Chapter 5 Peter Mactavish becomes an amateur doctor; Charley promulgate_is views of things in general to Kate; and Kate waxes sagacious.
Shortly after the catastrophe just related, Charley opened his eyes t_onsciousness, and aroused himself out of a prolonged fainting fit, under th_ombined influence of a strong constitution and the medical treatment of hi_riends.
Medical treatment in the wilds of North America, by the way, is very origina_n its character, and is founded on principles so vague that no one has eve_een found capable of stating them clearly. Owing to the stubborn fact tha_here are no doctors in the country, men have been thrown upon their ow_esources, and as a natural consequence _every_ man is a doctor. True, ther_are_ two, it may be three, real doctors in the Hudson’s Bay Company’_mployment; but as one of these is resident on the shores of Hudson’s Bay, another in Oregon, and a third in Red River Settlement, they are no_onsidered available for every case of emergency that may chance to occur i_he hundreds of little outposts, scattered far and wide over the whol_ontinent of North America, with miles and miles of primeval wildernes_etween each. We do not think, therefore, that when we say there are n_octors in the country, we use a culpable amount of exaggeration.
If a man gets ill, he goes on till he gets better; and if he doesn’t ge_etter, he dies. To avert such an undesirable consummation, desperate an_andom efforts are made in an amateur way. The old proverb that “extreme_eet” is verified. And in a land where no doctors are to be had for love o_oney, doctors meet you at every turn, ready to practise on everything, wit_nything, and all for nothing, on the shortest possible notice. As may b_upposed, the practice is novel, and not unfrequently extremely wild. Tooth- drawing is considered child’s play—mere blacksmith’s work; bleeding is _eneral remedy for everything, when all else fails; castor oil, Epsom salts, and emetics are the three keynotes, the foundations, and the copestones of th_ystem.
In Red River there is only one _genuine_ doctor; and as the settlement i_ully sixty miles long, he has enough to do, and is not always to be foun_hen wanted, so that Charley had to rest content with amateur treatment in th_eantime. Peter Mactavish was the first to try his powers. He was aware tha_audanum had the effect of producing sleep, and seeing that Charley looke_omewhat sleepy after recovering consciousness, he thought it advisable t_elp out that propensity to slumber, and went to the medicine chest, whence h_xtracted a small phial of tincture of rhubarb, the half of which he emptie_nto a wineglass, under the impression that it was laudanum, and poured dow_harley’s throat! The poor boy swallowed a little, and sputtered the remainde_ver the bed-clothes. It may be remarked here that Mactavish was a wild, happy, half-mad sort of fellow—wonderfully erudite in regard to some things, and profoundly ignorant in regard to others. Medicine, it need scarcely b_dded, was not his _forte_. Having accomplished this feat to his satisfaction, he sat down to watch by the bedside of his friend. Peter had taken thi_pportunity to indulge in a little private practice just after several of th_ther gentlemen had left the office, under the impression that Charley ha_etter remain quiet for a short time.
“Well, Peter,” whispered Mr Kennedy, senior, putting his head in at the door (it was Harry’s room in which Charley lay), “how is he now?”
“Oh! doing capitally,” replied Peter, in a hoarse whisper, at the same tim_ising and entering the office, while he gently closed the door behind him. “_ave him a small dose of physic, which I think has done him good. He’_leeping like a top now.”
Mr Kennedy frowned slightly, and made one or two remarks in reference t_hysic which were not calculated to gratify the cars of a physician.
“What did you give him?” he inquired abruptly.
“Only a little laudanum.”
“ _Only_ , indeed! It’s all trash together, and that’s the worst kind of tras_ou could have given him. Humph!” and the old gentleman jerked his shoulder_estily.
“How much did you give him?” said the senior clerk, who had entered th_partment with Harry a few minutes before.
“Not quite a wineglassful,” replied Peter, somewhat subdued.
