Chapter 160782771

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberIV
Chapter TitleTHE LOCUM TENENS.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160782771
Full Date1888-09-22
Page Number42
Corrections0
Word Count3825
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 Duncan. 1

IV.—THE LOCUM TBit ENS.

Dr. Brownlow'e health, whioh had never been very robnat, had been manifestly failing for eome time paet( and it was at last decided that he must give up work for a time and

take a good recuperative rest. Bat then oame a difficulty. He hoped to be able to reenme hie praotioe in the coarse of a few months, but in the meantime the work was more than hie partner conld carry on single handed. Archibald Myers (who, it will per haps be remembered, had married Mrs. Benton, a distant relative of the Brownlow*, some time before) was as energetic as a man conld be; bnt there was a large district to attend to, and somehow there seemed to be an nnnsnal amount of siokness that season for snoh a normally healthy distiiot as that surrounding Scrubhilltown. So it became clear that, as Sr. Brownlow most have a reet% arrangements most be made to provide a suitable locum lenens dnriog his absenoe.

These arrangements were completed with ont very mnoh delay, and the Doctor de parted to pay a long visit to the hospitable station of some squatter eonsine la New South Wales. Meanwhile an elderly widowed eister of his late wife oame to Sornbhill town, nominally to assist Miss Brownlow in looking after the bonse and children, but virtnally to shtd a halo of propriety aronnd the arrangement by which the locum, lenens was to board and lodge in the Dootor's house. So far as regards the management of the house and family. Bertha, with her ten years of prematnre experience, her strong common sense and quick intelligence, was herself far more capable than the majority of women—oer tainly more capable tnan Mrs. Wilion. who had never had a family to manage, and had always persistently mis-managed her house; bnt the question of propriety she conld not face alone, albeit the most independent and fearless of pure-hearted young women. For the new oomer was single and not more then middle-sged. So mnch they knew before he eame, and acquaintance proved him to be a quiet, pleasant mannered man, with a keen, aark face—a plain face In the gravity which was its prevailing expression, bnt almost handsome when lit up by the dazzling smile which onlr rarely illuminated it. It is no mere figure of speech to o&U Dr. Lachlan'e smile dazzling—there is no other word which describes it. The sombre, dark-grey eyes would flash with such a sudden light, and the bearded lips • revealed in parting snoh a gleaming whiteness oi strong, even teeth aa to be almost startling.

" What do yon think of the new dootor, now I" was, naturally enongb, demanded of Bertha by her cousin, Mrs. Myers, after the

first few weeks.

" I think he is without exception the most gentlemanly man I ever met," replied Bertha* with an emphasis qnite characteristic.

Mrs. Myers was a little shocked.

'•My dear Bertha." she said, with a hint of reproaoh in her tone. " Do yon .mean to imply that you havent been need to the eooiety of gentlemen ? Not to go further, I should have thought yonr own father—tuid)

Archie"—

"Oh yet, yen, of course," said Bert lis, Im patiently, " Bnt that is not what I mean, exactly. I wasn't aconsing onr own people of eating with their knives, or dropping their

Ji's, or Bitting down while women were stand ing I wasnt thinking of mere behaviour at alL or even social poBitioo, either. When I said I thought Dr. Laotian the most gentle manly man 1 ever met, I meant that he seems to me to realize the meaning of the word gentleman in an extraordinary degree. He gfvea me the impression of being at onoe eo tender and so strong—so manly add so gentle. And he b eo perfectly courteous to everybody alike. He b even polite to the children, ana makeB a pet of Mysle without the smallest trace of grown-up patronage in his manner. And when that tiresome old Mrs: Jones came bothering him for the third time in two days about some of her imaginary ailments, he received fcerwithas much grave considera tion as if ehe had been a duohess. I know, because 1 happened to be passing tbe surgery as she went in."

Mrs. Myers oast one searching glanoe upon her cousin's iaoe.

