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Over The Hills, and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XX. Lucy's Ride

page 191

Chapter XX. Lucy's Ride.

Jeanie could not eat any dinner that night, but she chattered incessantly, and looked lovely with pink-flushed cheeks, and eyes even brighter than usual. When dinner was over she went to the piano, but she could not sing; her throat was sore, she said. At last she sat down at Lucy's feet, laid her little yellow head on Lucy's lap, and subsided into silence.

“How hot her hand is!” said Lucy to Mrs. Lennox. “Jeanie, are you ill?”

“Yes, I think I am,” said Jeanie, sitting up sud- page 192 denly. “My throat's very bad, mamma,—and my head. I think I shall go to bed.”

The next day she was worse. She complained more and more of her throat.

“I am afraid it is diptheria 196 ,” said Mrs. Lennox, clasping her hands in her anxiety. “And just now, when Mr. Lennox is away! Whatever shall we do?”

Lucy stood in the centre of the dining-room considering. She too was feeling much alarmed. Perhaps Effie's recent death had made them all unusually ready to take fright at the sight of illness attacking Jeanie also. Clear before her mind was the necessity for obtaining medical advice without delay; and it so happened that at that very time there was not a man upon the place.

Business connected with the sheep had called both Mr. Hood, the manager, and all the available men to be had there, away from the station for two whole days at the least, and to wait for their return was not to be thought of.

Mrs. Lennox was half beside herself with terror and anxiety.

page 193

Lucy soon saw that the decision of what to do, and how to do it, would rest entirely with her; and Jeanie's illness was increasing with alarming rapidity.

“Don't be so uneasy, dear Mrs. Lennox,” she said at last. “But tell me at once, please, where is the nearest place that I can get a doctor.”

Mrs. Lennox endeavoured to think. There were two doctors at the nearest town, but it was many miles away. All at once she remembered having heard that 197 , reputed to be among the most skilful in the colony, was staying that very week with a friend on a large farm only about half as distant from Deepdene as was the town.

Lucy's face cleared up immediately on hearing this announcement.

“Now, Mrs. Lennox,” she said, “you needn't fret any more. I shall have Doctor Thompson here in no time.”

“You?” said Mrs. Lennox in amazement; so astonished, in fact, that she immediately wiped away her tears.

page 194

“But it's over the hills! You never could find your way there, my dear.”

“Yes, I can; and I shall, too!” returned Lucy. “ 198 is just outside in the paddock, and I can catch him in no time. Come, Mrs. Lennox, don't cry any more, but help me to be off as fast as possible.”

She ran out of the room to slip on her habit and hat as she spoke.

Mrs. Lennox followed her with some reluctance. She felt as though she were scarcely doing right in allowing her young guest to set off on such an adventurous expedition. Under ordinary circumstances it would not of course have been allowable for a moment; but Jeanie's serious illness seemed to drown all lesser considerations, and people in the colonies must be prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel on an emergency.

She followed Lucy out into the paddock, only stopping to take down her holland sun-bonnet on the way. After all, the poor little lady was only too glad to have some one to think for her in this page 195 dilemma. It was her nature, like her daughter, to rely implicitly on the guidance of a clearer head than her own; and in this case Lucy's promptness of action scarcely gave her room to remonstrate, and in fact perfectly bewildered her.

Still she knew, and the knowledge troubled her, that had the cases been reversed, not even for Lucy's sake would she have allowed her daughter to start upon such a lonely expedition.

When Lucy had caught Robin Hood, and was ready, she went softly into Jeanie's room to have one look at her before starting. The girlish face, flushed with fever, was turned towards her as she opened the door; but Jeanie's eyes were closed, and she was either asleep or only half conscious. Her satin hair, scarcely ruffled even then, was glistening in a radiant heap upon the pillow, just as she had swept it backwards from her face, and both her pretty white hands were thrown restlessly outside the quilt of the bed.

Lucy drew back very quietly, without speaking to her, and closed the door again.

page 196

On the toilet-table she had noticed a box of flowers and ribbons, which Jeanie had been trying on the day before. The thought of all her happy talk of the future—her plans for wedding-veils, and pearls, and white silk dresses—smote Lucy with a sudden pang. If Clinton only knew what was happening in his absence!

The thought sent her out of the room, and down to the garden-gate, where Mrs. Lennox was holding Robin, with double alacrity if possible.

When she had mounted she stooped down, and, taking Mrs. Lennox's hand for a moment in he own, bade her keep up her courage and not fret.

“Perhaps Jeanie will sleep till I get back,” she said; “and I'll do my very best to send you advice before long.”

Then she forced herself to smile quite bravely, and rode away, leaving Mrs. Lennox, somewhat comforted, to wait for the results of her expedition.

As long as Lucy was on the plain she rode fast. Had her route lain entirely over this long yellow sea it would indeed have been easy; but after a page 197 few miles she was obliged to turn off on to the hills.

