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

Chapter XXVI. The Doctor Gives Advice—Fanny Nurses Me—I Try to Make Love

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Chapter XXVI. The Doctor Gives Advice—Fanny Nurses Me—I Try to Make Love.

The sight of a letter from her lover had the effect of shattering all the good which I flattered myself I had effected, and called back all her faith in him. Clasping it tightly in her hand, her wrath burst forth in no measured tones. ‘Frank, I thought I had commanded you never to mention his name to me again! And now, in return for my trying to he nice to you, you have aspersed him most cruelly for your own ends! If this love you boast so much about induces you to repeat lying reports about him, preserve me from it!’ and she left the room like an offended princess. Yes, left the room—simple words describing a simple act. But what a tangled mass of unexplained trouble? What a load of unalleviated sorrow, often cruelly or carelessly, as the case may be, is also left behind when one party takes this means of ending a conversation?

‘Would to Heaven,’ I inwardly exclaimed! ‘that I had never uttered a word on the subject,’ It seemed there was no help for me. I was continually making matters worse instead of better. From the contents of Grosvenor's letter it would appear that he was getting very tired of his enforced absence from his lady love, and sincerely hoped he would soon be able to come and claim her; that business of importance, as well as his father's continued very feeble health, still chained him at home; that he was glad to say the business was progressing favourably to his interests, and a lot more in the same strain. How Fanny could have credited these everlasting excuses I could never understand. She became, however, most capricious and changeable, at times as affable and pleasant as usual, at others irritable and depressed. It added considerably to my trouble to see her so. I always felt that if I had but had a fair chance I could have won her love. Had she not been influenced by her womanly pride at having secured the affections of a gentleman who was all the rage, as Grosvenor appeared to be, in the circle in which she first met him, which pride she had mistaken for love, I am firmly convinced I should have been favoured with the true love of her heart. But what credit would there be in gaining an un-contested battle. No; to meet the foe in a fair field and vanquish him, that was the true test. But was the field a fair one? The weapons my adversary used were deceit and lies to which I would not stoop. Truth shall prevail, it has been said, but Fanny would not listen to my truth. But if I could not use his weapons neither could he use mine. True love in its best sense, honourably and uprightly expressed, would be as foreign to him as his pretensions and falsehoods would to me. I must yet have patience and await my opportunity. The fact that I could not believe that my cousin really loved my rival gave me some comfort. I will do her the credit to allow that it was her firm impression that she did, that she was deceived as to her true feelings. She had inherited from her page 110 father an obstinacy in her likes and dislikes, which would brook no opposition or dictation, and which, in unreasoning stubbornness, outdid his. When she had once made up her mind that she loved Grosvenor, every opposing argument served only to strengthen it, and enlisted sympathy in its cause, and consequently the ideal love was increased, until in her imagination it became a very real one. The reader will naturally inquire why on earth I remained at home to suffer the misery I did from always having the object of my unrequited affections before my eyes. The reason was that I always hoped against hope that my rival's misdeeds would be discovered, and that I should then perhaps have a chance of making my life—what I fervently wished to make it some day—as near perfection as life can be made, even in New Zealand, which is quite near enough to please me.

The doctor who had been attending me quickly discovered my mental trouble, and being so intimate with us all, knew very well what was the reason of it. He volunteered a speedy cure if I would but follow his instructions.

‘You must know,’ he said, ‘if you have any sense, that your cousin will marry Grosvenor. Go for another girl. Never waste your love, time, and trouble on one already booked, unless you are certain you can cut the other fellow out, which, from all I see, I doubt. Now, there is old Frost's eldest daughter. She's a marriageable age, and on the look out for a husband. Why don't you go for her? She's be the very thing for you. Grand girl to work, and a first-rate housekeeper.’

This Miss Frost was the venerable damsel whose attempts at condolence had been so effectively silenced by Fanny on the day which was to have seen her wedding.

‘Well, doctor,’ I replied, ‘strange to say, I have made up my mind, when I do marry, to take a less antiquated and more animated partner than Miss Frost will prove. I will have Fanny or none. I then informed him of my knowledge of Grosvenor's engagement to Julia, and my great difficulty in convincing my cousin of the fact, on account of her always accusing me of making spiteful misstatements when I uttered a word about her lover.

‘Well, frank, this looks awkward for him, but a good deal better for you. Certainly, from what you tell me, the fellow must be a bad egg. I have never met him, and of course it would not do for me to judge him by your account of him alone, for I don't think you would like to be judged by his account of you. Rivals cannot be expected to do one another justice, so I'll wait till I have a chance of forming an impartial opinion about him. There seems to be no hurry, as from his letter, or what you say about it, he won't turn up yet awhile. Manage when he does come to arrange that he shall meet Julia in your house when Fanny is present; that's your lay. I don't suppose he knows that they have moved over here, and you'll catch him properly.’

‘Yes, that would be a good move. If I can fixlit up so, I will. But won't you speak to uncle about him yourself, doctor? He would listen to you.’

‘Certainly not till I know more of him. If Melton was to ask where I got the information from, I should have to say from Frank. “Pshaw!” he would answer. “I have heard all that before,” or something to that effect.’

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‘But I have not told him. I would much rather you did. He'd pay much more attention to you.’

‘I never repeat what I hear till I can prove the truth of it,’ returned the stubborn old man. ‘Wait, as I say, and arrange the meeting properly, and there will be ructions. Mind you ask me to see the fun.’

‘But doctor, you know the Robinsons, after remaining a week or so in their new place, left for a trip round the South Island. Goodness knows when they will be back. Mr Robinson left a man in charge, but he neither knows when they will return, nor their address. If I had known where to address a letter to him, I would have written myself, and put him on his guard against the scoundrel.’