"'Anddark, and true, and tender is the North,'" eheqsoted, absently, " Dr. Laohlan ehonld hail from * the Land o' Cakes,' if there be any truth in names. He isn't handsome, I must say, bnt after ail that's a minor con sideration in a man. Wasn't there an ngly man onoe who boasted that a quarter of an hour's start woold give him an advantage over tbe handsomest man in Europe in any woman's good graces?"

"I dont consider Dr. Lachian an ugly man," responded Bertha, with gravity; whereupon Mrs. Myers broke into suob a hearty peal of tanghter as greatly astonuhed her conBin. But Bertha's look of innooent perplexity only Berved to Inorease the Inex plicable mirth of that frivolous little dame.

"I don't know what you are laughing at,'1 Bertha said at last, a trifle hnfifily; where upon Mrs. Myers pnt a forcible check upon her hilarity and turned the conversation into other obannels. Bnt the proverb that " lookers-ou see the most of tne game" was exemplified once more as the weeks rolled on. Up to the age of 28 Bertha Brownlow had been absolutely heart-whole and fanoy-free. Hers was an uncommon character, which no donbt accounted for thb phenomenon. It b seldom that girlhood b passed, nnlesa indeed in the deepest seclusion, without the innooent maiden fancy having invested some individnal of the other sex with certain heroic attri butes which set him apart from and above the rest of men—an elevation whioh is, more often than not, bestowed upon a wholly nncoDBoious recipient. To call thb vagne virgin sentiment by the name of love wonld

be like striving to materialize a summer clond. It is seldom more than a romantlo fancy, which may indeed be aryst&Uized into love by the ardent reciprocity of its object, bnt more often fades away like breath on a polished mirror. Bnt even so pure and vague a psychological experience had never fallen to Bertha's lot, her strong common seme, oombined with a keen sense of the ludiorons, having perhaps combined to secure her immunity. She had always been too busy for suoh nonBenBa, she would say, and indeed the two offers ehe had hitherto reeeived had been tendered upon but Bcant encouragement, and bad not been in any way tempting in themselves.

Bad Berthia been acoused of falling in love

with the Doctor she would have soouted the euggestion with much righteous indignation ; bnt the Doctor himself was gradually becom ing need to the idea for bis own part, and had quite decided that hb feeling for Miss Brown low was stronger than that of mere admira tion, when an unforeseen aooident brought matters to a climax. Mrs. Wilson and Bertha, Bitting on the verandah one warm evening in early summer, were suddenly startled by a dull rumbling sound, as of some heavy anbBtanoe falling, followed by a child's piercing scream of pain and terror.

Bertha started np and rushed to the door of the children's room—the schoolroom as it was usually called. What a sight met her eyeB bb she burst in I Dust, duBt everywhere, on table, chairs, and floor, and in one par ticular spot soattered fragments of fallen plaster large and small, while an unBightly hiatus in the oeiling promptly revealed the nature of the disaster. But Bertha

had no thought for details; for there, in the midat of the ddbris, sat Mysle, the apple of her outer's eye. Poor little Myeie, pale, dusty, and{terrified, with a thin orinuon stream flowing from a out on her forehead, and one email arm hanging In an ominonsly helpless faBhion at her side 1 For once in her life Bertha turned sick and faint, bnt, at that very moment, a firm etep sounded in the passage, and Dr. Laohlan

strode in, and raising the terrified Bobbing child in hb arms, carried her into the nearest bedroom and laid her gently on the bed.

Bertba followed, breathless and white bb the child herself.

" Oh, Dr. Lachian, her arm" she whis pered.

" It b broken, I fear," he said gently, " It b had enongh, bnt it might have been worse. The cut b nothing—a strip of piaster will put that right. Gome, don't look so frightened; you will only alarm the little one more than ever. Yon mnst be brave for her sake." Then seeing that for the moment they were alone, save for the moaning child, ana that Bertha s face was still blanched ana terrified, he took her hand in hb for one brief instant, and murmured in her ear.

