but I'm feared he has a nasty temper," Tom replied.
With some difficulty they got a saddle put upon the horse, which was already bridled, and they then brought him out to an open piece of ground at the back of the stable where they "lunged" the colt for some time, after which Harry said he would mount him. Harry and Tom took the animal by the head and led him about for a little. Then stopping, the former began to pat the horse, and put his hand on the saddle. Then going alongside, he put a little pressure on the saddle, all the while speaking every page 237now and again to the horse, which seemed to take it all very quietly.
"He seems quiet enough, Tom," said Harry.
"Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't, though," replied Tom, who evidently thought that appearances were not always to be relied on.
"I'll try backing him now, at anyrate," said Harry, putting his foot in the stirrup, and after one or two preliminary attempts he seated himself in the saddle. "Lead him forward a little bit. And now," he added, "let go."
The colt stood perfectly still, and would not move even when urged on by the rider, but that was only for a minute, for when Harry gave him a vigorous dig with his heel, the animal snorted as though resenting an indignity, and suddenly sprang forward plunging and backing in his endeavours to rid himself of his burden. Harry was an expert horseman, and it was a pretty though exciting sight to watch the struggle for mastery between man and horse. Harry endeavoured to compel the colt to expend his energies on a gallop along the track leading over the saddle of the ridge which Gilbert had missed on his way to the station; but in this he was not successful, as the brute preferred to give an exhibition of his powers of buck jumping to stretching his limbs in a gallop.
"I was sure he was a rough 'un," said Tom, in a page 238low tone, almost as though speaking to himself; but he had hardly uttered the words when he exclaimed, "By jingo, he's off!"
It was true enough, for Harry was suddenly shot into the air, and fell in a cloud of dust.
They both ran towards where he lay, but before they reached him, they saw that at least he was not killed, for he began to pick himself up.
"Are you hurt?" asked Gilbert and Tom simultaneously.
"I don't think so, but I'll tell you presently. I stuck on till the girths broke, for you see I came with the saddle.
Harry was not seriously hurt, though he was bruised a good deal about the left shoulder, and there was a large abrasion on his face.
"You have had an ugly spill," said Gilbert; "but it is a good thing it is no worse."
"Yes, I suppose it is," said Harry; "for that is what every one says when anything happens. But instead of feeling thankful that it is no worse, I feel confoundedly enraged with that brute of a horse, for my shoulder pains me a bit, and with this mark on my face, too, the girls can't be kept in the dark; and it is best never to say a word about anything of this sort in the house, I think. What a brute to buck that is, to be sure. You need not tell me any more, Tom, that the New Zealand horses don't know how to buck."page 239
"Well, I will say that that colt shaped better at it than any horse I ever saw out of Australia; but bless you, I've seen a horse on the other side buck himself clean out of the saddle without breaking the girths."
"Perhaps," said Gilbert, laughing, "you saw the man that I've heard of who was bucked off a horse, saddle and bridle and all, both of which he carried with him, and landed on the top rail of a fence with the reins in his hands and the saddle between his knees, and, what was more, with the girths round the rail, and yet not a buckle undone, or a strap broken."
"Oh! you may laugh; but I tell you, in New Zealand you don't know anything about buck-jumpers," said Tom somewhat surlily.
"Well, Tom," said Harry, "I wish you would take the mare and see if you can get that colt in again; if Simpson has got home he will lend you a hand. I don't like to be beaten, but I am afraid I sha'n't be fit for much in the way of horsebreaking for some days, at any rate. I think we had better go back to the house, Langton," he added. So leaving Tom to try and get the colt in again, Gilbert and Harry returned to the homestead.
As they approached the house they were met by Mrs. Ewart and Ottalie, who, tired of working, had come out for a stroll. They had both been engaged on different varieties of what is known as fancy page 240work, and which is often an excuse for "idleness both sweet and sacred," but which never impedes the flow of gossipy conversation or "maiden meditation fancy free."
Women have, in the possibility of indulging in conversation over their fancy work, a great advantage over mankind, whose only substitute for that busy idleness is smoking; but a pipe is hardly so conducive to conversation. Matters are after all fairly balanced, perhaps, as from the soothing influence of the narcotic any meditations indulged in during the consumption of a pipe of tobacco may be more certainly pleasant than those ponderings which are interrupted by the counting of stitches or the matching of shades.
"What has happened to you?" exclaimed Nellie, as they approached. "Are you hurt, Harry?" she continued with a look of alarm, as she saw his abraded face.
"Oh! it's nothing much," replied Harry; "I have had a bit of a spill, but you see that I have only slightly injured my face."
"I am so sorry, Harry! Are you quite sure you are not hurt otherwise? How was it? How did it happen?" And Nellie volubly poured forth a string of questions, mingled with expressions of regret and condolence, without waiting for a reply. And then turning to Ottalie, who had not spoken, page 241she said, "You don't seem to be concerned about poor Harry's accident at all, Ottalie."
An angry flush passed over Ottalie's face, but she made no reply. She with difficulty suppressed an angry rejoinder, for she felt within herself that in reality she was more concerned about her brother than his wife appeared to be, notwithstanding her fussiness; for while Nellie had been asking questions, Ottalie had stood by, longing the while to get Harry into the house that she might bathe the blood and dust from his poor face; but she had notions of her own about interfering, even in a matter of this kind, between man and wife, and she held her peace. However, when Harry said, "I must go in and wash my face," Ottalie could not refrain from saying—
"Shall I come and bathe it for you, Harry?"
"Thank you, Totts; I should be greatly obliged if you would," was his reply.
Nellie was now in her turn vexed that this little office should have been suggested by Ottalie, "Who," thought Nellie, "will pride herself on her superior thoughtfulness;" so Mistress Nell was unable to restrain a nasty remark, and said—
"You are honoured, Ottalie; Harry always thinks his mother and sister can do everything better than his wife."
"Come now, Nellie," said poor Harry; "I am sure you are only joking talking like that. I don't page 242see that there can be any pleasure to be derived from bathing my face, and I have no doubt that Ottalie will gladly retire in your favour, if you wish it."
"Please don't consider my wishes," said Nellie; "you have asked Ottalie to do it, and she had better do so."
"Nellie," said Ottalie gravely, "I am sorry if I have unwittingly offended you in any way, but I did not mean to do so, or to slight you in the least, by my proposal."
And as they all walked towards the house in silence, feeling somewhat uncomfortable, Ottalie wondered to herself what Nellie's conduct could mean, and whether it was that she spoke so nastily because she did not really love her husband, or whether, as Ottalie was inclined to charitably suppose, that it was because Nellie was upset by the fright she had got from Harry's appearance; but though she accepted that excuse as a satisfactory one, she could not dispel a feeling of doubt as to Nellie's sincerity and real affection for her husband.