When Kit and Clara settled into their tent following the evening meal, a visitor arrived.
“Excuse me, Mrs Monahan, it’s Doctor Walker. I’ve come to check on Clara.”
“Come in please, Doctor,” Kit said.
He pushed back the canvas flap and ducked underneath the entrance. Straightening his tall frame, he removed his hat.
“I trust there were no problems this morning.”
“No, none at all, and I thank you. My boy is now at rest. And I must tell you how grateful I am that you sent for Father Dixon. That was truly kind.”
“You are most welcome. Now, if I may see to Clara?”
Kneeling in front of Clara he examined her briefly.
“The fever has dropped markedly. Being in the fresher, cleaner air has done her good. Do you have a headache, Clara?”
He turned and poured a glass of water from the pitcher resting on top of a wooden crate.
“Here, drink this down.” Clara accepted the glass from his hands. “I want you to give her a glass of water every hour until she retires for the night. She’s still dehydrated.”
“Yes, Doctor, I will, and thank you."
“You’re welcome, and please, call me Tom. Good night.”
As soon as the doctor left Ginny hurriedly entered Kit’s tent.
“Was that the fine doctor I saw leaving just now?”
“You know it was," Kit said.
“He’s a fine looking fellow, ain’t he?”
“He’s nice enough.”
“I wasn’t referring to his manner and you know it. I reckon he fancies you, Kit.”
“Oh, nonsense. He was here to check on Clara, that’s all.”
Ginny folded her arms and peered directly at Kit. “Well, I’ll have you know that he's been running himself ragged looking after the sick passengers of this camp. The two hospital cottages are full
to the brim and many more are in tents in the surrounding area. I’ve heard it said that there are people close to death, but our doctor takes the time to come and visit your Clara, who is only
“So, you were listening in?”
“Oh, Kit, my tent is pitched within an inch of yours – I can hear every word that’s said in ‘ere. And don’t go changing the subject.”
“Doctor Walker has no more of an interest in me than the seven hundred or so other people in this camp, and that is a fact.”
“Well, time will tell.”
“If you’ll be excusing us now, Ginny, we are going to get some rest.”
In the morning, the cooks were forced to have the large number of passengers for breakfast at three sittings. Kit, Clara, Ginny and Lizzy were part of the final sitting.
Finley stood on a wooden crate and addressed the passengers.“The ground on which we now stand will officially be proclaimed a quarantine station by Governor La Trobe within the week. There is need
of more buildings to house the sick. I understand that there are a number of stone masons among you. Our surgeon, Doctor Walker, has been authorised to pay five shillings per diem to anyone with
tools and the knowledge to assist with construction. In addition, we need women to help nurse the sick. Anyone with experience is asked to report to the main hospital cottage after breakfast.
Ginny shook her head. “God only knows there’s naught to do around here, but I’m not taking my chances of catching something off them sick people, even if I was a nurse. Not on your Nelly.” She
greedily spooned oatmeal into her large mouth.
“Then would you be so kind as to watch Clara for me today while I help?”
“I didn't know you had nursing experience.”
“Not formally, but my brother had polio and my sister and I nursed him when my mother was working.”
“Where was your father?”
“He died at sea when I was only three. I barely remember him.”
“I’d rather forget me father – he was a right tyrant. Liked the grog too much, you see.” She waved her spoon in the air as she talked. “Me and me sister had so many beatings from ‘im, it became
almost a nightly ritual to compare bruises.”
“Well, that’s very unfortunate. So, would you mind Clara for me?”
“I’d be happy to. I think I’ll take them down to the water later today when it gets hot.”
“Thank you, and perhaps I can watch Lizzy for you some time.”
“She don’t need no watching, she can take care of herself. She’s already got her eye on a few likely lads, haven’t you, Missy?”
Lizzy smiled wryly and nodded her head. Kit turned to her daughter sitting by her side.
“If you have any troubles come and find me. Do you hear?”
“Good girl. Now, I’m going to go help with the sick. You stick by Ginny, and don’t go wandering off.”
“No, Mama, I won’t go wandering.”
“Thank you again, Ginny,” Kit said, and left the dining area.
She strode towards the hospital cottages, pinning her hair up as she walked. When she arrived at the main cottage, Finely was digging away thick clumps of grass to form a clearing around the door.
“Morning to you, Kit.” He smiled widely and touched the brim of his hat.
“Mr Grant, I’d rather you addressed me as Mrs Monahan.”
“I beg your pardon, Mrs Monahan. I finished the cross for Robert last night. Would you like to see it?”
“You - you’ve done that already?”
“Yes, ma’am. I made it a priority.”
“Please, show me.”