" Courage, Bertha—oourage, my darling I" The next moment he was by the little suf ferer's side, grave and composed as ever, and Bertha was no longer white and trembling, but rosy with tbe flush that dyed her oheeks and brow, as she braced Herself np to render all the assistance in her power.

The poor little arm was soon set, the wounded brow bathed and plastered, and the child, utterly worn out with the fright and the pain, sank to sleep. Then Bertha, relinquishing her charge into her aunt's hands, stole out into the garden in the gathering dusk, to breathe the eool evening air. What wae thb strange thing that had happened to her ? A man had called her his darling^ and Bhe had not re sented it—nay, had thrilled with a new joy at the sound of words which she felt she onght to have regarded as an unwarrantable Impertinence, Bnt then George Lachian's grave earnest faoe rose before her, and she felt it impossible to associate anything like impertinenoe with its serious dignity. The next moment he was beBide her, looking into her eyeslin the faint light of the rbing moon.

** I mnst ask yon to forgive me," he began, in those deep mnsioal tones which had always sounded so attractive to Bertha's ear. " I em afraid 1 startled yon juBt now, and yet not exaotly afraid, because it was just what I wanted to do. You needed rousing and comforting. I roused you, I believe, by my andaolty, and I am willing to apologbe u the most humble apology will add to yonr comfort. Bnt I would inexpressibly rather that yon should render apology unnecessary by giving me the right to bo address yon—that you shouidprombe to be my wife. Will yon, Bertha? Will you, my darling?'*

With the next few minutes we have nothing to do. Poor Bertha's strength of mind failed her under the donble pres sure of alarm and anxiety, and of thb strange, unutterable joy; and doubtless it was as Bweet to be caressed into ordinary oomposnre by her middle-aged lover,

fil if they had both been in the first flash of yontb.

"There is one thing I should tell you, Bertha,*' said Dr. Laehlan, presently. "It is a painful subject to me, bnt it is only fair that yon should be made acquainted with it. You will not be my first wife, dear one, I

have been married before."

Instinctively Bertha drew a little away |

from him. There are few women who would not be sensible of a faint chill and distur bance on learning that they have been

preceded in the aneotions of the man they j

love.

"Why did you not tell us?" she asked, with a touch of aloofness in her voioe.

"It did not seem neoessary to do so," replied Dr. Laehlan, promptly. " Had I deemed it necessary I should have done so. But when I oame here I did not antiolp&te meeting one who would have the power to change the whole current of my life, and make a rather weary, eunleBS kind of exis tence, bright and full of interest, as you have

done. My marriage was a most unfortunate j one, Bertha, and for some years before her j death my unhappy wife and I lived apart."

" It was not your fault," murmured Bertha, with conviction.

" No, it waB not my fault," he answered, solemnly. "I firmly believe'that when the

secrets of all hearts are revealed I shall | still be able' to say —it was not my fault. Strive as I would, I may

sometimes have failed in patience—but I God knowe 1 did my best. And I loved her once. Let ns speak of her no more, my darling, whatever were her faults. I loved her once—and she is dead."

With a frank gesture of love and sympathy Bertha laid her hand in his, and the chill passed from her heart in sorrow for hie troubled past.

These events occnted when Dr. Brownlow, recruited beyond bis own hopes, was already

on his way home from New South Wales; so ?

that on his return home he found one of his daughters invalided, and another prepared to leave him,

"Isupdobb it Is all right," he said with rather a bewildered expression, when he en

countered Bertha after having had a long and ] exhaustive conversation with bis late locum \ (enenn. " I suppose It is ail right, my dear,

and I'm a selfish old man not to be glad lor | your sake, as you are happy about it. But how we are to get on without you I don't know."

