Chapter 159547207

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter TitleTHE DOCTOR'S TENANTS.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159547207
Full Date1890-05-17
Page Number42
Corrections0
Word Count3530
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleTales of Our Township
article text

THE STORY-TELLER.

TALES OF OUR TOWNSHIP.

[By Lindsay Dcnoait.1

v.—THE DOCTOR'S TENANTS.

Dootor Brownlow owned a email house—a mere cottage—on the outskirts of the Town ship of Scrubhilltown. It was a very unpre tentious little place ; but as neat and bright looking as white-washed walls, green palings, and a few sturdy, drought-defying soarlec geraniums oould make it. It had belonged to a cheery, active, little maiden aunt of the Dootor'e, who, dying, more from the effeot of the inexorable laws of time than from any speoifio disease, had (bequeathed it to her nephew—" in recognition," as she told him shortly before her death, with a humorous twinkle in her dimmed eyes, "of his perse vering, if unsuccessful, attempts to cure her of the lata] malady of old age 1"

Then the dear, bright, little old woman was gathered to her lathers, and the Dootor entered into possession of " Geranium Cottage." For some years the house had proved a fairly profitable property. It had been left in a characteris tically thorough etate of repair by its late owner; and suitable tenants had offered themselves in suoh rapid succession, that tnongh the house had several times ohanged occupants, it had neve; stood empty for a week. At last, however, oame a run of "bad seasons;" the prosperity of the township seemed failing; the tenants left the distriot, and no new ones presented themselves. So during a period of three or four months "Geranium Cottage" stood empty. "How deserted the poor little plaoe looks," one day observed Mrs. Laohlan, the Doctor's newly married daughter. (By-the-by, Dr. Brown low was always known as " the Dootor" in our township, Dr. Laohlan, his partner, being invariabljr referred to by his patronymio.) " I was passing yesterday afternoon, and it looked quite forlorn. It doesn't seem natural for the house where Aunt Winny lived to look so lonely and melanoholy."

" An empty houBe is always a melanoholy objeot, I fancy, especially to the landlord,

answered the Dootor, "However, I don't think, the cottage will be empty long. An elderly woman has been looking at it, Brookes tells me—a complete stranger to the township—and she seemB pleased with it. She is to let us know about it in a day or two."

"It will be a good thing if you oan get some respectable people to take it," Mrs. Laohlan Baid. Then there were lbttors from little Mysie and Dorothy at sohool to be read and talked over, and presently Mrs. Laohlan went home.

A few days later the Dootor called at his daughter's house for a cup of tea and a uhat by way of refreshment after his afternoon rounds.

"Geranium Cottage is let again at last," he said in the oourse of oonvenation. "The

elderly woman Brookes mentioned appeara to be the confidential servant of a lady

of the name of Bruoe, who has an in

valid daughter for whom the air of our neighbourhood has been recommended. The woman has been staying at one of tbe hotels, and appears to have foil anthority from her mistress. She says the yonng lady cannot bear any noise or worry, so she is to get all things in order as rapidly as possible for their reception. This Mrs. Stone was at Bailer's sale yesterday, and bought a quantity of furniture there. I looked in as I was passing, and notioed her. She got some very good bargains, too. She looks just the sort of woman to get good bargains. Sharp and keen as a razor, pointed nose, light eyes, and a month that shuts like a trap. Bather a character, I ehould fancy." " Why, papa, you are quite a phyeiognomiBt," laughed Mrs. Laohlan, "I

shonldn t think Mrs. Stone wonld be a very pleasant sort of person to have in a house, from your description. Bat this Mrs. Bruce, whoever she may be, oan'tbeverypartionlar, I should chink, to trust the ohoioe of house and furniture to a servant."

And Bertha glanced with some compla oenoy round her own pretty room, which, though far from oostly in any of ita appoint ments, bore eloquent testimony to the oare and taste with whioh eaoh trifling, detail had been planned and executed.

" Probably she is bo much oooupied with her daughter's illness as to have little oare for anything of minor importance," said the Dootor, thoughtfully tapping a tiny apostle teaspoon against the side of the dainty oup he held, "I wonder what is wrong with her, poor young thing."

" Professional instinct," said Mrs. Laohlan, smiling. " Well, you will be sure to know before long, and it will be a wonder if you and George can't cure her between you."

" You are a prejudiced party," remarked Dr. Laohlan, who had oome in nnobserved. " You are inclined to imagine that the entire wisdom of the profession is oentred in the two individuals most closely related to yon."

