One evening six months after the sharing of our lodgings began, Mrs. Fox, exposed me for my gender correctly through the art of deduction, and her inimitable ability observe.
My pragmatic landlady informed me in a direct and matter of fact manner that I was, indeed, a woman. Her rather accurate rationale was attributed to my monthly behaviours of a female nature, specific to menstruation. I heartily denied such nonsense, however her argument proved so sound that I was unable to keep the charade from her, and confessed her reasoning sound and absolutely accurate. This was something that shook me greatly. She did though swear to never expose me for what I am, staunchly keeping my secret close to her chest forever
Only now had I truly begun appreciate the character that is Mrs. Fox. I sincerely doubt that had she been male, she could never have mastered such profound levels of observation, nor maintained the astonishing high level of intelligence and the ability to deduce as she did.
What an odd couple Mrs. Fox and I were to make. Two women; one posing and living as a man privately, and as a successful Doctor within the public eye, with such complete competence as to fool Australia, and later the world, as to who I truly am.
That, however, is the start of this chronicle, not the beginning of this entirely factual memoire.
Fremantle Public Hospital was my bread and butter whilst lodging with Mrs. Fox. With no practice to speak of, and constant bouts of ill health due to my wounds, I encountered scant employment.
Thankful for Earnshaw, the casual position opened to me at Fremantle Public Hospital. As a result of this good fortune, my rent was always on time, the wolf was away from the door, and Mrs. Fox was kept happy with the kitty full and the books balanced.
Occasionally I was to find that I would have a farthing or two spare, I would catch the train from Fremantle Station to Ascot Racecourse, dropping me at the track, allowing me a little sport enjoying the horses. Whilst not always the most successful gambler, I enjoyed these, my only true social outlets, immensely.
As an addition to my work within the Hospital, I was to spend many an evening wandering through the hell’s of the Fremantle area, doctors’ bag in hand, making house calls to those too poorly to make it to the hospital, or doctor’s rooms. Although the pay varied between small and nonexistent, the hands on practise it afforded me was beyond immediate worth.
Regularly, I would be summoned by some bandy legged and malnourished urchin. Always desperate for someone to aid and assist their heavily pregnant mother or slightly older sister. There would be the occasional prostitute aiding a confederate of their profession, who whilst selling negotiable love to all, had been beaten, usually senseless, by a client. Men wounded during the hell of 1914 to 1918, sporting not only the grievous injuries of the body, but equally grievously wounded of the mind, added largely to my nocturnal wanderings.
Lastly, I rendered my assistance to those victims of nothing more a lack of endearing luck. Run over by a cart; a fall from a ladder; a fall from grace.
My time at Fremantle Public Hospital, Fremantle, began in earnest in the April of 1919, and I was finding that through the lack of keeping one’s hand in, I had lost a certain surgical edge.
Not long after my start at the hospital, and as part of my ongoing routine, I had been making my nocturnal house calls, whilst enroute John Street. It was there that I first spied him.
It must have been roughly ten of the clock, and a wild and stormy night. I was seated within the dark confines of a rather shabby cab when I first caught his eye. Or maybe he, mine? Regardless, ‘twas in the left hand window I spied him. I did not engage in conversation with said gent as the cab had only stopped for a moment, to which we were then thrust into the brighter lights of Fremantle, just outside that notorious public house and cesspit of humanity, the ‘The World Turned Upside Down’. That said, even though our glance at one another was fleeting, we both shared a smile in acknowledgement of one another. He was a rather attractive chap I found upon closer exception.
True to my Scot’s origin’s, my complexion then, as it is now, is rather fair. At the time my hair was reddish/ginger as was my moustache. He too was fair both in hair and complexion. He bore a neatly groomed moustache, and possessed fine intelligent features. Beyond our fleeting glance, I thought no more of him thereafter, although strangely I felt a stirring. This in itself was an oddity, as I had not ever experienced one toward the opposite sex. Or one of the same for that matter.
Still time marched on, efficiently as ever. My daily patients now fell into two main areas. Surgical patients at the Fremantle Public Hospital, and clinical and general medical patients as part of my nightly rounds.
Surgically I was suffering. I did not have a regular list, and there seemed to be fewer and fewer patients requiring the knife. As a last resort, I was share purchasing a live pig every two weeks from local sellers with a medical student in his final year. Pigs being remarkably similar anatomically to man. I would cut its throat, we would then conduct autopsies, and perform varying surgical procedures. Again, and unfortunately, purchasing anything comes at a cost. Purchasing an entire pig, even moreso, and it was getting to the point where my university student pig co-owner was no longer able to meet the price, and my pocket was not deep enough to cover it on my own. At least we could eat it when we were finished. Mrs. Fox did make the most magnificent sausages.
At the farthest end to this as could possibly be, were my house calls to the dockside areas. The enormity of the underprivileged, unfortunate, destitute and starving lower class of Fremantle was quite simply astonishing. Not a shade of hope could be found there. It was either the fox or the quarry; the twain never to meet, unless the shedding of blood was made.
A great number of prostitutes worked within that tiny patch of Fremantle at the end of the war, and it was to those that I most regularly plied my trade.
Resultant of the extreme density of humanity, I treated everything from Typhoid, Tuberculosis, delivered babies, set bones, stitched cuts, lanced boils and lesions, pulled teeth, and practiced candle lit gynaecology in the back rooms of pubs and in stables. Insanity, rickets and malnutrition were rife. All done in this tiny hell that basked daily in the sun beside the immense Indian Ocean.
On returning home one morning, I breakfasted with Mrs. Fox, confiding in her the enormity of those in need in general, and also of those in need medically, and the slow drain it was having upon me.
Whilst reaching for another slice of toast from the rack before me, Mrs. Fox gave me quite a surprise replying, “Dr. Peel, I have nought to occupy me by day, and far less to occupy me by night. I will become the second pair of hands you so sorely need.” Pragmatic; a statement, not a question.
After dripping egg yolk upon my rather grubby tie, and worsening its condition in my attempts at cleaning it, I said “that would be most satisfactory, however, the hours are set in the devil’s favour, the coin is oft non-existent. Outside of war, the malady’s are, quite simply put, among the most revolting one can encounter anywhere.”
“Do not think me soft nor ignorant Dr. Peel, I have spent a lifetime either in the hells of Fremantle, those of the local area, or following my late husband to war.” said Mrs. Fox, directly, yet not unkindly. “You will send a boy to fetch me upon the conclusion of your business of the day at The Fremantle Public Hospital, and said lad will escort me to whichever destination is most conducive to you. We will split whatever coin we make 70 – 30 in your favour.” And that, as they say, was that. She then went on to say, or words to the effect of, “Now Dr. Peel, I must head to the markets to purchase a fat hen for your supper. Good day, and I shall see you this evening. Do close your mouth Dr. Peel, something is bound to fly in there before long.”
And that is how our business acquaintance began.
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