Bertha looked a little ooneolenoe-strioken. "It's I who am selfish, lam afraid," she said perplexedly. "But it is so difficult to know what one ought to do, when things pull one different ways. And Mysie must go to school with Dorothy next term if she is well enough—we decided on that before, you know; and Hughie's Latin is altogether beyond me now, so he mast go to eohool too. But, then, who is to take care of you, you poor dear over-worked old father ?'*

"I must learn to take oare of myself, I suppose," said the dootor, with foroed cheerfulness, and eyes dim behind their spectacles. " It's almost time at fifty eight, isn't it I"

However, fortune seemed to smile upon the projected alliance, and matters arranged themselves almost with "story-book" adap tability, Upon disonBsion it proved that Mr. Myers and bis wife had serions thoughts of leaving ScrnbhiUtown. It was just a trifle too quiet and jogtrot, Mrs. Myers said, and as her comfortable inoome amply supplemented her husband's professional earnings, there seemed no reuoa why he should not seek a practice in the city, and tbns afford her a little more of the gaiety which seemed so natural to her.

Dr. Laehlan would make an admirable successor to Mr. Myers, and aa the former showed that he was not entirely dependent upon his profession, it conld not but be allowed that Miss Brownlow was making a sufficiently good match, from a worldly point of view.

"Mnch better than she conld have ex pected, considering her age and appearanoe," some of the ladies said.

Bnt little cared Bertha what any one

thought or said. Proud and happy in her j love, she sang as blithely over the stitohing ! . of her bridal raiment as though Bhe had been

the yonngeBt and loveiieBt bride on whom

the snn ever shone. She b&w no olond in her 1 sky, though one was sorely gathering over

head.

Once more, and onoe only, had any refe rence been made to Dr. Laohlan'a pievious marriage. As tenderly and as delicately at it bad been possible, he had let her know that the cause of the estrangement bad been bis wife's inonrable intempsranoe, leading to the nnreBtrained indulgence of an nngovern

able temper. There bad never been any I children, and she was dead. There seemed , no more to telL

"Whatdid ehe look like?" Bertha asked I suddenly, with sil a woman's instinctive desire to scan thefaoeof a rival, either past or present. "Have you no photograph of ber ? I should like to know what she was like."

" I have a photograph whioh I will show you," he answered, gravely. And he de

Jiarted in eearch of it, probably wondering a

ittle at the inconsistencies of even the best and strongest of feminine natures. It was a beautiful face upon which she presently gazed, when Dr. Laohlan placed a cabinet photograph in her hand—afaoe almost perfeot in its features, with' great stormy eyes and orowned with heavy masses of dark hair.

"Oh, how beautiful she must have been I" Bertha exclaimed, with a sharp pang of some thing like jealousy in her bosom, as she mentally compared her own faae with that of the picture.

"Yes, she was beautiful," said George Laehlan, eadly. " But beauty is not enough for happiness, my dear one, and that poor soul neither knew peace herself nor bestowed it on another in all her life."

Then the snbjeot dropped, to be, as both believed, resumed no more between them. It was within a week of the time fixed for the wedding, that Bertha, passing the prin cipal hotel in SorubblUtown returning from a little shopping excursion, suddenly encountered a figure whioh caused her to give a violent start and then to stand skill, white with horror and amazement. Quietly advancing towards her, evidently with the pnrpote of entering the hotel, oame a tali woman richly dressed in blaok—a woman with the faoe of the photograph I She oonld not be mistaken; it was the same beyond the

possibility of doubt—the most beautiful faoe ehe had ever seeu—as beautiful as in the photograph, but older, and wearing a rather anxions look, which added a touch of pathos to its remarkable beauty. " It is hiB wife 1" Bertha mattered to herself, with blanched and trembling lipB. "She is not dead, and he ban lied to me !" The sndden revulsion of feeling was too muoh to be borne, and Bertha feigned to be interested in the con tents of a. small thop-window while ehe struggled for oomposure. Just then Dr. Lsohlan's light buggy rattled up the street, and he sprang ont at the hotel door as If to visit a patient Stealthily Bertha glanaed in the same direotion, She saw the woman deliberately place herself in his way, smiling,

and with extended band; she saw him start with astonishment; then he took her hand In his: for a moment they talked eagerly, hurriedly; and then they entered the hotel together.