"Well, I plead guilty," said his wife. " But please don't pinoh my ear, and I will give yen a nioe fresh cup of tea and some of your favourite oat-oakes. Do you know, father, George says I am beginning to make oatoake as well as a Scotchwoman; and what is more, I am beginning to learn to eat it too."

Two or three dayB subsequently the new tenants of Geranium Cottage arrived at Sernbhilltown. The arrival of the train from Adelaide was a diurnal event, whioh never seemed to lose its interest for some of the inhabitants of our township, and there were generally a good many people in the station at that hour whose business was purely altruistio—in so far that they were most philantbropioally oonoerned in the affairs of others, even to the temporary nogloot of their

own.

Imagine, then, the dellghtfnl tremor of , excitement, when an invalid chair was un earthed from the luggage-van and quiohly wheeled by Mrs. Stone to the side of a firat olasa carriage. Mrs. Stone disappeared into

the compartment and presently emerged again supDortmg a tall, thin, drooping figure, much muffled in ehawla and wraps, Evidently the invalid mnst have been in a most precarious state of health, for the day was sunny and by no means oold, though approaohing our mild midwinter.

A Blight, delioate-looklng, elderly lady fol lowed quickly, and assisted in plating her suffering daughter in the chair. Then some remaining bags and rags were brought from the carriage, and the train moved on.

Little oonld be seen of the young lady's featnreB. She wore a thick gause veil and a respirator, and the disappointed speotators were fair to confess that tney had very little idea what she looked like, beyond that she was tall and had, as one masculine observer remarked, an on commonly large foot.

" I noticed it as she got out of the train, and, by George, it was a regular beetle crusher I" said this individual, in a tone of some disgust.

"Don't Beem much nse for walking on, anyhow," responded another, as they watched the obair being slowly wheeled away by the muscular-looking lira Stone.

"Mo, poor thing! The mother's a nice looking old ltd;. Looks like a .lady, don't

she?"

And Mr. Potter the greengrooer wis right, however little qnslifiostion, as a judge in such matters, he might he expeoted to

possess.

Mrs, Brnoe most emphatioally looked like a_ lady. Her dress, tnongh of the utmost Bimplioity, had a Kind of refinement and elegance about it whioh in some subtle manner seemed to be entirely independent of material or make. Her faoe woe pale and worn as from great trouble and anxiety, but bore distinct traces of past beauty. Her soft brown eyes had an eager expeotaut kind of look at times, and there was a little furrow between the eyebrows, whioh somehow gave one the Impression of oonstant watohful neu and wakefulness. Her manner was retiring and almost timid, and yet was not at all the manner of a woman unused tosooiety, but rather of one who from nervousness or some other reason shrank with distaste from, all each sooial intercourse as had formerly

been habitual to her,

All this Bertha Laohlan remarked, when, accompanied by her aunt, Mrs. Wilson (who since Bertha's marriage had remained at Sorubhilltown In charge of Dr. Brownlow's household) she went to oall on her father's

new tenants.

The daughter they did not see.

"You will exouse my daughterMrs, Brnoe said, in answer to their enquiries. " Although not entirely oonfined to her room, she is very rarely well enough to see visitors. Indeed, the poor girl is so low and nervous at times that the mere thought of encountering a stranger frequently throws her into a state of agitation whioh upeets her for the rest of the day."

Bertha fanoied that Mrs. Bruce said this, in a curiously even and unemotional tone, while her soft eyes looked fixedly at her interrogator with something like a gleam of defiance in their depths.

•• I suppose the poor lady gets so siokof having to answer enquiries about her daughter that she speaks of her almost as if she were repeating a disagreeable lesson," she remarked to her aunt, as they walked

homewards, "I ohould think it mast be rather exasperating to have to say the same thing time after time."

" I dare say," answered Mrs. Wilson. " But did you notice the odd look she crave me. when I asked what the poor girl's complaint was ? I'm sure I didn't ask from idle ouriostty. It seemed a natural enough question, didn't it 1 And yet I'm sore she didn't like it."

" I don't see why," answered Mrs. L&ohkra, thoughtfully, " Unless the oaae ie so compli cated as to be indescribable. Spinal weak ness, whioh almost prevents her walking about; weakness of the chest, which oompels her to use a respirator; weakness of the eyes, whioh makes her objeot to going out muoh in the daytime: weakness of the nerves, whioh prevent* her being able to see people. What more was there, Aautie? It makes mefeel giddy to thinkof it. What is the good of being alive at all to any one in suoh a state of health as that? Surely some of it most be imagination. I should think that gentle little Mrs. Brnoe would be just the person to pamper and ooddle an invalid daughter nntil she imagined herself afflioted with every ailment under the sun. How ever, I suppose they will be sure to send for papa or George, ana they will soon find out whether the poor thing Is oarable or not."

