BY GEORGE VAN SCHAIGK
From John Grant's Diary
Have I shown wisdom or made an arrant, egregious fool of myself? This, I suppose, is a question every man puts to himself after taking a sudden decision upon which a great deal depends.
I have shaken the dust of the great city by the Hudson and forsaken its rich laboratories, its vast hospitals, the earnest workers who were beginning to show some slight interest in me. It was done not after mature consideration but owing to the whim of a moment, to a sudden desire to change the trend of things I felt I could no longer contend with.
Now I live in a little house, among people who speak with an accent that has become unfamiliar to the great outside world. They have given up their two best rooms to me, at a rental so small that I am somewhat ashamed to tender it, at the end of every week. I also obtain the constant care and the pleasant smiles of a good old housewife who appears to take a certain amount of pride in her lodger. As far as I know I am the only boarder in Sweetapple Cove, as well as the only doctor. For a day or two after my arrival I accompanied the local parson, Mr. Barnett, on visits to people he considered to be in need of my ministrations. Now they are coming in droves, and many scattered dwellers on the bleak coast have heard of me. Little fishing-smacks meeting others from farther outports have spread the amazing news that there is a doctor at the Cove.
With other pomps and vanities I have given up white shirts and collars, and my recent purchases include oilskins and long boots. This is fashionable apparel here, and my wearing them appears to impart confidence in my ability.
My only reason for writing this is that the Barnetts go to bed early. Doubtless I may also acquire the habit, in good time. Moreover, there is always a danger of disturbing some important sermon-writing. In common decency I can't bother these delightful people every evening, although they have begged me to consider their home as my own. Mrs. Barnett is a most charming woman, and never in my life have I known anything like the welcome she impulsively extended, but she works hard and I cannot intrude too much. Hence the hours after nine are exceedingly long, when it chances that there are no sick people to look after. At first, of course, I just mooned around, and called myself all sorts of names, honestly considering myself the most stupendous fool ever permitted to exist in freedom from restraint. I plunged into books and devoured the medical weeklies which the irregular mails of the place brought me, yet this did not entirely suffice, and now I have begun to write. It may help the time to pass away, and prevent the attacks of mold and rust. Later on, if things do not shape themselves according to my hopes, these dangers will be of little import. These sheets may then mildew with the dampness of this land, or fly away to sea with the shrewd breezes that sweep over our coast, for all I shall care. At any rate they will have served their purpose.
Of course I am trying to swallow my medicine like a little man. If there is a being I despise it is the fellow who whimpers. There is little that is admirable in professional pugilism, saving the smile often seen on a fighter's face after he has just received a particularly hard and crushing blow. Indeed, that smile is the bruiser's apology for his life.
Lest it be inferred that I have been fighting, I hasten to declare that it was a rather one-sided contest in which I was defeated, lock, stock and barrel, by a mere slip of a girl towards whom I had only lifted up my hands in supplication.
"We are both very young, John," she explained to me, with an exasperating, if unconscious, imitation of the doctors she had observed as they announced very disagreeable things to their patients. "Our lives are practically only beginning. Until now we have been like the vegetables that are brought up in little wooden boxes. We are to be taken up and planted in a field, where we are to grow up into something useful."
"And we shall enjoy a great advantage over the young cabbages and lettuces," I chimed in. "We shall have the inestimable privilege of being permitted to select the particular farm or enclosure that pleases us best."
"Of course," said Dora Maclennon, cheerfully.
"But I should be ever so glad to have you select for the two of us," I told her. "I guarantee to follow you blindly."
She put her hand on my arm and patted it in the abominably soothing way she has doubtless acquired in the babies' ward. In my case it was about as effectual as the traditional red rag to a bull.
"Don't you dare touch me like that," I resented. "I'm quite through with the mumps and measles. My complaint is one you don't understand at all. You are unable to sympathize with me because love, to you, is a mere theoretical thing. You've heard of it, perhaps you are even ready to admit that some people suffer from such an ailment, but you don't really know anything about it. It has not been a part of your curriculum. I've been trying to inoculate you with this distemper but it won't take."
"I suppose I'm a poor sort of soil for that kind of culture," she replied, rather wistfully.
"There is no finer soil in the world," I protested, doggedly.
Every man in the world and at least half the women would have agreed with me. The grace of her charming figure, her smiles and that one little dimple, the waving abundance of her silken hair, the rich inflections of her voice, each and all contradicted that foolish supposition of hers.
