Read CHAPTER XIV of The Adventurous Seven Their Hazardous Undertaking , free online book, by Bessie Marchant, on

The Arrival

Never had any of the seven seen a storm to equal the one that followed. The thunder was almost incessant, while the lightning played in blue forks and flashes round a couple of stringy barks growing by the side of the road a little farther on, darting in and out like live things at play, until Nealie forgot half of her fear in the fascination of watching them.

Ducky had crept under the roll of mattresses at the back of the wagon, and was hiding there in the dark from the terror of the storm, while Rupert and Rumple were doing valiant service, one at either end of the wagon, in holding the curtains together, as the fierce wind kept ripping them open, letting in sheets of rain upon the group cowering within.

Rocky had been tied by his halter to the lee side of the wagon to prevent him from wandering under the trees and courting speedy destruction there. He stood with bent head and bunched hindquarters, as if in stolid resignation, although Ducky cried because he was too big to be taken into the shelter of the tilt ­to be made comfortable, as she said. It was quite in vain that Don and Billykins sought to console her by saying that horses rather enjoyed being out in the rain. She was quite positive that they knew nothing about it, and told them so with brisk decision that left them without anything more to say on the subject. But the interest of the argument had dried her tears and taken away so much of her fear of the storm that everyone felt it was well worth while to have roused her to such a pitch.

It was dark before the rain ceased, and by then Rupert and Rumple were just about wet through from their efforts at keeping the rain from the others. There was no question of who should sleep under the wagon to-night, for by the time sundown came they were surrounded by about two feet of water, and although this would doubtless run off before very long, the mud which was left behind was every bit as bad as the water when considered in the light of a foundation for one’s mattress.

So they all sat in chilly discomfort in the wagon, making a frugal supper from damper left over from breakfast, eked out with biscuits. Then, leaning against each other’s shoulders, they tried to forget their discomfort in sleep.

Nealie had insisted that Rupert and Rumple should strip off their wet jackets and wrap themselves in blankets; but the worst of it was that Rupert was wet below his jacket, which was thin, to suit the heat of the day, and so, as might be expected, he took a violent chill, and as he had been very unwell on the day before, his condition, when morning dawned, fairly frightened Nealie. For he was blazing with fever, and talking all sorts of nonsense about his mother and Aunt Judith.

It was his constant harping on the people who had died which so worried her; because, of course, she very naturally thought that he was going to die too.

The driving on this day was left to Sylvia and Rumple, who put Rockefeller along at his very best pace, for they were all frightened at Rupert’s sad plight, which was to rob their arrival of all the delight they had pictured when they should drive up to their father’s house and personally announce to him the arrival of his family.

Don and Billykins trotted along the road by the side of Sylvia and Rumple, all four walking to ease the load, so that the wagon might get along faster. Ducky sat on the front seat, her small face pinched to a wistful anxiety, while Nealie knelt at the back end of the wagon trying to soothe Rupert, who lay on a mattress wildly declaring that he must get up, because his mother and Aunt Judith were in trouble and calling out to him for help.

“Will dear Father be able to cure Rupert quick?” asked the little girl, leaning forward to let her voice reach Sylvia, who walked on one side of the horse while Rumple walked on the other.

Sylvia held up her hand with a warning gesture. “Sit up, Ducky darling, or you will be tumbling off your perch, and we do not want any more disasters this trip if we can help it,” she said, adding: “Of course Father will be able to make Rupert well. The poor, dear boy is only running a temperature, you know, and the shaking of the wagon aggravates it.”

“Then it will only walk when we get home?” asked Ducky wistfully, with a scared backward glance over her shoulder as Rupert burst into a wild peal of laughter, and told Nealie that he had taken an engagement as a circus rider.

“What will only walk when we get home?” asked Rumple, who had noticed the noise Rupert was making, and was anxious to distract the attention of Ducky if he could.

“Why, the temperature, of course. Didn’t Sylvia say that it was running now?” enquired Ducky innocently, and then was highly indignant with Sylvia and Rumple because they burst into a peal of laughter.

“What is the joke?” demanded Don, arriving alongside in a rather breathless condition, for he had been investigating a cross track, and then had to hurry to catch up the wagon.

But by this time they were grave again, and, truth to tell, a little ashamed of having laughed so much when Rupert was so ill. Then Ducky had to be pacified, for, frightened by the nonsense her eldest brother was talking, she had begun to cry, until Sylvia hit on the grand idea of making her the postilion, and, helping her to scramble on to the back of Rockefeller, let her sit there in state, pretending to drive, while the last weary miles of the long journey slid by.

