This story takes place during the first series of “Doc Martin.” It imagines what might have happened between Martin and Louisa during the early days of their acquaintance. The Coast Path, following some beautiful, unspoiled sections of coast, runs nearly twelve miles between Port Isaac and Padstow, providing hikers with long and short scenic options.
by Karen Gilleland © 2015
Louisa zipped up her blue, lightweight jacket as she walked toward the harbor. The twilight sky was beginning to twinkle with stars, and a breeze played with her bangs and ponytail. She noticed P.C. Mark Mylow, handsome in a red pullover and black slacks, sipping beer at a table at the inn.
“Evening, Mark. Lovely weather.”
“’Another beautiful day in paradise,’ as the saying goes, although our new ‘Doc’ would probably disagree.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He was down this way a while ago. Seems to carry a black cloud about with him. Peggy Benton, Mrs. Willard’s daughter, asked when her mother could be released from hospital. All he said was, ‘I’m not in the office, am I? Make an appointment.’”
Tipping his glass toward her, Mark added, “He’s hard to figure. People are grumbling that we should have brought in a friendlier doctor.”
Louisa grimaced. She’d been on the committee that had chosen Martin Ellingham and had voiced a similar opinion at the time. Now that he was here, she felt obliged to defend him.
“He’s used to the big city. He needs time to adjust to village life. Don’t take his attitude personally.”
“Yes, but–” Mark kept his eyes on the table.
Feeling uneasy, Louisa said, “I’d better go. I’m about to walk a little ways up the Coast Path.” Pointing toward the top of the rise jutting out over the harbor, she added, “I want to get back while it’s still light.”
She waved and started up the hill. When she reached the surgery, Martin was walking down the steps.
“Louisa.” He started to walk off, but stopped and turned. “Were you coming to see me for a medical complaint?”
“No, I’m just walking the hill.”
“Ah, I was about to do the same thing.”
“Would you like company?”
He hesitated, finally said, “I walk pretty fast.”
Louisa felt her face flush, and she said quickly. “You go on then. I take it slow and easy.”
Martin nodded and strode off. She took a deep breath and reminded herself of what she’d said to Mark. Don’t take his attitude personally.
But she did take it personally and felt rebuffed. She walked much more slowly than she’d intended so that she wouldn’t catch up to him if he stopped.
Passing other hikers on their way back to the village, she greeted them with a smile, but the feeling of rejection still rankled. At one of the overlooks, she sat down on a bench and gazed at the harbor, at last relaxing and enjoying the quiet.
She sat there longer than she realized. By the time she stood up to leave, lights were flickering on in the houses below. I should have brought a torch, she thought as she picked her way down the dark path.
Suddenly she stumbled on the uneven surface, skidding down on her hands and knees. She stood up, but the sharp pain in her ankle caused her to cry out. Ouch! She stepped gingerly on her left foot and exclaimed again.
Light from a torch flooded over her. “Are you all right?” asked Martin.
“No,” she snapped.
“I tripped. I think I sprained my ankle.”
“Here, lean on me. I’ll check you out at the surgery.” He took her arm, and she limped along beside him, feeling like a child on the way to the principal’s office.
They didn’t speak until they were inside the building. He helped her up on the couch and took off her shoe. “Nasty sprain,” he said and wrapped her ankle in an elastic bandage. He took out a pair of crutches from the closet.
Still feeling resentful, Louisa slid off the couch and murmured, “Thank you.”
Martin handed her the crutches and went to the cabinet. “Here’s something for the pain. Take one tablet every four hours. You’ll need to keep your leg elevated for several days.”
He walked outside with her and said, “I’ll drive you home.”
Louisa wanted to refuse, but her ankle throbbed. She slipped into the front seat grudgingly. When Martin stopped the car at her house, she saw his hands tighten around the steering wheel. He sat still, looking out the window. Finally he spoke. “It was kind of you to offer to walk the hill with me.”
Surprised by the words and the softness of his voice, she didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t mean to offend you.” He seemed to be struggling with his thoughts.