"Well, I thought this was an invitation to dinner," remarked Dora, sweetly, with all the brutal talent of her sex for changing the drift of conversation. "Of course they fed us well at the hospital, when we had time to eat, but...."
"Is that your last word?" I asked, trying to subdue the eagerness of my voice.
"If you don't really care to go...."
I rose and sought my hat and overcoat, while Dora wandered about my unpretentious office.
"Your landlady could take lessons from Paddy's pig in cleanliness," she declared, running a finger over my bookcase and contemplating it with horror. "I wonder that you, a surgeon, should be an accomplice to such a mess."
"It's pretty bad," I admitted, "but the poor thing has weak eyes, and she has seen better days."
"She deserves the bad ones, then," Dora exclaimed.
"As in the case of many other maladies, we have as yet been unable to discover the microbe of woman's inhumanity to woman," I observed.
"When doggies meet they commonly growl," said Dora, "and when pussies meet they usually spit and scratch. Each according to his or her nature. And it seems to me that you could afford a new overcoat. That one is positively becoming green."
"I do believe I have another one, somewhere," I admitted.
"Then go and find it," she commanded. "You need some one to look after you."
I turned on her like the proverbial flash, or perhaps like the Downtrodden worm.
"Isn't that just what I've been gnashing my teeth over?" I asked. "I'm glad you have the grace to admit it."
"I'll admit anything you like," she said. "But, John dear, we can't really be sure yet that I'm the one who ought to do it. And—and maybe there will be no room at the tables unless we hurry a little."
She was buttoning up her gloves again, quite coolly, and cast approving glances at some radiographic prints on my wall.
"That must have been a splendid fracture," she commented.
"You are a few million years old in the ways of Eve," I told her, "but you are still young in the practice of trained nursing. To you broken legs and, perhaps, broken hearts, are as yet but interesting cases."
She turned her shapely head towards me, and for an instant her eyes searched mine.
"Do you really believe that?" she asked, in a very low-sweet voice.
I stood before her, penitently.
"I don't suppose I do," I acknowledged. "Let us say that it was just some of the growling of the dog. He doesn't usually mean anything by it."
"You're an awfully good fellow, John," said the little nurse, pleasantly. "I know I've been hurting you a bit. Please, I'm sorry the medicine tastes so badly."
The only thing I could do was to lift up one of her hands and kiss a white kid glove, faute de mieux. It was stretched over her fingers, however, and hence was part of her.
When we reached the restaurant she selected a table and placed herself so that she might see as many diners as possible. If there had been people outside of Paradise, Eve would certainly have peeped through the palings. I handed her the bill of fare and she begged for Cape Cods.
"You order the rest of it," she commanded. "I'm going to look."
While I discussed dishes with the waiter her eyes wandered over the big room, taking in pretty dresses and becoming coiffures. Then she watched the leader of the little orchestra, who certainly wielded a masterful bow, and gave a little sigh of content.
"We really could afford this at least once or twice a week," I sought to tempt her, "and the theatre besides, and—and—"
She looked at me very gravely, moving a little from side to side, as if my head presented varied and interesting aspects.
"That's one of the troubles with you," she finally said. "You have some money, a nice reasonable amount of money, and you can afford some things, and I can't tell whether you're going to be an amateur or a professional."
"An amateur?" I repeated, dully.
"I mean no reflection upon your abilities," she explained, hurriedly. "I know all that you have done in London and in Edinburgh, and these German places. You can tack more than half the letters of the alphabet after your name if you choose to. But I don't quite see what you are doing in New York."
"You wrote that you were coming to study nursing here," I reminded her. "This is now a great centre of scientific research, thanks to the princely endowments of the universities. Have you the slightest notion of how many years I have loved you, Dora?"
"Not quite so loud," she reproved me. "I believe it began in dear old St. John's. You were about fourteen when you declared your passion, and I wore pigtails and exceedingly short skirts. My legs, also, were the spindliest things."
"Yes, that was the beginning, Dora, and it has continued ever since. During the years I spent abroad we kept on writing. It seemed to me that the whole thing was settled. I've always had your pictures with me; the first was little Dora, and the other one was taken when you first did your hair up and wore long dresses. During all that time St. John's was the garden of the Hesperides, and you were the golden thing I was toiling for. When you wrote that you were coming to New York I took the next boat over. Then you told me I must wait until you graduated. And now, after your commencement, I hoped, indeed I hoped—I'm afraid I'm worrying you, dear."
She smiled at me, very pleasantly, but the little dimple held naught but mystery. I really think her eyes implied a sort of regret, as if she wished she could make the ordeal less hard for me.
