Kate Daly during this time was much disturbed in mind. The reader may remember—Kate, at any rate, remembered well—that, just as the doctor had arrived to set his broken bone, Mr. Medlicot, disabled as he was, had attempted to take her by the arm. He had certainly chosen an odd time for a declaration of love, just the moment in which he ought to have been preparing himself for the manipulation of his fractured limb; but, unless he had meant a declaration of love, surely he would not have seized her by the arm. It was a matter to her of great moment. Oh, of what vital importance! The English girl living in a town, or even in what we call the country, has no need to think of any special man till some special man thinks of her. Men are fairly plentiful, and if one man does not come, another will. And there have probably been men coming and going in some sort since the girl left her school-room and became a young lady. But in the bush the thing is very different. It may be that there is no young man available within fifty miles—no possible lover or future husband, unless Heaven should interfere almost with a miracle. To those to whom lovers are as plentiful as blackberries it may seem indelicate to surmise that the thought of such a want should ever enter a girl’s head. I doubt whether the defined idea of any want had ever entered poor Kate’s head. But now that the possible lover was there—not only possible, but very probable—and so eligible in many respects, living so close, with a house over his head and a good business; and then so handsome, and, as Kate thought, so complete a gentleman! Of course she turned it much in her mind. She was very happy with Harry Heathcote. There never was a brother-in-law so good! But, after all, what is a brother-in-law, though he be the very best? Kate had already begun to fancy that a house of her own and a husband of her own would be essential to her happiness. But then a man can not be expected to make an offer with a broken collar-bone—certainly can not do so just when the doctor has arrived to set the bone.
Late on in the day, when the doctor had gone, and Medlicot was, according to instructions, sitting out on the veranda in an armchair, and his mother was with him, and while Harry was sleeping as though he never meant to be awake again, Kate managed to say a few words to her sister. It will be understood that the ladies’ hands were by no means empty. The Christmas dinner was in course of preparation, and Sing Sing, that villainous Chinese cook, had absconded. Mrs. Growler, no doubt, did her best; but Mrs. Growler was old and slow, and the house was full of guests. It was by no means an idle time; but still Kate found an opportunity to say a word to her sister in the kitchen.
“What do you think of him, Mary?”
To the married sister “him” would naturally mean Harry Heathcote, of whom, as he lay asleep, the young wife thought that he was the very perfection of patriarchal pastoral manliness; but she knew enough of human nature to be aware that the “him” of the moment to her sister was no longer her own husband. “I think he has got his arm broken fighting for Harry, and that we are bound to do the best we can for him.”