“A what!” cried the father, starting from his chair as if he had received a_lectric shock, and rushing into the adjoining room, up and down which h_aved in a state of distraction, being utterly ignorant of what should be don_nder the circumstances.
“Oh dear!” gasped Peter, turning pale as death.
Poor Harry Somerville fell rather than leaped off his stool, and dashed int_he bedroom, where old Mr Kennedy was occupied in alternately heapin_nutterable abuse on the head of Peter Mactavish, and imploring him to advis_hat was best to be done. But Peter knew not. He could only make one or tw_nsane proposals to roll Charley about the floor, and see if _that_ would d_im any good; while Harry suggested in desperation that he should be hung b_he heels, and perhaps it would run out!
Meanwhile the senior clerk seized his hat, with the intention of going i_earch of Tom Whyte, and rushed out at the door; which he had no sooner don_han he found himself tightly embraced in the arms of that worthy, wh_appened to be entering at the moment, and who, in consequence of the sudde_nset, was pinned up against the wall of the porch.
“Oh, my buzzum!” exclaimed Tom, laying his hand on his breast; “you’ve a’mos_u’st me, sir. W’at’s wrong, sir?”
“Go for the doctor, Tom, quick! run like the wind. Take the freshest horse; fly, Tom, Charley’s poisoned—laudanum; quick!”
“’Eavens an’ ’arth!” ejaculated the groom, wheeling round, and stalkin_apidly off to the stable like a pair of insane compasses; while the senio_lerk returned to the bedroom, where he found Mr Kennedy still raving, Pete_actavish still aghast and deadly pale, and Harry Somerville staring like _aniac at his young friend, as if he expected every moment to see him explode, although, to all appearance, he was sleeping soundly, and comfortably too, notwithstanding the noise that was going on around him. Suddenly Harry’s ey_ested on the label of the half-empty phial, and he uttered a loud, prolonge_heer.
“It’s only tincture of—”
“Wild cats and furies!” cried Mr Kennedy, turning sharply round and seizin_arry by the collar, “why d’you kick up such a row, eh?”
“It’s only tincture of rhubarb,” repeated the boy, disengaging himself an_olding up the phial triumphantly.
“So it is, I declare,” exclaimed Mr Kennedy, in a tone that indicated intens_elief of mind; while Peter Mactavish uttered a sigh so deep that one migh_uppose a burden of innumerable tons weight had just been removed from hi_reast.
Charley had been roused from his slumbers by this last ebullition; but o_eing told what had caused it, he turned languidly round on his pillow an_ent to sleep again, while his friends departed and left him to repose.
Tom Whyte failed to find the doctor. The servant told him that her master ha_een suddenly called to set a broken leg that morning for a trapper who live_en miles _down_ the river, and on his return had found a man waiting with _orse and cariole, who carried him violently away to see his wife, who ha_een taken suddenly ill at a house twenty miles _up_ the river, and so sh_idn’t expect him back that night.
“An’ where has ’e been took to?” inquired Tom.
She couldn’t tell; she knew it was somewhere about the White-horse Plains, bu_he didn’t know more than that.
“Did ’e not say w’en ’e’d be ’ome?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Oh dear!” said Tom, rubbing his long nose in great perplexity. “It’s an ’orrible case o’ sudden and onexpected pison.”
She was sorry for it, but couldn’t help that; and thereupon, bidding him good- morning, shut the door.
Tom’s wits had come to that condition which just precedes “giving it up” a_opeless, when it occurred to him that he was not far from Mr Kennedy’_esidence; so he stepped into the cariole again and drove thither. On hi_rrival, he threw poor Mrs Kennedy and Kate into great consternation by hi_xceedingly graphic, and more than slightly exaggerated, account of what ha_rought him in search of the doctor. At first Mrs Kennedy resolved to go up t_ort Garry immediately, but Kate persuaded her to remain at home, by pointin_ut that she could herself go, and if anything very serious had occurred (which she didn’t believe), Mr Kennedy could come down for her immediately, while she (Kate) could remain to nurse her brother.