‘Oh, they will be back before Grosvenor. You may depend on that.’

I did not relate to Aunt and Alice what I had heard in Auckland, for I found that Fanny and her father had so imbued them with the idea that I would either do or say anything to break off the match, and they had often desired me not to mention his name unless I could say something good about him. This I knew would signify silence about him for the rest of my natural life. I must wait till the Robinsons returned, and trust to Providence.

I had regained my health, and started work again, doing whatever was required of me, but not with the old vigour or energy. While I was in this restless and depressed state, increased by Fanny's fitful behaviour and evident unhappiness, I came to the conclusion that I could not bear to remain in the same house with her any longer. I found myself totally unable to carry out my previously expressed determination to stay and await patiently whatever might betide. I therefore sought an interview with uncle in his private room.

‘Uncle, I am come to have a little serious conversation with you.’

‘Oh, about Fanny, eh? My dear boy it's no good. What do you keep bothering about her for. She's fixed her mind on Grosvenor. If she hadn't it would be no good you bothering about her. You couldn't keep a wife for years yet.’

‘Wait a bit, uncle. It is about Fanny, but I wasn't going to urge my claim, for I have none, worse luck. I was only going to say that I cannot remain longer in the house to be constantly seeing her as miserable as that cursed wretch is making her by his infernal shillyshallying behaviour.’

‘Miserable! Who says she's miserable? It's only your lovesick imagination. The girl's right enough.’

‘Indeed she is not. You never see the bright smiles on her faces he used to wear so constantly.’

‘Bright smiles! Rot! She can't be always smiling, especially at you. You go about looking as miserable as a bandicoot, and expect a girl to smile at you. Ha! ha! Frank, I didn't think you were such a fool.’

‘Well, uncle, I feel I shall be better away for a time.’

‘By Jove! you are right, my lad. If you can't act like a man, by all means clear. Didn't think you'd have turned out such a namby-pamby—like a great schoolgirl—with your love nonsense! Pshaw! Let's talk about something else. I was just going to call you. Old Miller, the dealer, wants a score or so of prime fat beasts to make up an order for shipment. Think we can find him any? He says they're hard to get just now. Those that have 'em can't get 'em page 112 out of the bush. He offers a rattling good price; but they must be good.’

‘I can hardly say. The last draught cleared all the primest of the paddock cattle. If we could only get that far-back lot of wild ones out, that have been on the ranges so long, there'd be safe to be some grand ones amongst them, but it would be a caution of a job.’

‘It would be a devil of a job. Just the thing, though, to knock the nonsense out of you. Tim and four or five Maoris went after them awhile-ago. You were hunting the Hauhaus. I wanted to sell 'em to the commissariat. But I told 'em they'd managed badly; they didn't get a hoof. Tim's a grand hand to follow 'em, but he wants a head for planning a job like that. Tell you what I'll do, give you and Charlie half of the price of all you get out. You can take Tim and one or two Maoris if you want 'em. What d'you say?’

‘I'll go if Charlie will, gladly, uncle, or if he won't, I'll undertake it myself, and get an extra Maori or two. But I'm certain he'll go with me.’

I consulted with Charlie, and we agreed to have a thorough good trial at the bush-hunting, and to start as soon as we could possibly make the necessary preparations.

Uncle's offer was a most generous one, for if we succeeded we should have a nice little sum in our pockets. On the other hand, it was a very arduous undertaking. It might mean weeks of weary tramping in the trackless bush, with the result that the cattle were driven further back instead of getting them out. The work, of course, had to be done on foot on account of the density and tangled nature of the underscrub. It is surprising, however, to see the rate at which these wild bush cattle smash through it, turning them heads from side to side to allow the tough supplejack canes to slide off them, if they do not break with the force applied to them. For men on foot to imagine that they could head or turn in the direction they wished a mob of these animals, would be absurd in the extreme. Our idea was to take provisions with us, and after we had found the cattle—which, by-the-bye, would be not unlike finding a needle in a bundle of hay—never to let them rest a moment longer than we could help, but keep dogging them on till they began to consider open country preferable to a bush, haunted by such relentlens tormentors as we and our dogs should prove. Our preparations were soon made. We each of us were supplied with a very light blanket. For provisions, a few biscuits, some tea and sugar, billy and pannikins were distributed amongst us. Charlie carried a pig spear, and I had my double barrel, fortunately, a very light one. For clothing we wore moleskin trousers, and blue serge shirts stuffed into them, a leather strap, to which the inevitable sheath knife was attached, and in the case of Tim and the Maori a tomahawk also. For meat we relied on getting a wild pig now and then. Horses were to be tethered in a certain gully, where, from the nature of the country, we guessed it most likely that the cattle would break cover, so that we could immediately mount, and so gain complete command of our prey, and prevent them breaking again for the bush. Uncle and a boy we employed about the place would ride out every now and then on the open to be ready to give assistance if it was required, and to tether our horses on fresh feed, or pick up stray cattle which might have been hurried out, before we came up page 113 with a lot worth our following. This job I felt would be altogether the best thing that could happen to me, for it led my thoughts into a fresh channel, and would entail severe bodily exercise, which mast cause sleep, and prevent the wakeful or dream-distorted restless nights I had lately so often spent. Aunt, in mistaken kindness, endeavoured to persuade me not to go, and gave uncle a severe lecture for thinking of sending a poor boy only just off a sick bed on such an expedition. However, I made her understand that I required something quite out of the common to stir me up, and this would answer the purpose.

Fanny, who was in one of her fits of depression, gave me but a cold adieu, and I felt about as depressed as it was possible for a youth of my age, and in my state of unrequited affection to feel, as I left the homestead that morning with my three companions, whose high spirits and lively banter jarred on my nerves, and made me feel, if possible, even worse.