They reached the outskirts of Hammerville in the late afternoon, and stopped at the very first house to enquire where Dr. Plumstead lived.

The woman who opened the door to them declared that she did not know.

“I don’t hold with doctors, and physic, and that sort of stuff, so I don’t know nothing about them,” she said ungraciously, and then shut the door in their faces.

“Disagreeable old thing; I hope that she will be ill and want the doctor very soon,” said Billykins, shaking an indignant fist in the direction of the closed door.

“That is very uncharitable of you,” said Sylvia, “and besides, she does not look as if she would be at all a good paying patient, and so it would only be a bit more drudgery for dear Father, for, of course, a doctor must go to everyone who has need of him, whether the patient can pay or not.”

“Then I shall not be a doctor, for I don’t want to do things for people who can’t pay me,” said Don; and then he ran up to a pleasant-faced girl, who was weeding the garden of the next house, and asked her if she could tell him where Dr. Plumstead lived.

“Why, yes, he has got a house on the Icksted Road, that is on the Pig Hill side of the town,” she said, standing up to survey the wagon and as many of its occupants as chanced to be visible.

“Is it far?” demanded Don anxiously.

“Oh, somewhere about a mile! You must turn to the left when you have passed Dan Potter’s saloon; that is right in the middle of the town, so you can’t miss it. What do you want the doctor for? Is anyone bad?”

“We have come to live with him; we are his children, you know,” explained Don, with the engaging frankness which he could display sometimes, although as a rule he was more reserved with strangers than Rumple or Billykins.

“His children? I didn’t know that he had got any!” exclaimed the girl, staring harder than ever at the wagon, although at present there was not much to see, except Ducky perched astride on the big horse that Rumple was leading, for Sylvia had retired under shelter of the tilt to make some sort of a toilet in honour of reaching the end of the journey, and Nealie was still ministering to the wants of Rupert to the best of her ability.

“That is not wonderful, because, you see, we have been living in England. But I must hurry on, and I will come to see you another day. There are seven of us, and we are just on the tiptoe of expectation about what Father will say when he sees the lot of us,” said Don, with a friendly nod, and then trotted away in pursuit of the wagon, which had passed on while the girl leaned against the fence and feebly gasped, as if her astonishment were too much for her.

Dan Potter’s saloon was quite an imposing place, and very tawdry with gilt adornments and coloured glass. They turned into a road at the left, according to the direction given by the girl, and then followed a road which was scarcely more than a track, and that abounded in mud puddles of a deep and dangerous sort, where the going was so bad that Nealie was forced to leave Rupert in the care of Sylvia, and come herself to guide Rocky from the pitfalls of that evil place.

There were newly finished buildings that looked as if they had been run up in the night; there were buildings in course of erection that looked as if they would tumble down before they were finished; and there were other buildings in process of being planned, but of which not much was to be seen saving a forest of scaffold poles.

“What a big place it looks,” said Nealie, as with an abrupt jerk she pulled Rocky’s head round in time to save him from pitching into an unexpected hole that yawned in the path. “I had somehow got the idea that it was only a little town, not much bigger than a village.”

“It is awfully ugly though,” replied Rumple, wrinkling his nose with an air of extreme dissatisfaction. “The man that built those houses at the end of the street ought to be condemned to live opposite to them.”

“That might not be a hard sort of punishment at all,” laughed Nealie; “because, you see, if he had no eye for beauty or artistic fitness the ugliness would not trouble him, he might even take a great deal of satisfaction in thinking how nicely he had done them.”

“There is no accounting for tastes,” grumbled Rumple, who was really more an admirer of what was beautiful than even Sylvia, who had the reputation of being artistic.

Then he dashed off to ask a man if they were going right for Dr. Plumstead’s house, and, being told that it was the next small house that stood alone, he rushed back to the wagon with his information.

“I wonder if Father will be at home,” cried Billykins, with an eager look on his face. “May we run forward and knock at the door, Nealie?”

“No, no; we will all go together,” answered Nealie hurriedly, while a flush rose in her cheeks, and there was a nervous look in her eyes, for suddenly she was dreading the reception they might receive.