In a few minutes Kate and Tom were seated side by side in the little cariole, driving swiftly up the frozen river; and two hours later the former was seate_y her brother’s bedside, watching him, as he slept, with a look of tende_ffection and solicitude.
Rousing himself from his slumbers, Charley looked vacantly round the room.
“Have you slept well, darling?” inquired Kate, laying her hand lightly on hi_orehead.
“Slept—eh! oh yes, I’ve slept. I say, Kate, what a precious bump I came dow_n my head, to be sure!”
“Hush, Charley!” said Kate, perceiving that he was becoming energetic. “Fathe_aid you were to keep quiet—and so do I,” she added, with a frown. “Shut you_yes, sir, and go to sleep.”
Charley complied by shutting his eyes, and opening his mouth, and uttering _uccession of deep snores.
“Now, you bad boy,” said Kate, “why _won’t_ you try to rest?”
“Because, Kate dear,” said Charley, opening his eyes again—“because I feel a_f I had slept a week at least; and not being one of the seven sleepers, _on’t think it necessary to do more in that way just now. Besides, my swee_ut particularly wicked sister, I wish just at this moment to have a talk wit_ou.”
“But are you sure it won’t do you harm to talk? do you feel quite stron_nough?”
“Quite: Samson was a mere infant compared to me.”
“Oh, don’t talk nonsense, Charley dear, and keep your hands quiet, and don’_ift the clothes with your knees in that way, else I’ll go away and leav_ou.”
“Very well, my pet, if you do I’ll get up and dress and follow you, that’_ll! But come, Kate, tell me first of all how it was that I got pitched of_hat long-legged rhinoceros, and who it was that picked me up, and why wasn’_ killed, and how did I come here; for my head is sadly confused, and _carcely recollect anything that has happened. And before commencing you_iscourse, Kate, please hand me a glass of water, for my mouth is as dry as _histle.”
Kate handed him a glass of water, smoothed his pillow, brushed the curl_ently off his forehead, and sat down on the bedside.
“Thank you, Kate; now go on.”
“Well, you see—” she began.
“Pardon me, dearest,” interrupted Charley, “if you would please to look at m_ou would observe that my two eyes are tightly closed, so that I don’t _see_t all.”
“Well, then, you must understand—”
“Must I? oh!—”
“That after that wicked horse leaped with you over the stable fence, you wer_hrown high into the air, and turning completely round, fell head foremos_nto the snow, and your poor head went through the top of an old cask that ha_een buried there all winter.”
“Dear me!” ejaculated Charley; “did any one see me, Kate?”
“Who?” asked Charley, somewhat anxiously; “not Mrs Grant, I hope? for if sh_id she’d never let me hear the last of it.”
“No; only our father, who was chasing you at the time,” replied Kate, with _erry laugh.
“And no one else?”
“No—oh yes, by-the-bye, Tom Whyte was there too.”
“Oh, he’s nobody! Go on.”
“But tell me, Charley, why do you care about Mrs Grant seeing you?”
“Oh! no reason at all, only she’s such an abominable quiz.”
We must guard the reader here against the supposition that Mrs Grant was _uiz of the ordinary kind. She was by no means a sprightly, clever woman, rather fond of a joke than otherwise, as the term might lead you to suppose.
Her corporeal frame was very large, excessively fat, and remarkably unwieldy; being an appropriate casket in which to enshrine a mind of the heaviest an_ost sluggish nature. She spoke little, ate largely, and slept much—the latte_ecreation being very frequently enjoyed in a large arm-chair of a peculia_ind. It had been a water-butt, which her ingenious husband had cut half-wa_own the middle, then half-way across, and in the angle thus formed fixed _ottom, which, together with the back, he padded with tow, and covered th_hole with a mantle of glaring bed-curtain chintz, whose pattern alternated i_tripes of sky-blue and china roses, with broken fragments of rainbow between.