Bnt Dr. Brownlow was not oalled in, neither was Dr. Laohlan. And, aa the days and weeke went on, ouriosity as to the in habitants of Geranium Cottage gradually sub

sided.

Mrs. Bruoe pnnotiliouBly returned all the calls whioh she received from the ladieB of the neighbonrhood, remaining at eaoh house for no more than tne few minutes required by the laws of etiquette; and. during those few minutes, conversing, with the suavity of good breeding, upon all eubjeots of general interest, and answering all queries as to her daugh ter's health or their personal affairs with BB much brevity bb politeness would allow.

They were from Vlotoria. Mrs. Bruce had been a widow for some yean. Her only daughter was extremely delioate, and had been recommended to try the climate of South Australia. She had done so, and finding it beneficial, they had determined to settle for a while in some quiet district until Miss Brace's health should be sufficiently restored to enable them to take a journey to England, from whenoe Mrs. Brnoe had oome when newly married, and whither she would have returned on her husband's death, had it - not been for the extreme delicacy of her daughter.

That was all. As an outline it was all that friendly curiosity could desire; and an outline it seemed destined to remain, for no inorease of confidence supervened to fill in the details. Mrs. Brnoe consistently declined all the invitations with whioh our hospitable townsfolk were in the habit of welcoming a newcomer; her dislike to leaving her daugh ter more than was absolutely neoeasary being an exouse wbiob was ever ready. For the same reason, apparently, she did not go to Chnrob, and this considerably scan dalized a good many people.

" It is admirable to be so devoted to the

sufferer as Mrs. Bruos undoubtedly is," said > the clergyman's wife to Mrs. Ooulson, the lawyer's worthy spouse. "But really, yon know, when it oomes to s matter of dnty, like attending Divine worship, I do think she might trust the poor girl to the servant's oare for an hour or two 1"

And apparently the invalid herself was of the same opinion.

"Mother, I think yon ought to go to Churoh to-day,"she said one Sunday morning at breakfast. She most have baen feeling particularly well that day as she sat up to the table and made a good meal. It was not a very bright day, but the blind wae osrefully drawn in the small simply-furnished sitting

room. If yon had overheard the conversation . yon would have said that Miss Bruce had an' unpleasant voice for a woman—it was too deep and rough to be agreeable,

"Yes, I really think yon onght to go to Church. It would do you good to get out of - the house a little, and I am inclined to fancy tbat yonr stopping away makes people apt to talk. Go and pnt on yonr bonnet and go to ff^, there's a good little mother I"

Mrs. Brnoe rose from the table and began to paoe the little room with qutok, agitated steps, clasping and nnolaspiog her thin hands nervously as she did so,

" Go toohureh !"she repeated^tremnlonsly. "Oh, I cannot—I dare not 1 How can yon ask me, dear ? It is all bad enough as it is, so bad, indeed, that at times I fesl I ean

And in spite of ooaxing, she did not go. Whatever was her reason it must have been a powerful one, since it did not yield to Miss Brace'ssolicitation. "Ton know there is hardly anything in the world I would not do

for yon, Gnssie—surely you must know it I ' Bnt this one thing No, I cannot do it! Perhaps some day, when we get safely home

to England, and we can look baok npon all ' this as npon a bad dream—a dream to be

forgotten M soon ae possible— something never to be spoken of, never to be thought of, dear — perhaps then I might oreep into Chnroh again, and cot feel that I was offering Insult and mookery instead of prayer and praise,"

" Yon are too sensitive, mother. Yon snffer more than yon neod, because you give way to yonr imagination. What have you done that yon should feel like that? Yon have aoted like a heroine—you have been truer and braver than any woman oould be expected to be. Yon bare done a thousand timeB more than 1 deserve. All the gratitade and love of my whole life will not be snffi dent to repay yon. I feel as if I oould worship you when I thinkof all yon have saved me from—you and Sarah between yon."

Mrs. Stone had entered at this moment to clear away the breakfast things.

"H'ml You don't need to talk about met" she snapped out, her lips closing after esch sentenoe, as the Dootor had re marked, "like a trap." " Besides, yon ain't safe yet. There's no good in shouting till you're ont of the wood I"

" Sarah is right, Gnseie," said Mrs. Brnoe, nervonsly. "There is no safety so far. My poor dear, you must be patient and endure everything lor a little longer—only a little longer, I hope and trust 1"

*' I hope so, too, mother, I oan tell you. I'm getting pretty eiok of this kind of thing!"