How forlorn they really were, those seven whom no one seemed to really want! And yet how kind people had been to them in all that long, long journey from Beechleigh in England. Of course, but for that bit of absent-mindedness on the part of Rumple, Dr. Plumstead would have known that his children were coming, and then he could have had a welcome of a sort ready for them. As it was, it would be the naked truth which they would have to face, and it was the fear that perhaps he would wish they had not come that made Nealie feel so nervous, as she led Rocky along the few remaining yards of that very bad stretch of road leading to the doctor’s house.

Sylvia had left Rupert for a few minutes and was hanging out of the front of the wagon. Ducky still perched astride Rockefeller’s broad back, while the three younger boys were grouped close to Nealie, who led the horse.

There was a bit of rising ground before the house, and so of necessity the pace was slow; but at last they halted, and then stood for a moment as if uncertain what to do next.

“Rumple, you had better knock,” said Nealie in a choked tone, and then was instantly sorry for what she had said, remembering that but for Rumple’s forgetfulness there might have been no need to knock at all.

“Let me knock,” pleaded Don, wondering why Nealie looked so pale, and Rumple seemed so scared.

“Yes, dear, you can knock, and Billykins will go with you,” she said, with a little gasp of relief.

The two small boys dashed through the gate and up the path to the door. There had once been a garden in front of the house, but it was wilderness pure and simple now, a choked jumble of weeds, and flowers struggling for existence in the garden beds, and a wattle bush filled the air with a sweet perfume which always afterwards reminded Nealie of that moment of waiting before the house.

“There is no one at home, and the door is locked,” cried Don, and then he tried to peep in the window, but was not high enough to reach the lowest pane.

“I expect he has been called out to a case,” said Sylvia from her perch in front of the wagon. “Nealie, can’t you send the boys to find out where Father keeps the key? I am sure that we ought to get Rupert out of the wagon as soon as possible, for he seems to get more ill every minute, poor dear!”

Ah, there was Rupert to be considered! Of choice Nealie would have remained standing out in front of the house until her father’s return, however long she might have to wait, but Rupert must be cared for, and because she feared that his life might hang on his having prompt attention just now, she gave way to Sylvia’s suggestion, and told Don to run to the next house to ask where Dr. Plumstead kept his key when he had to go away.

Away sped Don, nothing loath, and, entering the gate of the next garden, rushed up to the house door and knocked loudly.

The houses in this part of Hammerville were older than those of the more crowded streets, indeed it looked as if the place had started as a village at the first and then on second thoughts had grown out at one side into a busy town, while the other side remained sleepy and village-like, each abode having its own garden and orchard in the rear.

There was a minute of waiting, and then the door was opened to Don by a sleepy-looking Irishwoman, garbed in a very dirty pinafore.

“I don’t want any firewood to-day at all, at all, thank you,” she said pleasantly, her kindly face expanding into a genial smile.

“I have not brought you firewood, but I want to know where Dr. Plumstead keeps his key when he is called away to a patient?” asked Don, lifting his hat with so much courtesy that the good woman was tremendously impressed.

“He has only got one key, sir, and he always takes that with him, except when he leaves it at home,” she said, with a sudden change of manner, because she decided that this was one of the quality, and no errand boy, as she at first imagined.

“Can you tell us how to get in?” asked Don rather desperately. “We are Dr. Plumstead’s children, all seven of us, and I am afraid that he was not expecting us at this minute, so he is not at home, you see.”

“Dr. Plumstead with sivin children! The saints preserve us! What next!” cried the woman, flinging up her hands in such profound amazement that Don could not help laughing, she looked so funny.

“The what next is that we want to get into the house as quickly as possible, because Rupert, that is my eldest brother, is not well,” he explained, wondering why everyone should be so amazed because Dr. Plumstead had children.

“I will let you in with my key. It fits the doctor’s door, which is very convenient, because you see I do for him, and real hard work it is, for he is a dreadful particular gentleman. But sivin children, and you not the eldest! My word, what is the world coming to?”

As Don could not answer this question it had to go unanswered, and instead he waited in silence while the Irishwoman took her key from a nail in the wall, and set off across her garden, which was only one degree less untidy than the doctor’s, to open the door for the children.

“Why, the others are bigger than you, most of them!” she exclaimed in still growing amazement, as she surveyed the group standing by the head of the horse. “The saints preserve us! What is the world coming to?”

Again Don had to let the question go unanswered, although it seemed to him rather rude. The woman unlocked the door of the little wooden house, which was plain and ugly, and did not even boast a veranda, then, dropping a curtsy to Nealie, she stood back for them to enter.