Notwithstanding her excessive slowness, however, Mrs Grant was fond of takin_ firm hold of anything or any circumstance in the character or affairs of he_riends, and twitting them thereupon in a grave but persevering manner tha_as exceedingly irritating. No one could ever ascertain whether Mrs Grant di_his in a sly way or not, as her visage never expressed anything excep_nalterable good-humour. She was a good wife and an affectionate mother, had _amily of ten children, and could boast of never having had more than on_uarrel with her husband. This disagreement was occasioned by a rather awkwar_ischance. One day, not long after her last baby was born, Mrs Grant waddle_owards her tub with the intention of enjoying her accustomed siesta. A fe_inutes previously her seventh child, which was just able to walk, ha_crambled up into the seat and fallen fast asleep there. As has been alread_aid, Mrs Grant’s intellect was never very bright, and at this particular tim_he was rather drowsy, so that she did not observe the child, and on reachin_er chair, turned round preparatory to letting herself plump into it. Sh_lways _plumped_ into her chair. Her muscles were too soft to lower her gentl_own into it. Invariably on reaching a certain point they ceased to act, an_et her down with a crash. She had just reached this point, and her baby’_opes and prospects were on the eve of being cruelly crushed for ever, when M_rant noticed the impending calamity. He had no time to warn her, for she ha_lready passed the point at which her powers of muscular endurance terminated; so grasping the chair, he suddenly withdrew it with such force that the bab_olled off upon the floor like a hedgehog, straightened out flat, and gav_ent to an outrageous roar, while its horror-struck mother came to the groun_ith a sound resembling the fall of an enormous sack of wool. Although the ol_ady could not see exactly that there was anything very blameworthy in he_usband’s conduct upon this occasion, yet her nerves had received so severe _hock that she refused to be comforted for two entire days.
But to return from this digression. After Charley had two or three time_ecommended Kate (who was a little inclined to be quizzical) to proceed, sh_ontinued—
“Well, then, you were carried up here by father and Tom Whyte, and put to bed, and after a good deal of rubbing and rough treatment you were got round. The_eter Mactavish nearly poisoned you; but fortunately he was such a goose tha_e did not think of reading the label of the phial, and so gave you a dose o_incture of rhubarb instead of laudanum, as he had intended; and then fathe_lew into a passion, and Tom Whyte was sent to fetch the doctor, and couldn’_ind him; but fortunately he found me, which was much better, I think, an_rought me up here. And so here I am, and here I intend to remain.”
“And so that’s the end of it. Well, Kate, I’m very glad it was no worse.”
“And I am very _thankful_ ,” said Kate, with emphasis on the word, “that it’_o worse.”
“Oh, well, you know, Kate, I _meant_ that, of course.”
“But you did not _say_ it,” replied his sister earnestly.
“To be sure not,” said Charley gaily; “it would be absurd to be always makin_olemn speeches, and things of that sort, every time one has a littl_ccident.”
“True, Charley; but when one has a very serious accident, and escapes unhurt, don’t you think that _then_ it would be—”
“Oh yes, to be sure,” interrupted Charley, who still strove to turn Kate fro_er serious frame of mind; “but, sister dear, how could I possibly _say_ I wa_hankful, with my head crammed into an old cask and my feet pointing up to th_lue sky, eh?”
Kate smiled at this, and laid her hand on his arm, while she bent over th_illow and looked tenderly into his eyes.
“O my darling Charley, you are disposed to jest about it; but I cannot tel_ou how my heart trembled this morning when I heard from Tom Whyte of what ha_appened. As we drove up to the fort, I thought how terrible it would hav_een if you had been killed; and then the happy days we have spent togethe_ushed into my mind, and I thought of the willow creek where we used to fis_or gold-eyes, and the spot in the woods where we have so often chased th_ittle birds, and the lake in the prairies where we used to go in spring t_atch the water-fowl sporting in the sunshine. When I recalled these things, Charley, and thought of you as dead, I felt as if I should die too. And when _ame here and found that my fears were needless, that you were alive and safe, and almost well, I felt thankful—yes, very, very thankful—to God for sparin_our life, my dear, dear Charley.” And Kate laid her head on his bosom an_obbed, when she thought of what might have been, as if her very heart woul_reak.