The waiter brought the oysters, which Dora consumed appreciatively. I was simply compelled to eat also, lest she should deem me a peevish loser in the great game I had sought to play. Yet I remember that these Cape Cods were distinctly hard to swallow, delicious though they probably were.
Suddenly she looked up, and the little oyster impaled on her fork dropped on the plate.
"There's Taurus!" she exclaimed, with gleaming eyes.
She was looking at a rather tall man, of powerful build, whose abundant hair was splendidly tinged with silver, and who was coming in with a very beautiful woman.
"Is that what you nurses call him?" I asked, recognizing one of the great surgeons of the world.
"Yes," she answered. "Isn't he wonderful? We're all in love with him, the mean thing."
"Kindly explain the adjective," I urged her. "Is it due to the fact that he protected himself against the wiles of a host of pretty women by marrying the sweetest one of the lot—with a single exception—to the utter despair of the remainder?"
"Did you ever hear him blow up his house-staff?" Dora asked me.
"I have heard that he could be rather strenuous at times," I admitted.
"Well, that's how he infringes on our rights," Dora informed me. "I have never heard him say an angry word to a nurse. He just has a way of smiling at one, as if he were beholding an infinitesimal infant totally incapable of understanding. The sarcasm of it is utterly fierce and the nurse goes off, red and shaken, and feels like killing him. Don't you think we've got just as good a right as any whipper-snapper of a new intern to be blown up?"
"Evidently," I assented. "It is an unfair discrimination."
"And yet we're all just crazy for him. You can hardly understand how the personality of the man permeates the wards, how he gives one the impression of some wonderful being who has reached a pinnacle, and remains there, smilingly, without heeding the crowd below that worships and cheers. And how the patients adore him!"
She evidently expected no answer from me, nor did I venture upon one. Her words were very significant, and gave me a rather hopeless feeling. She was under the influence of the glamour of great names and reputations. Her youth demanded hero-worship. Measured by her standards I was but a nice friend, to whom she could even be affectionate.
Presently, in her enjoyment of our modest little dinner, she turned to me, appearing to forget the crowd, and sighed happily.
"This would all be so delightful," she said, "if...."
"I'll tell you, girlie," I said, "let us agree that all this has been a dream of mine. We will say that I have never been in love with you, and regard you now with profound indifference. It has been that which some very amazing practitioners are pleased to call an error. Now you will be able to enjoy happiness. As far as I am concerned I don't suppose it can make me feel any worse."
"You're a dear good boy, John," she answered. "We shall always be awfully good friends, and perhaps, some day ... Now you must tell me all your plans."
"Ladies first," I objected.
"Well, my heart is still in Newfoundland, you know. But I'm going to stay at least a year in New York. I'm going to work among the poorest and most unpleasant, because I want to become self-reliant. Then I shall go back home. Think of a trained nurse let loose in some of those outports! I should just revel in it. I am an heiress worth five hundred dollars a year of my own. That would keep a lot of people up there. You see, I have a theory!"
"Will you be so kind as to share it with me?" I asked.
"Well, ordinary nursing is a humdrum thing" and there are thousands to do it. It is the same thing with you. Just now, having no practice as yet, you are working in laboratories with a lot of others; you run around hospitals—also with a crowd. What do you know about your ability to go right out and do a man's work, by yourself? That is what counts, to my mind."
"I see the point," I informed her, "and you expect surely to return to the land of codfish."
"Yes," she nodded, "and now what about you?"
"Oh, I am going there next week," I replied. She opened her eyes very wide, vaguely scenting some sort of joke, but in this she erred.
"I see no use in remaining here," I said, with a determination as strong as it was recent. "It would take me a long time to put myself on the level of men like Taurus, and I don't want a lot of nurses falling in love with me; I only asked for one. You are going back after a time. Very well, I'm going now, and I'll wait for you. I can easily find some place where a doctor is badly needed. You will answer my letters, won't you?"
"I promise," she said, very gravely, "and it is a very good idea. One can always do a man's work up there."
She ate a Nesselrode pudding while I enjoyed coffee and a cigar, to the extent that I forgot to drink the one and allowed the other to go out after a puff or two.
"Your money came from a good St. John's merchant who made it from the people of the outports," she said. "You might spend a little on them now, gracefully. They need it badly enough."
We remained silent for some time, thinking of the bleak coast of our big island, where the price of our little dinner would have represented a large sum, and then we left the restaurant and took a car up town.