“During all the years when I was a surgeon in London, I never had a patient die during an operation. I saw each patient only once after surgery, for a post-op exam. It was important to maintain an objective distance.”
He paused, still looking out the window. “Life here is very personal. I treat patients all day long. I run into them at the harbor, when I’m shopping,” he turned toward her, “or out walking.”
Pushing open the car door, he continued, “Occasionally, I know there’s nothing that I, nor anyone else in the medical profession, can do to save a person’s life. Yet I run into that person or his family in the village.”
His words sent a pang of guilt through her, and she shivered. “That must weigh terribly on you.”
Glancing over at her, he shrugged and stretched his leg out of the car. “It’s the reason why I sometimes need to walk things off, alone.”
Before she could respond, he stepped out of the car, walked around and opened her door. His words lingered in the air, touching her heart. As he leaned in, his face close to hers, she whispered, “I understand.”
His eyes held hers a moment, and then he helped her out of the car. Taking her keys, he opened the door, and she stepped inside.
“Would you care for a cup of tea?” she asked.
“No, thanks.” He started to leave, but turned backed. “Would you like me to fix you a cup?”
“I don’t think so. I’ll go to bed and read. The doctor told me to keep my ankle elevated.”
She smiled and thought his eyes twinkled as he said good night.
Obeying doctor’s orders, Louisa kept off her feet. She was grateful to her friends for bringing in meals and shopping for her. After four days’ rest, she declared herself well enough to walk outside.
As she hobbled down the road, Mark Mylow, in the police car, hailed her. “Louisa, can I give you a lift?”
“Thanks, but I seem to be doing okay.”
“Did you hear about Mrs. Willard?”
“She passed away last night, I’m sorry to say.”
“Oh, dear. What happened?” Louisa pictured the petite, white-haired woman who used to sell homemade jams.
“She went to see the ‘Doc’ Monday, the day you sprained your ankle, in fact. He put her in the hospital. Nothing they could do. I’m on my way over to see the family.”
“I’m sorry. Please pass along my condolences and let me know about the funeral.”
Mark nodded, waved and drove off.
Louisa sat down on a bench and closed her eyes. Thoughts crammed her mind. Mrs. Willard dropping off a jar of her delicious strawberry-lime jam. Martin confiding how hard it was to practice in the small village. Her eyes began to tear. She wasn’t sure if she was crying for Mrs. Willard or for Martin.
Around six the next afternoon, she decided her ankle was healed enough to return the crutches. She used them one final time, walking up to the surgery. The door was locked, and she walked around to the kitchen and knocked.
“Louisa, come in. How’s your ankle? You shouldn’t have walked this far.”
“My ankle is much better. I wanted to return the crutches. Someone else may actually need them.”
“Take a seat. I’ll put them away.”
When he returned and sat down at the table, she said, “I heard about Mrs. Willard. I’m sorry.”
“Well, she was eighty-one. She told me she’d had a good inning.”
He stood up and said, “I’ve just made tea. Would you like a cup?”
“Thank you. That would be nice. White, please, one sugar.”
Pouring the tea, he asked how she’d been managing.
“My bottom got a good work out,” she said, describing how she had to sit to go down the stairs. He looked so uncomfortable at her remark that she laughed at him, and his face flushed.
The telephone rang, and he went into the surgery to answer.
“Sorry,” he said, coming back into the room. “Emergency. I have to leave. I’ll drop you off at your house.”
Instinctively she knew it would be a long time before they would again share such a companionable moment, and the deep feeling of disappointment stirring within her jarred her spirit. She managed to smile and say she understood.
He picked up his bag and followed her out to the car. At her house, he reached for her keys and unlocked the door.
“Thanks for bringing back the crutches. I’m glad you don’t need them any more.”
She was about to tiptoe up to kiss him on the cheek, but he turned quickly and hustled into the car. She stood at the doorway, watching the car drive away. For a long moment, she wondered why she felt such closeness to this man who never made any move to show his feelings toward her.
I need to forget about Martin, she told herself, resolved. As she entered the house, the voice in her head taunted, Easier said than done.
— THE END —
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