Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Frank Melton's Luck, Or, Off to New Zealand

Chapter XV. Welcome Home—Our Doctor

Chapter XV. Welcome Home—Our Doctor.

I Shall have little or no more to write on war-like topics. Indeed, some of my fair readers may have wished that I had omitted them altogether, but as I wished to make this a true chronicle of our daily lives, I could not well leave out the discordant elements. I was, I need hardly affirm, most heartily glad to get back to the old home again. I found uncle and the family had all returned to the run after having, in company with other scattered settlers, taken refuge in the town during these troublous times. They had been delighted to find, on returning, that no damage had been done to the old homestead, as it fortunately lay out of the track taken by the rebels. I rode up unexpectedly to the gate one evening, and, giving my horse to Tim, went quietly into the house. In the hall I surprised Fanny, who had heard a step on the verandah. The dear girl threw her shapely arms around me, and pressed her full, warm lips to mine in a clinging embrace, in her delight at seeing me safe at home. What though it was a thought too cousinly, it was none the less welcome to me who had just returned from scenes page 105 of war, hatred and strife. I clasped her to my breast, and she had no cause to find fault with the warmth of my responses. There was nothing amiss in them. Aunt and Alice hearing my voice, hurried out of the dining-room. The former grasped my hand, and declaring she must hug her brave soldier nephew, gave me a warm salute. It was by no means bad for an aunt, but I did not care for it as much as for Fanny's. Alice also ventured a very mild one, while the tears of pleasure at my safe return stood in her gentle eyes.

‘Now, fair ladies,’ I observed at last, ‘allow me to retire to my room and exchange this ragged uniform for a more fitting dress. But what is that?’ A noise such as I had never heard before in that house attracted my attention. It evidently originated in the dining-room, and entering, I beheld, reclining on a new and some what startling piece of furniture, I a stranger. His features, although I was certain I had never before beheld them, bore a ridiculous resemblance to uncle's. They were, however, much more minute, and less hirsute.

‘What's that, Frank? How can you ask such a stupid question? Don't you see it's a baby? and a lovely little fellow you are, arn't you pet? exclaimed Fanny, addressing the last query to the stranger, who crowed with pleasure at the soft impeachment.

I paid my respects to the new cousin, and even kissed him. I particularly disliked babies in those days, as a rule, and am not going to admit that I made an exception of this one. No; all they could get out of me was that ‘I thought he might be a nice boy when he grew up.’ He certainly was not now, for whether it was through having arrived in the midst of war's alarms and the disquietude of the times I cannot venture to affirm, but a more noisy and restless young reprobate never existed.

By the time I had changed my clothes and returned to the dining-room uncle came in, vigorously grasped my hand, and showed how pleased he was at my return. He always proved the heartiness and geniality of his disposition by that firm handshake. Preserve me from the man who allows your hand to barely touch his cold clammy one, then drops it! The ladies inquired whether I had been wounded. I showed them what I regarded as a few slight scratches. They thought them severe. I allowed them to have their own opinion. Sympathy from one's lady friends is, to say the least, balmy.

Altogether I spent a very happy evening. Charlie came in later on, and I found his thirst for information about the various skirmishes, in which I had taken part, difficult to satisfy. He had been very vexed that he was not allowed to join us. After talking myself hoarse, and fighting my battles over again by my uncle's hearth—far the most pleasant place to fight them, by-the-bye—we heard a knock at the door, and on Charlie opening it, our doctor appeared.

‘Good evening, ladies and gents. Late visit this, but you know, Mrs Melton, I promised to see you once again, and as I had to pass your gate on my way back from visiting a sick man up the road, I thought I'd give you a call, especially as I heard Mr Forest Ranger had returned from the warpath. I thought my services might be required to patch up some holes in him.’

‘Thank you, doctor,’ I replied, ‘but I do not think I shall require your services.’

page 106

‘Well, I am sure you do,’ interposed aunt. ‘Show him that bullet mark on your arm, Frank. In my opinion it looks very queer.’