When she finally held out her little hand to me it was warm, and I fancied that from it came a current that was comforting, though it may have been but the affectionate regard of some years of good friendship.
"You will dine again with me, next Thursday?" I asked her. "It will take me a few days to get ready."
"Don't you think that Gordian knot had better be cut at once?" advised Dora. "I won't change my mind, and you know I've always been an obstinate thing. There are important things for both of us to achieve, somewhere. I must grope about to find my share of them, for I feel like the ship that did not find itself till it encountered a storm or two. If I promised to meet you next week you would keep on hoping. Do plunge right in now instead of shivering on the bank."
"Don't trouble about any more metaphors," I told her. "You promise to go home within a year?"
"I firmly intend to," she replied, "but you can't always depend on a woman's plans."
"If I can't depend on you I have very little left to believe in," I declared.
"I'm pretty sure I'll come," she said, "and—and God bless you, John!"
So we separated there, in the silent street, before the nurses' home where she had taken a room a few days after her graduation. I couldn't trust myself to say anything more.
The door closed upon her and I slowly walked back to my quarters, with a head full of dreary thoughts, and several times narrowly escaped speeding taxis and brought down upon myself some picturesque language.
I fear that I was hardly in a mood to appreciate its beauty.
From John Grant's Diary
Four weeks ago, this evening, I sat with Dora in that bright dining room at the Rochambeau. My description of that last meeting of ours is a rather flippant one, I fancy, but some feminine faces are improved by powder, and some men's sentiments by a veneer of assumed cheerfulness. That cut of mine has not the slightest intention of healing by first intention; it is gaping as widely as ever, as far as I can judge. Yet I am glad I made no further effort. I suppose a man had better stop before he gets himself disliked.
Yesterday morning I came out of a dilapidated dwelling in which I had spent the whole night, and scrambled away over some rocks. When I sat down my legs were hanging over a chasm at the foot of which grandly rolling waves burst into foam, keeping up the warfare waged during a million years against our sturdy cliffs.
Rays of dulled crimson sought to penetrate, feebly, through the fog, as if the sun knew only too well how often it had been defeated in its contest against the murky vapors of this hazy land.
My meeting with Mr. Barnett on the Rosalind was a most fortunate accident. The earnest little clergyman sat next to me at the table, and immediately engaged me in conversation. I gathered from him that he had been begging in the great city and had managed to collect a very few hundred dollars for his little church. He spoke most cheerfully of all that he meant to achieve with all this wealth.
"I am going to have the steeple finished," he said. "It will take but a few feet of lumber, and we still have half a keg of nails. Some day I expect to have a little reading room, and perhaps a magic lantern. I will try to give them some short lectures. I am ambitious, and hope that I am not expecting too much. We are really doing very nicely at Sweetapple Cove."
"Where is that?" I asked him.
The little parson gave me the desired geographical information and, finding me interested, began to speak of his work.
He was one of the small band of devoted men whose lives are spent on the coast, engaged in serving their fellow-men to the best of their abilities. The extent of his parish was scarcely limited by the ability of a fishing boat to travel a day's journey, and he spoke very modestly of some rather narrow escapes from storm and ice.
"If we only had a doctor!" he sighed. "Mrs. Barnett and I do our best. Things are sometimes just heartrending."
At once I manifested interest, and angled for further information. This was just the sort of place I had in mind. It appeared that the nearest doctor was more than a day's travel away, and that the population was rather too poor to afford the luxury of professional advice.
"We sometimes feel very hopeless," he told me.
"How do you reach Sweetapple Cove?" I asked him.
"There will be a little schooner in a few days," he answered.
"I am a physician," I announced, "and am looking for exactly that kind of a practice."
We were strolling on the deck at this time. Mr. Barnett turned quickly and grasped my arm.
"There is hardly a dollar there for you," he said. "No sane man would come to such a place to practice. And there is a little hardship in that sort of work. You don't realize it."
"I am under the impression that it is just the place for me," I told him.
"There is really good salmon fishing in Sweetapple River," he began, excitedly, "and you can get caribou within a day's walk, and there are lots of trout, and..."
I could see that he was eager to find some redeeming points for Sweetapple Cove.
"Behold the tempter," I laughed.
"Dear me! Of course I did not mean to tempt you," he said, flushing like a girl. "And I'm afraid you would have to live in some fisherman's house, and to furnish medicines as well as your services. Of course they might pay you something if the fishing happened to be good. It sometimes is, you know."