Here, though her will was equally good, she was of necessity obliged to proceed more slowly, and with greater caution. Still, in spite of this, she was gaining ground very satisfactorily. She knew she was proceeding in the right direction, although she was afraid her want of knowledge of the country might add a few miles on to her course—one 199 -covered hill and gully are so very like all other tussock-covered hills200 and gullies to an inexperienced eye.

She remembered now that on her way she must pass near to Louis' station among the hills. Had he been at home she would have ridden there immediately; but he had gone with his father to the 200 November 17, 1874., and to ride to the station, on the chance of finding some one there who knew the country, and could do her errand, would be a waste of time not for one moment to be thought of.

At last, skirting the base of a hill, which hid from her, within a few yards, the faint track along which page 198 her course lay, Lucy was startled by a “cooee” from some one, not far from her, but hidden from her sight by the hill-side.

The next instant there passed her a riderless horse with a lady's saddle on its back, and when the “cooee” was repeated she recognized, in the clear ringing tone, a woman's voice.

She shouted in reply, and the next instant she came in view of a lady in a riding habit, sitting on the ground before her, with her hat lying at some little distance, and one great heavy coil of black hair falling over her shoulder.

“What is the matter?” inquired Lucy, riding up to her, and recognizing, with a start, her old shipmate, Mrs. Keith. “Are you hurt?”

Mrs. Keith, as she sat, looked up at Lucy with her great grey eyes, dilated with pain.

“It's my ankle,” she said. “The creek looked so soft and boggy, I got off to lead my horse, and somehow I've sprained my ankle. It's very bad.”

She turned, if possible, a shade whiter even than page 199 before, dropped down upon her side, and appeared, to Lucy's horrified eyes, to faint quite away.

Lucy dismounted in a moment, fastened Robin Hood's bridle, as well as she could, to a flax-plant near by, and ran to the creek for some water. She had nothing to carry it in except the palms of her hands; however, the few drops she managed to bring back revived Mrs. Keith, who was, in fact, in too much pain to remain long insensible.

When she sat up again, after her brief unconsciousness, her first action was an apparently involuntary movement of her hand towards her throat, covered as usual by a broad band of black velvet.

Lucy mistook the gesture. “Shall I unfasten it for you?” she asked. “Perhaps then you would feel better?”

“No,” returned Mrs. Keith promptly. Then, as though to atone for her somewhat ungracious refusal, she added, “I always wear it. It hides a scar. I was once bitten there by a dog, and the mark is an unsightly one.”

Evidently she was sensitive on the subject; and page 200 after this confession, uttered with manifest reluctance, she paused a moment. Then she added, “What shall we do now?”

“Shall I try to catch your horse?” asked Lucy.

“I don't think you can,” returned the other, doubtfully. “Is there no house anywhere near here?”

“Yes, there is a station of my father's,” said Lucy. “I think I had better help you on to my horse, and we will go there. They can send some one after yours, and then I shall lose no time in trying to catch it, for I have no time to waste to-day.”

“That will be much the best plan, certainly,” answered Mrs. Keith, “if I can only mount.”

She gathered up her long hair in readiness for the attempt, and Lucy fetched her her hat.

Robin was unfastened, and stood quietly with his mouth full of grass, while Mrs. Keith managed with some difficulty to scramble into the saddle. Then they set off, Lucy holding up her habit with one hand, and with the other leading the horse.

page 201

They had not far to go, fortunately, and soon saw the station lying before them, at the entrance to a rather wide gully.

A respectable-looking elderly woman, Louis' housekeeper, came to the door to receive them. She was full of pity for Mrs. Keith's sprained ankle, and promised to send her husband, as soon as he came home to his dinner, in search of the runaway horse.

Louis' sitting-room was a cheerful, sunny room, and a regular 201 . A rifle and a revolver hung on one wall; a pair of spurs dangled beneath them; on a small table lay a pile of newspapers, smelling frightfully of tobacco; nor were stock-whips and boxing-gloves wanting.

On each side of the fireplace was a shelf of handsomely-bound volumes 202 . —Kingsley 203 in blue, Macaulay 204 in brown, Thackeray 205 and Dickens 206 in red, and a complete set of the “Cornhill Magazine” in handsome bindings. In the centre of the mantelpiece, under a glass shade, was a Parian copy of the lovely bust of 207 . It contrasted oddly and rather piquantly page 202 with some of its surroundings, but it gave the room an air of refinement which, but for that and the books and one other thing, would have been completely wanting to it.

The other noticeable object was a picture . It hung just over Clytie in the centre of the wall above the fireplace—an oil painting without a frame. It was not particularly well painted, and was only half finished, the background being all cloudy daubs of paint; but out of the obscurity stood a head—a woman's head, pale and dark—and the picture had a strange kind of fascination about it, because without title or motto the artist had contrived to make the face suggest a story, the details of which it could supply for itself.