‘Oh, that's nothing, aunt. Not worth talking about, I'm sure.’

‘Well, don't talk about it, but let's have a look at it. It won't do you any harm, and I never like to miss the chance of a job. Blood-poisoning, by Jove!’ as I showed it to him. ‘I must see to this at once.’

The doctor was au oddity, about the medium height, with considerable corpulence. A professional or dressy appearance was not his strong point. His costume was generally a plain snuff-coloured suit with a black billy-cock hat. His worst fault was an excessive fondness for whiskey, a by no means uncommon failing in the profession in the old days up-country. The long journeys they had to perform, often in the roughest weather on execrable roads, at all hours of the day or night, together with the unpleasant tasks they had to undertake, and the invariable habit of shouting, which has been previously mentioned, when even the merest acquaintances met—the doctor was, of course, ‘hail-fellow-well-met’ with the whole country side—all these reasons combined were some little excuse for the failing. He had great faith in the virtues of many of the shrubs and trees common to New Zealand, and especially in those of the blue gum, originally imported here, but which we look on almost as a native, and he always held that an All-wise Providence had placed remedies at our doors if we only had the sense to make use of them, instead of wasting money by sending to other countries for drugs not half so beneficial. He therefore made for himself a variety of preparations of the eucalyptus, the koromiko, the kohekohe, and a host of others, and was remarkably successful in curing the patients who put themselves under his care.

His peculiar hobby was match-making. It pleased him mightily when, by his efforts, a pair were brought together and ‘hitched up,’ as he termed it Nor did it trouble him how they suited one another afterwards. If it was pointed out to him that they were leading a ‘cat-and-dog’ life, he always affirmed that it was their own faults; that they were admirably adapted for one another by constitution, family history, etc.; that they ought to be happy, and if they were not, he couldn't help it.

A diffident young friend of ours, with a painfully slow enunciation, once sought his assistance in securing a partner. The doctor, after little consideration, sent him to call on an old couple at Patea who possessed a pair of marriageable daughters, the elder very nice-looking, but the younger decidedly plain.

The youth presented the doctor's letter of introduction, and was asked to stay and take dinner with them. The old gentleman was absent, but the ladies were particularly gracious to the doctor's young friend, though highly amused at his keen surreptitious glances at them, when he thought he was unobserved. If detected he blushed scarlet, and occupied himself with his plate. The result of this scrutiny became plain on the young ladies leaving the room to clear the table. The doctor's instructions were carried out to the letter, but far more abruptly than they should have been. With much stuttering and stammering, which I need not inflict on the reader, he preferred his request.

‘Would you have any objection, dear madam, to my calling here occasionally to pay my addresses to your eldest daughter!’

page 107

‘I am really very sorry, Mr Tombkins,’ exclaimed his hostess, with a quiet, mischievous smile, for she heard, though he did not the subdued titter of the young ladies at the keyhole, ‘but my eldest daughter is engaged’ (which was the case). Then, after a pause, ‘but the younger is not, and we shall be very proud to receive your visits.’

‘But she is so horribly ugly,’ he exclaimed, the bare idea frightening him to such an extent that he expressed his thoughts in plain words.

A convulsive shriek of laughter from the passage did not. I believe, decrease his haste in taking his leave. His confusion at this frightful breach of good manners made him quite forget to bid the young ladies adieu.