As soon as we arrived in St. John's I made many and sundry purchases, with a proper discount for cash, and three days later we sailed out of the harbor on a tiny schooner laden with salt, barrels of flour and various other provisions. In less than forty-eight hours we arrived in Sweetapple Cove. The delighted reception I received from Mrs. Barnett, a sweet lovable woman, exalted my ideas of the value of my profession. She simply gloated over me and patted her husband on the back as if his superior genius had been the true cause of my arrival. At once she made arrangements for my living with Captain Sammy Moore, an ancient of the sea whose nice old wife accepted with tremulous pride the honor of sheltering me. The inhabitants and their offspring, the dogs and the goats, the fowls and the solitary cow, trooped about me for closer inspection, and my practice became at once established.
I have taken some formidable walks over the barrens back inland, and have angled with distinguished success. The days are becoming fairly crowded ones.
Shortly after sunrise, the day before yesterday, I was called upon to go to a little island several miles out at sea. Captain Sammy and a man called Frenchy took me out there. Their little fishing smack is the cab I use for running my remoter errands. I found a man nearly dying from a bad septic wound of his right arm. I judged that he might possibly survive an amputation, but that the loss of the breadwinner's limb would have been just as bad, as far as his family was concerned, as the death of the patient. There was nothing to do but grit one's teeth and take chances. I remained with him throughout the night, and in the morning was glad to detect some slight improvement.
The keen breeze that expanded my lungs as I sat on the rocks did me a great deal of good. It rested me after the dreary vigil and presently I returned to my patient. I'm afraid that we men are poor nurses. We can keep on fighting and struggling and trying, but when we have to sit still and watch with folded arms the iron enters our souls, while the consciousness of helpless waiting is after all the bitterest thing we can contend against. Women are far more patient and enduring.
Constantly I renewed the dressings, and bathed the limb in antiseptics, and gave a few stimulating drugs. Then I would watch the man's hurried breathing and feverish pulse. But I could not remain with idle hands very long at a time, and frequently strolled out to breathe the sea-scented air, in some place well to windward of the poor little fishhouses that reeked infamously with the scattered offal of cod. A disconsolate man was trying to mend a badly frayed net and a few ragged children, gaunt and underfed, followed me about, curiously, whispering among themselves.
The sick man's wife sat most of the time, near the bed, hour after hour, a picture of intense, stolid misery. From time to time she wailed because there was no more tea. Always she hastened to obey my slightest request, clumsily, faithfully, like some humble dog to which some hard and scarcely understood task might have been given. One could see that she really had no hope. The usual way was for the men to fail to return, some day, when they went out and were caught in a bad storm, or when the ice-floes drifted out to sea, and then the women would wait, patiently, until the certainty of their bereavement had entered their souls. This one had the sad privilege of witnessing the tragedy. It was all happening in the little house of disjointed planks, and perhaps she took some comfort in the idea that she would be there at the last moment. It was easy to see, however, that she considered my efforts as some sort of rite which, at most, might comfort the dying.
Before noon, when the haze had lifted before the sweep of a north east wind, one of the children called. The mother went out, hurriedly, while I stood at the open door. About a mile away a stunning white schooner was steaming towards the entrance of Sweetapple Cove.
"I'm a-wonderin' what she be doin' here," said the woman, dully. "She ain't no ship of our parts. I never seen the like o' she."
There was a glinting of light cast forth by bright brasses, and I could see a red spot which appeared to indicate the presence of a woman on board, clad perhaps in a crimson cape or shawl.
We kept on staring at her for some time, as people do in forsaken places when a stranger passes by, and we returned to the bedside.
The day stretched out its interminable length, but the night was longer still. The children had been put to bed in dark corners, after a meal of fish and hard bread. The smallest had clamored for some tea.
"There ain't no more," said the mother.
I had noticed that she had put aside a very small package of this luxury, on a high shelf.
"Why don't you give them some?" I asked. "You forget that you have a little laid aside."
"There won't be none left fer you," she answered.
I ordered her to put the kettle on the fire at once and make tea for her young ones, and bade her take some also.
"I told Sammy Moore to bring some to-morrow," I told her.
I am afraid that I dozed a good many times, that night, on the little low stool near the bed. There was not much to be done. Gradually it dawned upon me that the man was getting better. The stimulants had produced some reaction, and the hot dry skin was becoming moister. I feared it might be but a temporary improvement, and hardly dared mention it. Yet the man was no longer delirious. Several times he asked for water, and once looked at me curiously, with a faint attempt at a smile, before his head again sank down on the pillow.