They walked past the cottage to the cemetery. The space next to Robert's grave was now occupied and three more graves lay beside that one. Kit stood at the foot of the small mound of dirt
and sunk to her knees.Constructed from thick lengths of red gum stood a large cross with a fleur de lis at the top and carved with the words,
“It’s lovely,” Kit said. “I didn’t expect anything like this.”
“You like it then?”
“Oh, yes.” She allowed a tear to fall down her cheek before wiping away the next with her fingers. “It must have taken you hours of work.”
“Why? You hardly know me.”
“I saw the lad when I held him in my arms. My nephew died when he was only three and we couldn’t bury him until the next day because heavy rain filled the grave with water. I know what a properly
dead body looks like. I reckoned that your son must have died on the ship and that you didn’t want the sea to be his resting place. Anyone who does that for their boy, well, he must have meant a
lot and he deserved something special. Something proper.”
“Thank you. I don’t know how to repay you.”
“The smile on your face is payment enough, Mrs Monahan.”
“Please, call me Kit.”
“Very well -- Kit. I know where some wildflowers grow; they’re really pretty. I could show you and we could pick some for Robert.”
“I’d like that, but not now. How about this afternoon? I’ll bring Clara.”
“That sounds grand.”
“But how will I find you?”
“Don’t worry about that; I’ll find you.”
Kit walked to the hospital, leaving Finley outside to continue his work. She took a deep breath, lifted her skirts to clear the threshold and went inside. She cupped her hand over her mouth
and nose as the foulness from within greeted her. The room was filled with stretchers, each one occupied by a prostrate figure. She was about to turn and leave when a voice addressed her.
“Mrs Monahan, so lovely to see you. Is Clara doing well?” Doctor Walker asked.
“Yes, Doctor, she is just fine.”
“Please, I asked you to call me Tom. Now, how can I help you.”
“Actually, it is I who has come to help you, rather the sick, in any way, if I’m able.”
“As you can see, I have many people here to attend to, and any help will be received most gratefully, but it won’t be pleasant. Be prepared to have your senses assaulted, Mrs Monahan. You’d better
grab one of those aprons over there on the table.” He pointed to a long dining table in the corner near the door. “Then take one of those basins of cooled boiled water – never draw it from the well
directly - we don’t want dysentery on top of the typhus - then take your pick of any of the poor souls here – they’re all with the fever and need cooling.”
Kit nodded and busied herself with the task. She worked her way clockwise around the room so as not to miss anyone. The first person she approached was an elderly man who flung out his arm and
grabbed her skirts as she approached.
“Come here, me pretty. Give us a kiss, will ya?” His voice was rasping and his breath foul.
Kit wrenched her skirts from his hand, nearly tipping the basin of water onto herself.
“Don’t pay any heed to what they say when they’ve got the fever.” Tom’s mother approached from behind her. “They’ll say all sorts of funny things. They don’t mean any of it. Just do what Tom asks
of you and the day will go quickly enough.”
Kit smiled and nodded at the kindly woman who went about her business of mopping vomit from the floor. Kit dipped the cloth into the water and turned to the man who was now quiet and still.
She bent down and dabbed at his face, wringing the cloth over again until, on pressing the back of her hand to his forehead, she could feel cool skin.
“Thank you, me angel,” said the man, opening his eyes momentarily.
She approached the next patient, a woman of about the same age as herself. She slept soundly as Kit stood next to the bed. She bent over her to dab her face when the woman’s head suddenly turned
and she spewed forth a grotesque liquid onto the front of Kit’s apron.
“Oh,” Kit gasped, stepping back. “Oh, my dear.” Her hand went up to her face and she grasped her nose with her thumb and forefinger before dashing from the building. She ran around to the side of
the cottage and vomited onto a small bush.
“Are you all right, Kit?” Finely dropped his shovel and strode over to her. He placed a hand on her bent back.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I just need a minute.”
“Here, let me untie this.” He let loose the strings that held her apron and scrunched it in on itself, enclosing the liquid. “I’ll take this to the laundry tent myself.”
Kit straightened and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth.
“Thank you, Finley.”
“Maybe you’d be better off helping in some other way. The kitchen people need help preparing the meals. I could ask them."
“No, no, I will be all right, thank you. I chose to do this work and I’ll continue with it as long as I’m needed.” She patted her hand over loose strands of hair and brushed the front of her
skirts. “Now, back to it.”
She walked briskly back into the cottage and over to where Tom’s mother was mopping next to the young woman. Margaret’s eyebrow's rose upon her return, but she said nothing. She pointed to
where she had placed Kit’s basin on the floor at the foot of the stretcher.
It took Kit several hours to help soothe the fever of the people in the two cottages and those housed in the tents outside. She returned to the first cottage to ask what to do next. She heard an
angry man talking with Tom.
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