The great passionate eyes, the handsome scornful mouth, the slightly-worn white cheeks, brought out effectively by thick masses of dead-black hair, all combined to make a decided impression upon Lucy.

She was first oddly reminded of the poem she had been reading the night before,—

page 203

“We were two sisters of one race—
She was the fairest in the face;
Oh, the evil was fair to see!”

“Just the heroine for a story like that,” Lucy thought; and then she half started, for it suddenly flashed upon her, as she was helping Mrs. Keith to limp across the room to the sofa, that the picture was not unlike that lady herself—bore, in fact, a decided resemblance to her.

The mysterious painted head was really very like that of this equally mysterious lady.

“A mere coincidence, of course,” she thought, “but an odd one; for if this Mrs. Keith were ever to break her heart and grow utterly desperate, she would be the living duplicate of the picture on the wall. Who painted it, I wonder? And wherever did Louis meet with it?”

But Lucy had no time to waste in conjectures. Now that the first emergency was over, she was in haste to set out again on her way.

Mrs. Keith was seated on the sofa in comparative comfort, and was looking round her composedly, page 204 taking note of everything. She gazed so steadily at the face above the mantelpiece, that Lucy wondered if she detected the resemblance to herself. But she made no comment upon that or anything else, and received Lucy's explanation of whither she was going, also silently.

“Good-bye,” said Lucy, holding out her hand.

The other took it, hesitated a moment, and then asked, “Will your brother be likely to return to-night?”

“I do not think so,” returned Lucy. “He is not expected home until the end of the week.”

“Then if my ankle continues painful, may I take the liberty of remaining here for the night?” inquired Mrs. Keith.

“Certainly,” said Lucy, “I can answer for my brother that he will be glad for you to remain until you are better; and Mrs. Smith, I am sure, will make you as comfortable as she can.”

“Thank you,” and she dropped Lucy's hand which she had held during this short dialogue.

Then suddenly she smiled—almost the first smile page 205 Lucy had ever seen upon her face—and repeated “Thank you. You have been very kind to me. I wish you good speed.”

Lucy flew to the garden gate, mounted Robin Hood in hot haste, and set off again at full speed.

But all this had lost some time. Worse than that, it had taken Lucy out of the direct line of her course, and in trying to regain it she made a wrong turn, missed the gully she ought to have traversed, and went up the one she ought not to have done.

The day was passing by rapidly; her watch told her that, also the sun, and her own growing fatigue, and at last it dawned upon her that she had mistaken her way.

Lucy had a brave heart; a proof of that was that she was there at all. She braced herself up from the involuntary which overcame her at the idea of being lost on those desolate hills, and endeavoured to set herself right once more.

In vain. Robin Hood would canter in any direction she pleased, but she had not the slightest idea at last whether to turn him to the right or to the page 206 left. What would Jeanie do? for it was evident that the attempt to fetch a doctor that day would be a failure. And what would she herself do in solitude and night upon the hills?

She had halted by a cluster of flax-plants 212 and a lagoon. On the hill above her a spectral-looking cabbage-tree 213 reared itself up in the light of the declining sun. The in the lagoon had assumed their peculiar ghastly look in the shadow already beginning to thicken in the valley. They almost appeared to nod at her, with an awful derision, as dead tired and sick at heart she sat on her horse, looking round on the pale yellow solitude on all sides of her.

Everywhere tussac grass and flax, and flax and another rolling sea of tussac; everywhere except… a speck, far off… Did it move?… Is it coming nearer?… Yes… No… Yes… it is—yes, it is—a horseman!

196 A bacterial infection occurring in unsanitary or crowded conditions. More common in Europe and therefore the colonies prior to immunization.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

197 See reference to 'Hospitals and Early Hospitals in New Zealand' in New Zealand History section in the NZETC collection

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

198 Name of the horse.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

199 See more recent watercolours of the hills and landscape of the Otago Region.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

200 New Zealand's native grasslands are dominated by tussocks which are grasses that have a clumping growth form. In the colonising period of New Zealand, farmers burnt off large areas of tussock and tried to replace it with imported grasses. See: http://www.teara.govt.New Zealand/en/government-and-nation/2.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

200 An inherited agricultural tradition at which local farming produce and animals are exhibited, takes place over the summer months in New Zealand. See: North Otago Times, http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

201 Here Evans appears to give a vivid image of symbols of indoor masculinity.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

202 Implies the significance of imported fiction reading in the colonies. Colonial readers were often reputed to be at least as "informed" of the latest works as those readers still "at home".

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

203 English novelist Charles Kingsley, 1819-1875

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

204 The 19th century English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1800-1859.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

205 The English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, 1811-1864.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

206 The author Charles Dickens, 1812-1870.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

207 or 'Clytia' a water nymph in Greek mythology and lover of the God 'Apollo'

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

212 See note page 84.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

213 See note, page 84.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]