Charley’s disposition to levity entirely vanished while his sister spoke; an_wining his tough little arm round her neck, he pressed her fervently to hi_eart.
“Bless you, Kate,” he said at length. “I am indeed thankful to God, not onl_or sparing my life, but for giving me such a darling sister to live for. Bu_ow, Kate, tell me, what do you think of father’s determination to have m_laced in the office here?”
“Indeed, I think it’s very hard. Oh, I do wish _so_ much that I could do i_or you,” said Kate, with a sigh.
“Do _what_ for me?” asked Charley.
“Why, the office work,” said Kate.
“Tuts! fiddlesticks! But isn’t it, now, really a _very_ hard case?”
“Indeed it is; but then, what can you do?”
“Do?” said Charley impatiently; “run away, to be sure.”
“Oh, don’t speak of that!” said Kate anxiously. “You know it will kill ou_eloved mother; and then it would grieve father very much.”
“Well, father don’t care much about grieving me, when he hunted me down like _olf till I nearly broke my neck.”
“Now, Charley, you must not speak so. Father loves you tenderly, although h_is_ a little rough at times. If you only heard how kindly he speaks of you t_ur mother when you are away, you could not think of giving him so much pain.
And then the Bible says, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days ma_e long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee;’ and as God speaks i_he Bible, _surely_ we should pay attention to it!”
Charley was silent for a few seconds; then heaving a deep sigh, h_aid,—“Well, I believe you’re right, Kate; but then, what am I to do? If _on’t run away, I must live, like poor Harry Somerville, on a long—legge_tool; and if I do _that_ , I’ll—I’ll—”
As Charley spoke, the door opened, and his father entered.
“Well, my boy,” said he, seating himself on the bedside and taking his son’_and, “how goes it now? Head getting all right again? I fear that Kate ha_een talking too much to you.—Is it so, you little chatterbox?”
Mr Kennedy parted Kate’s clustering ringlets and kissed her forehead.
Charley assured his father that he was almost well, and much the better o_aving Kate to tend him. In fact, he felt so much revived that he said h_ould get up and go out for a walk.
“Had I not better tell Tom Whyte to saddle the young horse for you?” said hi_ather, half ironically. “No, no, boy; lie still where you are to-day, and ge_p if you feel better to-morrow. In the meantime, I’ve come to say goodbye, a_ intend to go home to relieve your mother’s anxiety about you. I’ll see yo_gain, probably, the day after to-morrow. Hark you, boy; I’ve been talkin_our affairs over again with Mr Grant, and we’ve come to the conclusion t_ive you a run in the woods for a time. You’ll have to be ready to start earl_n spring with the first brigades for the north. So adieu!”
Mr Kennedy patted him on the head, and hastily left the room.
A burning blush of shame arose on Charley’s cheek as he recollected his lat_emarks about his father; and then, recalling the purport of his last words, he sent forth an exulting shout as he thought of the coming spring.
“Well now, Charley,” said Kate, with an arch smile, “let us talk seriousl_ver your arrangements for running away.”
Charley replied by seizing the pillow and throwing it at his sister’s head; but being accustomed to such eccentricities, she anticipated the movement, an_vaded the blow.
“Ah, Charley,” cried Kate, laughing, “you mustn’t let your hand get out o_ractice! That was a shockingly bad shot for a man thirsting to become a bea_nd buffalo hunter!”
“I’ll make my fortune at once,” cried Charley, as Kate replaced the pillow, “build a wooden castle on the shores of Great Bear Lake, take you to kee_ouse for me, and when I’m out hunting you’ll fish for whales in the lake, an_e’ll live there to a good old age; so good-night, Kate dear, and go to bed.”
Kate laughed, gave her brother a parting kiss, and left him.