A Nurse and Her Assistant

While they were waiting for the great case to come on a sort of depression seemed to spread itself over the station. The owner was mostly shut up in her room with her thoughts; the old lady was trying to comfort her, and Ellen Harriott, with sorrow always at her heart, went about the household work like an automaton. No wonder that as soon as breakfast was over all the men cleared out to work on the run. But one day it so happened that Carew did not go out with the others. The young Englishman was a poor correspondent, and had promised himself a whole quiet day to be spent in explaining by letter to his people at home the mysterious circumstances under which he had found and lost Patrick Henry Considine. Ellen Harriott found him in the office manfully wrestling with some extra long words, and stopped for a few minutes’ talk. She had a liking for the young Englishman, and any talk was better than to be left alone with her thoughts.

“These are bad times for the old station, Mr. Carew,” she said. “We don’t know what is going to happen next.”

Carew was not going to haul down the flag just yet. “I believe everything’ll come all right in the long run, don’t you know,” he said. “Never give up first hit, you know; see it out⁠—eh, what?”

“I want to get away out of this for a while,” she said. “I am run down. I think the bush monotony tells on women. I don’t want anyone to fall sick, but I do wish I could get a little nursing to do again⁠—just for a change. I would nurse Red Mick himself.”

Is there anything in telepathy? Do coming events sometimes send warnings on ahead? Certain it is that, even as she spoke, a rider on a sweating horse was seen coming at full speed up the flat; he put his horse over the sliprails that led into the house paddock without any hesitation, and came on at a swinging gallop.

“What is this?” said Ellen Harriott, “more trouble? It is only trouble that comes so fast. Why, it is one of Red Mick’s nephews!” By this time the rider was up to them; without dismounting he called out “Miss! Please, Miss! There’s been an accident. My uncle got run agin a tree and he’s all smashed in the head. I’m off to the Doctor now; I’ll get the Doctor here by tomorrow night, and would you go out and do aught you can for Mick? There’s no one out there but old Granny, and she’s helpless like. Will you go?”

“Is he much hurt?”

“I’m afraid he’s killed, Miss. I found him, He’d been out all night and the side of his head all busted. After a dingo he was⁠—I seen the tracks. Coming back from Gavan Blake’s he must ’a’ seen the dorg off the track, and the colt he was on was orkard like and must have hit him agen a tree. The colt kem home with the saddle under his belly, and I run the tracks back till I found him. Will you go out, Miss?”

“Yes,” said Ellen, “I will go. And you hurry on now, and get the Doctor. Tell the Doctor I’ve gone out there.” Like an arrow from the bow the young fellow sent his big thoroughbred horse across the paddocks, making a bee line over fences and everything for Tarrong, while Ellen Harriott hurried in to pack up a few things.

“Can I help you at all?” said Carew, following her into the house. “I’d like to be some use, don’t you know; but in this country I seem to be so dashed useless.”

“You will be a lot of use if you will come out with me. I shall want someone to drive the trap out, and I may want help with the patient. You are big and strong.

“Yes, and it’s about the first time my strength has even been of any use to anybody. I will go and get the trap ready while you dress.”

Hurriedly they packed food and blankets into the light buggy, and set off. Miss Harriott knew the tracks well, and the buggy fairly flew along till they came up the flat to Red Mick’s. As they drew near the hut a noise of talking and crying came through the open door.

“What’s up now?” said Carew. “Crowd of people there.”

“No”⁠—Ellen Harriott listened for a second. “No,” she said, “he is delirious. That is the old woman crying. Hurry up, Mr. Carew⁠—take the horse out of the buggy and put him in the stable, and then come in as quickly as you can. I may want help.”

Leaving Carew to unharness the horse, she went inside. In the inner roomy on a bunk, lay Red Mick. Eye, nose, forehead, and mouth were all one unrecognisable lump, while fragments of bark and splinters still stuck to the skin. In the corner sat the old mother, crying feebly. Disregarding the old woman, Ellen made a swift examination of Mick’s injuries, but as soon as he felt her touch on his face he sprang to his feet and struck at her.

Just as he did so, Carew rushed in and threw his arms round the madman. In that grip even Red Mick had no power to move.

“Just hold him quiet,” said Ellen, “till I have a look”⁠—and she rapidly ran her fingers over the wound. “Very bad. I think there must be a bit of the skull pressing on the brain. We can’t do much till the Doctor comes. I think he will be quiet now. Will you make a fire and boil some water, so that I can clean and dress the wound That will ease him a little. And get the blankets in; we can make up some sort of place on the floor to sleep. One of us will have to watch all night. Cranny, you must go to bed, do you hear? Come and sit by Mick till I put Granny to bed.”

By degrees they got things shipshape⁠—put the old woman to bed, and cleaned and dressed Mick’s wounds. Then they settled down for the long night in the sickroom. A strange sickroom it was; but many a hospital is less healthy. Through wide cracks between the slabs there came in the cool, fresh air that in itself is worth more than all the medicines in the pharmacopoeia. The patient had sunk into an uneasy slumber when Ellen made her dispositions for the night.

“You go and lie down now,” she said, “in the other room, on the sofa. I will call you if I want you. Get all the sleep you can, and in a couple of hours you can take my place. He may talk, but don’t let that disturb you. I will call out loud enough if I want you.”

“Mind you do,” said the Englishman. “I sleep like a blessed top, you know. Sleep anywhere. Well, good night for the present. He looks a little better since you washed him, doesn’t he?”

He threw himself on the couch in the inner room, and before long a titanic snore showed that he had not overrated his sleeping powers.

Ellen Harriott sat by Red Mick’s bedside and thought over the events of the last few weeks. As she thought she half-dozed, but woke with a start to find her patient broad awake again and trying to get at something that was under his bunk. Quietly she drew him back, for his struggles with Carew had left him weak as a child.

He looked at her with crazed eyes.

“The paper,” he said, “for the love of God, the paper. I have to take it to Gavan. ’Twill win the case. The paper.”

She tried to pacify him, but nothing would do but that she should get the mysterious paper. At last, to humour him, she dived under the bunk and found an iron camp-oven, and in it a single envelope. Just to see what was exciting him she opened the envelope, and found a crumpled piece of paper which she read over to herself. It was the original certificate of the marriage between Patrick Henry Keogh and Margaret Donohoe; if Ellen had only known it, she held in her hand the evidence to sweep away all her friend’s troubles. It so happened, however, that it conveyed nothing to her mind. She had heard much about Considine, but not a word about Keogh, and the name “Margaret Donohoe” did not strike her half-asleep mind as referring to Peggy. She put the paper away again in the camp-oven; then, feeling weary, she awoke Carew and lay down on the couch while he watched the patient.

Next morning the Doctor arrived with a trail of Red Mick’s relations after him; among them they arranged to take him into Tarrong to be operated on, and Ellen Harriott and Carew drove back to Kuryong feeling as if they had known each other all their lives.

As they drove along she wondered idly which of Red Mick’s innumerable relatives the paper referred to, and why Mick was so anxious about it; but by the time they arrived at home the matter passed from her mind, except that she remembered well enough what was written on the odd-looking little scrap.

“I will give you a certificate as a competent wardsman if ever you want one,” she said to Carew as he helped her out of the buggy. “I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”

“You’d have managed somehow, I’ll bet,” he said, looking at the confident face before him. “Quite a bit of fun, wasn’t it? I hope we have a few more excursions together.”

And she felt that she rather hoped so, too.