To return to our friend, the doctor, we did not, of course, allow him to go further that night. We all thoroughly enjoyed his company. His stories of his colonial experiences were delightfully varied and entertaining. A doctor who depended entirely on his profession in a scattered up-country district for a livelihood, would soon have need of neither profession nor livelihood, for all his skill would not save him from starving. Knowing this, the worthy doctor attempted to improve matters by farming, but the eccentric manner in which he carried out everything he undertook prevented him from amassing much wealth. He experimented recklessly on the vital powers of any members of his flocks and herds which happened to be sick, and they did not appear to thrive under the treatment. His liberality was also a considerable bar to the successful accumulation of property, for it was as unbounded as the mode of exercising it was peculiar. One example will suffice. In going to pay a professional call on a working man with a large family, whose continued ill-health and consequent inability to work had rendered him almost penniless, our friend would put a sack of flour in the buggy, if it was a road he could drive on, and after roughly asking the man to settle his account, he would answer his entreaties for time by telling him to let his boys work it out by carrying the flour bag into the house. When the recipient endeavoured to thank him for his kindness, he would exhibit much annoyance, and relapse into his usual rough manner of speaking. Benevolence was his motive, not the applause or thanks of men, and he would not endure them.

The morning after his arrival it was pouring with rain, and he said as he was in such good quarters and had no urgent cases to visit he would remain where he was. We were not sorry to hear him arrive at this decision. I was especially pleased, as my wound had been very painful all night—in revenge, I presume, for my having termed it a scratch—and I felt far from well when I came down to breakfast. The doctor immediately ordered me off to bed again. This proved to me that I was seriously ill, for he had a great scorn of any one who would lie in bed for a trifle. And indeed, I was not far wrong, for the rough life I had lately led, exposure to wet and cold, often sleeping in clothes drenched with fording rivers, had, together with my wound, completely prostrated me. It was now that I fully appreciated Fanny's kindness of heart, for at my sick bed she threw off all reserve, all little differences and unkind words were forgotten, and she was again the tender-hearted woman to me—not the easy offended, imperious girl she had been previous to my military experiences. But although it was grand to feel her page 108 soothing presence, yet the distracting thought was ever present with me, that it was only as a cousin she treated me, that another might take my darling from me sooner or later, and that other—

One day she had been more than usually kind to me. I was getting much better and was sitting up. We were alone together, and I thought I would again endeavour to persuade her to listen to my tale of love.

‘What a happy couple aunt and uncle make, do they not Fanny?’ I began.

‘Yes, they seem particularly adapted for one another. It is a perfect marriage as far as we can judge,’ returned my cousin, and thinking I noticed a blush on her soft cheeks, I took it for encouragement.

‘Fanny, my darling,’ I said, grasping her hand, which she did not withdraw, ‘I have just risen from a sick bed, and you have been excessively kind to me. I owe you a debt of gratitude, which it shall be my aim to repay.’

‘Repay it at once then by never alluding to it again, my boy,’ was her unsatisfactory answer.

‘I cannot do it that way. I must allude to it again, and endeavour to persuade you to allow me to save your life's happiness in return for your having probably saved my life by your careful nursing. I cannot, Fanny, no, I cannot bear to see you going on the way you are going, without stepping forward and telling you that, loving you as passionately and devotedly as I do, it is killing me to see you made the sport of a fellow like Grosvenor. He is playing a double game with you and Julia Robinson. I know for a positive fact he is engaged to her as well as you.’

Had I watched her face, as in my emotion I failed to do, I should have seen that her colour was not a signal of encouragement but of danger. She was simply speechless from amazement at my audacity in daring to make such statements, not as I fondly imagined, from a tender desire to hear me out. She petulently withdrew her hand. I did not interpret this movement rightly, but resumed my subject quite innocently.

‘And then to think of his not having written you for such a time. I have very good reason to believe he is not at home at all. Oh, Fanny! pause while you yet have time. I do not ask you to love me, but for God's sake do not marry this man. Though I love you as a man only loves once in a life time. yet I only say have nothing to do with him.’

The rich crimson hue which now suffused the usual roses in her cheeks, the quick upraising of her dewy eyelids as her glance met mine, showed that her deeper nature was touched—that it was not all displeasure which they manifested. There was a tenderness striving for possession with the wrath, but what would be the result?

‘Frank, I really do believe now that you love me more than he does. You are capable of a deeper love, yet he—’

‘A letter for you, Fanny, from your boy,’ interposed Charlie, bursting into the room, and darting off again with a significant look at me.