Faint, sick, and utterly heart-broken, poor Bertha sought her home.' Half-blind with a sense of misery and ehame at the insult which had been put upon her, half-maddened by the wild throbbing of heart and brain, she went straight to her father's room, and flnng her self upon his breast.

" I will never leave yon, father," she cried, with white dry lips and tearless eyes, while gasping sobs half choked her utteranoe. " Keep me with yon always—always ! I shall be eafe with yon. Oh, father, father !"

And with tide wailing, pitifnl cry ehe sank into the chair to wbioh he led her.

Dr. Brownlow was very considerably sur prised at this most unlooked-for manifesta tion on the part of his usually sensible and self-possessea daughter. For the moment he

asked no questions, bnt quietly ineisted upon her drinking a glass of wine, afterwards standing beside her, holding one of her oold trembling hands, and softly stroking the hair from her brow with a caressing gesture, familiar to her since the daye of ohildieh ailmentB and baby griefB.

She wee restored to some meaenre of out ward composure when the sonnd of Dr. Lachlan's voioe in the passage threw her into a violent fit of trembling.

" Don't let him eee me—don't let him oome

near me ; I can't hear to see him again," she cried wildly, clinging to her father's arm. Bnt it was too late —Dr. Brownlow had already responded " Come in" to the tap on the door, and George Laoblan ehtered.

"What is the matter?" he exclaimed. " Bertha, my dearest, are yon ill I" Then seeing that Bertha Bhrank away from him he continued in evident snrpriee, look ing from one to the other, " What is wrong? Havel offended yon. Bertha? What, won't yon speak to me ? Can yon explain It, Dr. Brownlow ?"

Dr. Brownlow ehook his head.

" This is very strange, and very unfortu nate," Dr. Lachlan said, " whatever may be the explanation of it. 1 came to ask a favour from yon both. My sister-in-law. Lady Tyrton, happens to be travelling through this

colony witn one of her eons, who is reoover ing from a severe illnese, and I met her in the township this morning. It seems they heard 1 was here, and thought they would take me by enrpriBe. I had hoped to have craved yonr hospitality for them to some ex tent, bnt now I don't know what to think. Bertha, won't yon at least tell me what it all

means?"

ThuB adjured, Bertha advanced towards him with tightly clasped hands and burning

eyeB.

"George, do yon say that that woman I saw just now is not—hot—your wife ?"

Never was Dr. Lachlan's sndden smile more bright than now in the reassurance it ex pressed.

" That ie it, then 1" he cried, in a tone of great relief. " The likeneee ie certainly strong —remarkably so—hut the lady yon saw this morning is my sister-in-law—the twin sister of my late wife. Compare the photograph with Lady fyrton's faoe, and yon will eee the difference; but 1 can hardly wonder the resemblance misled yon. Bat, oh, Bertha, my darling 1" he added sadly, " how oonld yon have thought it of me?"

" Forgive me," was all Bertha oonld say, meekly end brokenly, as she realized her restored happiness.

Lady Tyrton proved a kind and charming woman, the wife of a leading magnate in one of the great colonial cities, and she tally approved of the wedding, and remained to grace it with her presence, which gave ft mnch additional iclat in the eyes of the Sornhhilltownites.

"George is one of the beBt of men, my dear," she said to the bride on her wedding day: "and he has had a vast amount of trouble. 1 dare say he has told yon all abont it, and I sincerely hope and trust that yon will give him all the happiness which he haB

hitherto missed.

"I will try," Bertha said, solemnly. And I think ehe has succeeded.