Finally the sunlight came again, shortly after the smoky lamp had been extinguished, and I went out of the house, when the chill of the early morning seized me so that for a moment my teeth chattered. The woman followed me.
"He do be a dreadful long time dyin'," she said, miserably.
I suppose that I was nervous and weary with the two long nights of watching, and lost mastery over myself. To me those words sounded heartless, although now I realize they came from the depth of her woe.
"You have no right to say such things," I reproved her sharply. "I don't think he is going to die. I believe that we have saved him."
Then she sank on the ground, grasping one of my chilly hands and weeping over it. These were the first tears she had shed and I saw how grievously I had erred. As gently as I could I lifted her to her feet.
"I'm sorry I spoke so gruffly," I said. "But I really believe that we are going to pull him through, and that we shall save his arm."
At noon-time we saw the white yacht coming out of Sweetapple Cove. She was speeding away in the direction of St. John's. The weather was beginning to spoil, and at the foot of the seaward cliffs the great seas, smooth and oily, boomed with great crashes that portended a coming storm.
Early in the afternoon the wind was coming in black squalls, accompanied by a rolling mist. As I looked towards the mainland I saw a fishing boat coming, leaning hard to the strong gale. An hour later Sammy and his man landed in the tiny cove and the old fellow came rushing towards me.
"You is wanted to come ter onst," he said. "They is a man come yisterday on that white yacht. He went up th' river fur salmon, jist after his boat left, and bruk the leg o' he slippin' on the rocks. Yer got to come right now,"
I took the small package he brought me and rushed up to the house with it The improvement had continued, and I gave careful directions in regard to continuing the treatment. After this I descended to the tiny beach where the boat was waiting.
"She be nasty when yer gets from the lee o' the island," Sammy informed me. "I mistrust its gettin' worse and some fog rollin' in wid' it. Mebbe yer doesn't jist feel like reskin' it?"
"How about your wife and children, Sammy?" I asked. "There is no one depending on me."
He took a long look, quietly gauging the possibilities.
"I'm a-thinkin' we's like to make it all right," he finally told me.
"And what about you and the little boy, Frenchy?" I asked the other man.
"Me go orright," he answered. "Me see heem baby again."
So we jumped aboard. The tiny cove was so sheltered that we had to give a few strokes of the oars before, suddenly, the little ship heeled to the blow.
From John Grant's Diary
In a few minutes the slight protection afforded us by Will's Island was denied us. I was anxious to ask further details about this injured man we were hurrying to see, but the two fishermen had no leisure for conversation. A few necessary words had to be shrieked. Even before I had finished putting on my oilskins the water was dashing over us, and old Sammy, at the tiller, was jockeying his boat with an intense preoccupation that could not be interfered with.
The smack was of a couple of tons' burden, undecked, with big fish-boxes built astern and amidships. She carried two slender masts with no bowsprit to speak of, having no headsails, and her two tanned wings bellied out while the whole of her fabric pitched and rolled over the white crested waves. The fog was growing denser around us, as if we had been journeying through a swift-moving cloud. It was scudding in from the Grand Banks, pushed by a chill gale which might first have passed over the icy plateaux of inner Greenland.
This lasted for a long time. We were all staring ahead and seeking to penetrate the blinding veil of vapor, and I felt more utterly strayed and lost than ever in my life before. Our faces were running with the salt spray that swished over the bows or flew over the quarters, to stream down into the bilge at our feet, foul with fragments of squid and caplin long dead. We were also beginning to listen eagerly for other sounds than the wind hissing in the cordage, the breaking of wave-tops and the hard thumping of the blunt bows upon the seas.
"Look out sharp, byes, I'm mistrusting'," roared old Sammy.
There were some long tense moments, ended by a shriek from Frenchy by the foremast.
The sails shook in the wind and swung in-board, and out again, with a rattling of the little blocks. The forefoot rose high, once or twice, with the lessened headway, and a great savage mass of rock passed alongside, stretching out jagged spurs, like some wild beast robbed of its prey. Frenchy, ahead, crossed himself quietly, without excitement, and again peered into the fog.
"Close call!" I shouted to the skipper, after I had recovered my breath, since I am not yet entirely inured to the risks these men constantly run.
"We nigh got ketched," roared back Sammy Moore. "I were mistrustin' the tide wuz settin' inshore furder'n common. But I knows jist where I be now, anyways."
His grim wrinkled face was unmoved, for during all his life he had been staring death in the face and such happenings as these were but incidents in the day's work.
"I doesn't often git mistook," he shouted, "but fer this once it looks like the joke were on me."
