A month elapsed while Kit exchanged letters with the quarantine station, securing her return as head nurse at the newly-built hospital.
Clara had refused to attend school on learning of her father’s illness, wishing instead to spend all her spare time by his side. On the day of their departure for the station, she wrapped her arms
around his waist and, sobbing pitifully, would not budge.
“We’ve spoken about this day many times, little one." He placed his hands on her shoulders and peered down as she raised her face to him. “I want more than anything for you and Lizzy and your mama
to stay well. This is the only way.”
“I don’t want to leave you, Papa. I want to stay here with you. I don’t care if I get sick. I don’t care even if I die.”
He brushed his hand over her head. “One day you are going to meet a handsome man and fall in love. You’ll have pretty children of your own and your mama will be a grandma. If you stay here, none of
those wonderful things will happen. So, take your mama’s hand and go now. Don’t look back, but know I’ll be watching you walk away, and when I’m in heaven with the angels, I’ll continue to watch
over you always.”
She let go of him and stood back. “Yes, Papa.”
She wiped her nose with the back of her hand and picked up her case and stood next to Lizzy and Kit. They turned and walked down the path towards the post office to catch a ride with a supply
coach heading to the quarantine station.
Clara looked over her shoulder at her father.
He waved and forced a weak smile.
Clara looked up at Kit, her jaw set, her eyes fixed directly ahead, but tears betrayed her true feelings as they ran down her cheeks and under her chin, dripping onto the front of the dress
Jimmy had chosen for her to wear.
Kit thought of the conversation with Jimmy about Mrs Hennessy the day before, and how she had asked why he had chosen her.
“Mrs Hennessy! Now why in the world would you think I would lay with that woman? She laughs like a whinnying horse and smells like a slaughter house. She grew fond of the nip of fine whisky I added
to her tea and visited upon me more that I would have preferred. Why, she even threw herself upon me the day you arrived, but I assure you, I pushed her away and told her I only have desire for the
love of my life.”
During the journey back to the station, Kit and the girls were jostled by wooden boxes of medical supplies bound for the station. The coach driver had left just enough room on the seats for the
trio, and when the girls tired, they lay against Kit, shifting and stretching trying to make themselves comfortable enough to sleep. Kit was almost grateful when a coach wheel became stuck at the
bottom of a hole where the track had given way after recent rain. They squeezed past the stacks of boxes and jumped onto the track and walked a short distance ahead of the coach.
“I can hear the sea!” Lizzy shouted. “Let’s see if we can see the sea.” She grabbed Clara by the hand and jerked on her arm to lead her towards a tall straight tree. Its thick lower branches
provided a rough ladder to its upper reaches. The girls started scrambling up.
“Be careful girls,” Kit yelled. “Don’t climb too quickly.” She turned her attention to the coach driver as he yelled at the young coachman to push harder on the branch he’d employed to lever the
wheel from the hole.
The coachman, a slender man with the nickname of Spokes, due to his long spindly limbs, lifted his feet from the ground to press all his weight onto the branch. The wheel rose and Spokes shifted
his weight to move it clear of the hole. Just before the wheel settled safely, the branch snapped, sending Spokes falling face down into a mud hole.
The driver clutched his belly and laughed hard and heartily.
Kit averted her eyes and giggled as silently as she could manage.
The moment of hilarity ended with a scream.
“Lizzy!” Clara scrambled down the tree, her focus shifting between the next branch beneath her feet and where Lizzy had fallen onto the damp rocky ground at the tree base.
Lizzy sat up, clutching her arm as Kit reached her side.
“Are you all right?” Kit ran her eyes over Lizzy from head to toe.
“My arm hurts.”
“Can you raise it?”
Clara jumped from the last branch and knelt beside Lizzy.
Kit asked, “can you wiggle your fingers?”
“It hurts up here.” Lizzy pointed just above her elbow.
Kit carefully rolled up the loose sleeve of Lizzy's tunic. “It looks very swollen. I’m afraid you’ve broken your arm. Do you hurt anywhere else?”
Lizzy sobbed. “No.”
Kit and Clara helped her to her feet and took her back to the coach.
The driver and the coachman were seated and ready to travel once more.
“It won’t be long now, Miss,” the driver said.
Kit lifted Lizzy into the carriage after Clara and paused to speak with the driver.
“It’s just as well we’re nearly there, my daughter has broken her arm. Would you please avoid any unnecessary obstacles on the track?”
“Will do, Miss. I’ll keep her as smooth as a sailing ship.”
Clara patted her friends knee. “Don’t worry, Lizzy. Tom will fix you. He’s the best doctor in the whole world. Isn’t he, Mama?”
Kit’s heart quickened at the mention of his name.“Yes, darling.” She finished fashioning a sling for Lizzy with her scarf and sat back, putting her arm around her.
“I can’t wait to see Finley again,” Clara said. “He’s so handsome. I hope he’ll take us swimming again.”
Lizzy managed a weak smile, cradling her elbow in her hand and trying to brace herself against the swaying of the coach.
The driver flicked the reins, spurring the horses to work harder to pull the coach up a steep incline in the track.
At the top, Clara rose from her seat.
“I can see the sea!” The smile dropped suddenly from her face and she slumped back in her seat. “I wish Papa was here to see it.”
Kit’s gaze fell to her lap. She pressed her lips together and put an arm around Clara.
“So do I.”
© Copyright 2022 Miranda J Taylor. All rights reserved.