The New Arcadia/Chapter 27

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER XXVII.

THE DOCTOR'S DEPARTURE.

"Work, love, and wrestle on,
Loving God best;
Then when thy work is done,
Lie down and rest."

"Through sunless cities, and the weary haunts
Of smoke-grimed labour, and foul revelry,
My flagging wing has swept."—The Saint's Tragedy.

Panting, the Mimosa lay beside the wharf. The villagers, who had a half-holiday to see the doctor off, were congregated on the jetty to receive a last handshake from their benefactor. Women were crying, men lamenting, and discussing "how things would go without him."

"He looks bad," said one, a calculating creature. "I suppose it's all right with us, if anything happens him."

"God help us then!" replied the other, fervently.

"The property's settled, ain't it?" asked the first speaker with concern.

"Property, property, property, that's what I hears 'em say, rich and poor alike," replied his companion, with feeling. "You heard him tell he was leavin' all to us. What 'ud be the good of that," continued the good soul, "if anything happened him? I'd see no light lying across Mimosa Vale, and the missus and the children 'ud break their hearts."

"Tut, man, no one can live for ever. He's a good sort, maybe. But he's only done his duty. What are the big 'uns for, but to look a'ter we? I don't feel under no obligation to no man. I works hard, I know, for all I gets."

"And when had you such a show of scooping the profits, Jack Tomkins?" replied honest Sam Smith. "It's coz the likes of you has no gratitude nor manly feelin', and allers thinks of your own belly and your own skin, that more doen't do like the doctor. 'T any rate most on the fellows feels that all their hearts is stowed away, with the butter and cheese, in the ship what carries our boss."

The children marched on deck holding up flowers which they deposited on the taffrail beside the doctor. In a short while the floral offerings almost touched the spanker-boom. Many a little one clung to the good man's knees till forcibly led away weeping by elder brother or sister. Mrs. Sandbach begged the doctor to "find out" her brother, who, when she saw him last, twenty years before, was working for a tinker somewhere off Cheapside.

"I dare say you'll see him thereabout, doctor dear," she added, "and if you'd give him this bottle of herbs, and say as how I growed and dried them, I'l be so much obleeged to ye." The good creature moaned as she essayed, with some risk, to "walk the plank" with apron to her streaming eyes.

Another would never forget the doctor's kindness, if he would, as he was passing, hunt up his father, who used to tend pigs in the Isle of Skye.

Innumerable were the commissions to "all sorts and conditions of men," with which the doctor was entrusted.

"You've spoiled them," said his wife, clinging to his arm. "They think you only live for them. Mr. Elms," said Mrs. Courtenay, turning to him, "I charge you to bring my husband safe back. If anything befall him, I hold you responsible."

Pale and worn the man shrank from her imploring gaze. He was about to speak. By some chance his eyes met Malduke's, and he was silent.

"Thank you very much, I am able to look after myself," was the doctor's laughing reply. "I wish I could feel as easy about you and these simple children all."

"Larry, my boy," laying his hand affectionately on his son-in-law's arm, "you will, I know, be patient and long-suffering." The strong man's voice quivered.

"Governor, if necessary, I'll give my life for them—for your sake," was the reply.

"Hush, Larry, do not say that," expostulated Hilda, in whose breast, like that of her mother, a vague dread lay.

"I'll hold the reins, bless you, with a hand of velvet," continued the Irishman, reassuringly, "I won't even tickle them with the spur. I'll just tool them along, without their knowing it, over every bit of fence we have to take together. Never fear," he continued, "we'll all be in at the death."

Again the young wife's hand twitched involuntarily on that of her husband.

"Tell my landlady in Loundes Street," called out Tom Lord, "that I'll be back to pay her my little bill. And, if you're passing, old man, pop in at Hill's, Bond Street, and inform him that my last coat pinches abominably under the arms. And, I say, old fellow, don't be hob-nobbing all your holiday with Tom Burns and Ben Tillett, or stumping it beside the fountain in Trafalgar Square."

The bell rang for the decks to be cleared. Father and son stood hand-in-hand, while a dozen final directions were given.

"Do not break your heart, my boy, over that girl," said the elder. "If it is to be, it will be, and with my blessing. But duty first. I look to you and Larry, you know."

"We'll not fail you, sir," was the young man's reply, as putting his arm in Maud's he hasted off the vessel. Already a severe conflict was raging in Travers' breast between love and duty. He dared not, he felt, give assurance that action might belie.

"Good-bye, Mr. Elms," said Maud, shaking the Sergeant's hand. "Take care of father. I know he's safe with you. I will look after Gwyneth. Come along, child," and not thinking of the awkwardness of the situation for her brother, on whose arm she leant, the girl slipped her disengaged hand into Gwyneth's and drew her weeping towards the ship's side.

"I'll do my best, miss," replied the Sergeant.

"Yes! Your best, or never show face here again," hissed Malduke into his ear, as he leant forward from the gangway.

The cheers, the sobs had died away. The waving of a thousand hats and handkerchiefs was merging into one bright flutter on the receding shore. The doctor sat on the taffrail beside the mountain of flowers, symbols of numberless silent prayers.

The streak of golden wattle, threading through the vale, became engulfed in the ocean of green. Far up the valley the factories seemed, in the dazzling mirage, as ships riding on a sea of emerald. On either side the vine-clad hills ascended to pine-dotted ranges amongst which white-fleeced sheep were moving. The smoke hanging in the clear atmosphere above lines of cottages told of good meals preparing, with which the housewife would cheer those regretting their loss.

On the vessel speeded, past Hygeia, where convalescents waved the spade with which they were playing; past Kokiana and Fabricia, where hundreds turned out to rend the air with acclamations. All the while, he who had clad the waste with gardens and peopled the lonely plain with rejoicing sons of labour, took up, now one, then another of the flowers he had made to grow in the wilderness, and cast them into the water, until from the quay, across the unrippled bosom of the lake, through the Harrow winding of the canal, out on to the broad waters of the Silverbourne, extended a sinuous line of floating flowers, about which the birds dipped and fishes leaped, connecting the lonely man at the taffrail with the scenes of homely industry he was leaving behind.

When would his good ship plough that floral path again? Flowers would it be, or tangling weeds of sorrow and care that, returning, the boat would cast from her bow?