The little smack continued to rise and fall over the surge. Yves, the Frenchman, remained at his post forward, holding on to the foremast and indifferent to the spray that was drenching him as he stared through the fog, keenly. My attention was becoming relaxed for, after all, I was but a passenger. Despite Sammy's close shave I maintained a well-grounded faith in him. It was gorgeous to see him speed his boat over the turbulent waters with an inbred skill and ease which reminded one of seagulls buffeting the wind or harbor seals playing in their element. Like these the man was adapted to his life, not because he possessed wonderful intelligence but owing to the brine which, since childhood, had entered his blood. The vast ice-pans had revealed their secrets to him and the North Atlantic gales had become the breath of his nostrils.
I can remember a time when I had an idea that I could handle a boat fairly well, but now I was compelled to recognize my limitations, while I really enjoyed the exhibition of Sammy's skill.
"We'd ought ter be gettin' handy," roared the latter to Frenchy, who nodded back, turning towards us his dripping, bearded face, for an instant.
Suddenly he extended his arm.
"Me see. To port!" he shouted.
Dimly, veiled by the fog curtain, of ghostly outline, a jutting cliff appeared and Sammy luffed slightly. On both sides of us the seas were dashing up some tremendous rocks, but directly ahead there was an opening between the combers that hurled themselves aloft, roaring and impotent, to fall back into seething masses of spume. There was a suggestion of tremendous walls over which voices were shrieking in the battle of unending centuries between the moving turmoil and the stolid cliffs, defying the battering waves.
Our little boat flew on, and suddenly the rolling and pitching ceased as if some magic had oiled the waters. Within the land-locked cove the wind no longer howled and the surface was smooth. It was like awaking from the unrest of a nightmare to the peace of one's bed. We glided on, losing headway, for Frenchy had let the sheets run. With movements apparently slow, yet with the deftness which brings quick results, the sails were gathered about the masts and made fast, and presently we drifted against the small forest of poles supporting the flakes and fishhouses. These were black and glistening with the rain and from them came an odor, acrid and penetrating, of decaying fish in ill-emptied gurry-butts and of putrefying livers oozing out a black oil in open casks.
We made our way over the precarious footing of unstable planks and shook ourselves like wet dogs, while Sammy stopped for a moment to hunt beneath his oilskins for a sodden plug of tobacco, from which he managed to gnaw off a satisfactory portion.
"Well, we's here, anyways," he observed, quietly.
"Sammy, you're a wonderful man!" I exclaimed, earnestly.
The old fellow looked at me, but his seamed face appeared devoid of understanding. Slowly there seemed to dawn upon his mind the idea that this might be some sort of jest on my part, and the tanned leather of his countenance wrinkled further into a near approach to a smile, as we started up the steep path leading up to the village.
Yet I had meant no pleasantry whatever, for really I was awed by the mystery of it all. In the fog that rolled in with the north-east gale we had left Will's Island, ten miles away, and skirted, without ever seeing them, some miles of cliffs. We had avoided scores of rocks over which the seas broke fiercely, and had finally dashed through a narrow opening in the appalling face of the huge ledge, unerringly. To me it seemed like a gigantic deed, beyond the powers of man.
The path began to widen, and Sammy again vouchsafed some information, taking up his slender thread of narrative as if it had never been interrupted.
"So they carries him up to th' house, on a fishbarrow, an' they sends for me, an' wuz all talkin' to onst, sayin' I must git you quick an' never mind what it costs. Them people don't mind what-nothin' costs, 'pears to me."
By this time we had risen well above the waters of Sweetapple Cove. The few scattered small houses appeared through the mist, their eaves dripping in unclean puddles. The most pretentious dwelling in the place is deserted. It boasts a small veranda and a fairly large front window over which boards have been nailed. In very halt and ill-formed letters a sign announces "The Royal Shop," a title certainly savoring of affluence. But it is a sad commentary upon the prosperity of the Cove that even a Syrian trader has tried the place and failed to eke out a living there.
Some dispirited goats forlornly watched our little procession for a moment, and resumed their mournful hunt outside the palings of tiny enclosures jealously protected against their incursions among a few anemic cabbages.
A little farther on the only cow in the place, who is descended from the scriptural lean ones, was munching the discarded tail of a large codfish which probably still held a faint flavor of the salt with which it had been preserved. Nondescript dogs, bearing very little resemblance to the original well-known breed, wandered aimlessly under the pelting rain.
Frenchy reached his dilapidated shack, and was the first to stop.
"Vell, so long," he said.