And MiBs Brnoe rose from her ohair and flung her long arms above her head with a weary gesture. She was rather a handsome young woman, and certainly on this occasion she did not look very much like an invalid; but late in the afternoon ehe waB out in her

wheel ohair, shawled and veiled as usual, and several of the inhabitants of the township, seeing the ohair in the distance, boBtowed a word of pity and sympathy upon theorippled sufferer who ooeupied it.

About tea days after this a stranger might have been seen in oloee and apparently confi dential conversation with onr police trooper. Whatever communication the stranger may have made, it evidently had the effeot of con siderably astonishing Trooper Mnrphy.

" Weil, it isn't often that anything sur prises mie I" he ejaoulated, Blapping his neatly garmented leg, " But that beats all I ever saw!"

" Beat, very neat—and daring," said the stranger, "fiat the game's up now. We'll do it as quietly as possible for the old lady's sake, I osn't help feeling sorry for her. It's astonishing how cunning women oan be, isn't it?"

That same evening as Mrs. and Miss Brnos sat together at the tea table they were startled by snddenly hearing heavy footsteps in the little passage and the Bbarp voice of Sarah Stone, alternately expostulating and scolding, with great vigour and vehemenoe.

" What is it ? What can it be I" cried Mrs. Brnoe with white lipB and terrified eyes.

" It is all np, mother 1" groaned her com panion, and the next moment the trooper and the stranger entered the little Bitting-room together.

" Augustus Birchell, I arrest you "

Mrs. Brnoe heard no more; but without a word or a cry ehe dropped upon the floor in a

dead faint. Sarah ruBhed to her mistress and endeavoured to restore her, while Bhe somewhat relieved her feelinga by flinging objurgations at the intruders.

urates ana muraerers, taaca wnst yaa

are !" she cried, vehemently. "It wouldn't Bnrprise me if you'd killed my poor lady, a coming npen her and frightening her like that."

** Very sorry," said the stranger, with a grlmemile. " But it oonldn't be helped. It wonld hardly have done to have let you know beforehand that we were ooming,"

Meanwhile the prisoner, Augustas Birohell, seemed entirely wrapped up in his mother's condition. When she moved again, he heaved a great sigh, and said quietly to hie captors—

?' So yon have got me at last 1 Well, you may believe it or not, but I really think I'm glad. Nothing oonld be worse than the last two months. If it hadn't been for her," nod ding in his mother's direction, "I'd have given myself np long ago."

And I think it was true. Heedless and Impulsive by natnre, the youth had never learned to deny, himBelf in anything, He returned hie widowed mother's absorbing affeotion with a devotion that was almost

Sassionate; but even that pure sentiment

ad not sufficed to restrain him when his

light nature, aided by gay and extravagant companions, had lea blm away from the paths of sober well-doing. It was just the old story—frivolous amusements indnlged in to exoesB; reckless betting with its usual ter mination; sadden pressure of difficulties which his mother's already-impoveriBhed in come waa quite inoapable of relieving; and then a moment of temptation when a earn of money belonging to the Bank in whioh he was employed seemed to be bo easily trans ferable to bis own pnipoees: then lastly, de tection and eseape, oontrived with wonderful ingenuity by his unhappy mother and the faithful servant who had been his nurse.

And now it had all proved worae than nee Ices, and he was almost glad of it, exoept for his mother's sake. It had been ae bad or worse than prison in some ways, he said. They took him away to the colony from whioh he had oome, and his trial resulted in a sentenoe of several years' imprisonment. His poor mother suffered greatly from the long period of anxiety whioh terminated in the shock of ber boy's capture, and for long she lay in an illness from whioh Dr. Brown low hardly expeoted ber to reoover. When at last she rose from her bed, wanner, paler, and thinner than ever, her mind waa strangely weak. The hunted anxious look bad passed away from her brow and eyes, and all memory of the troubled paBt had left ber. 6he thinks that "GuBsie"—her darling boy—is a obild again and away at sohool; and sometimes urges Sarah to make a "nioe large oeke" to send to him. "But I oan't understand ho* it Ib that the terms are so long nowadays," she says sometimes, with a pnzzled look on her sweet, placid faoe, " It seems to me that they are far longer than they need to be. But I suppose the holidays will oome some day, and then I shall have my darling boy to myself again."