"Au revoir a demain!" I answered, as well as I could.
His somber, swarthy face brightened at the sound of words of his own tongue. I believe that to him they were a tiny glimpse of something well-beloved and of memories that refused to grow dim. For a moment he stood at the door, beaming upon me. A small boy came out, very grimy of face and hands and with a head covered with yellow curls. He was chiefly clad in an old woollen jersey repaired with yarn of many hues, that nearly reached his toes.
"Papa Yves!" he cried, leaping up joyfully, quite heedless of Frenchy's dripping oilskins.
The sailor lifted up the child and kissed him, whereupon he grasped the man's flaring ears as they projected from the huge tangled beard, and with a burst of happy laughter kissed him on both cheeks, under the eyes, in the only bare places.
We hurried on and soon reached one of the few houses distinguished from others by a coat of paint. By this time the evening was near at hand, yet the darkness would not have justified as yet a thrifty Newfoundland housewife in burning valuable kerosene. But from the windows of this place poured forth abundant light showing recklessness as to expense. Upon the porch were a few feeble geraniums, and some nasturtiums and bachelor's buttons twined themselves hopefully on strings disposed for them.
At the sound of our footsteps the door was quickly opened. A young woman appeared but the light was behind her and her features were not very distinct.
"Couldn't you get him?" she cried, in sore disappointment.
"Yes, ma'am. That's what I went for," said Sammy. "I telled yer I'd sure bring him, and here he be."
I had come nearer, and then, I am afraid, I somewhat forgot my manners and stared at her.
From Miss Helen Jelliffe to Miss Jane Van Zandt
Dearest Aunt Jennie:
I did try so hard to get you to come on this cruise with us. You said you preferred remaining in Newport to sharing in a wild journey to places one has never heard of, and now I am compelled to recognize your superior wisdom. I wish we had never heard of this dreadful hole. I am now reduced to the condition of a weepful Niobe, utterly helpless to contend against the sad trend of events. I know how much you disapprove of lingering, being such an active little body, and so I will tell you the worst at once. Poor dear Daddy has just broken his leg, and, of all places, in the most forsaken hole and corner of this dreary island of Newfoundland.
Daddy has always boasted of his perseverance in the pursuit of the unusual in sport. This time he found it with a vengeance. Our mate, who hails from these parts, once told him of this place, and implied that the salmon in the little river running down into this cove would take a fly whether awake or asleep, and jostled one another for the privilege. While Daddy is rather fond of a gun, you and I know that there are only two weapons he is really absorbed in. I suppose that the first is the instrument he uses to cut off coupons with, and the next is his salmon rod, which I would like to break into little pieces, for it has been the cause of turning our long bowsprit towards this horrid jumble of rock and sea. I considered that we were lucky to have found our way into Sweetapple Cove without any particular disaster, but of course such luck could not last long.
We ought never to have come any way, for our skipper, the descendant of Vikings, had implied that our schooner was in need of all sorts of repairs, and that sensible people did not start off on long cruises just after months in Florida which had converted the ship's bottom into a sort of vegetable garden. Daddy consoled him by telling him he could leave us there and go off to St. John's to the dry-dock.
You know how pleasantly Daddy speaks to people, and how they detect under his words a firmness which effectively prevents long discussion. Stefansson is really a racing skipper, but he likes his berth on the Snowbird and said nothing more. We reached this place where, for lack of level ground, the few houses use all sorts of stilts and crutches, and invaded the village to the intense amazement of the populace and its dogs.
Then came Daddy's genius for organization. Within two hours we had rented a little house for next to nothing a week, furnished it in sixty minutes with odds and ends from the yacht, including our little brass bedsteads, which the people here firmly believe to be pure gold, A wild daughter of the Cove, a descendant of the family that gave it its extraordinary name, was engaged as a general servant. Daddy's valet and the cook had wept when they saw the place, and Father informed them that they were rubbish and might go back with the Snowbird, which presently sailed off for the scraping it appears to be entitled to.
Daddy at once selected a rod with all the care such affairs of state require, and set forth across the cove with two natives, in a dory. They went ashore on the banks of the little river and began to clamber over a terrific jumble of rocks. A salmon was caught so quickly that Father grew boyish with enthusiasm and capered over more rocks.
And then came the accident, Aunt Jennie, and I am still shaky, and tearful, and though I try to write like a normal human being I am desirous of shrieking. There was just a slip and a fall, and a foot caught between two boulders. Poor Daddy was dragged from the swift water into which he had been wading and placed in the bottom of the dory, a most damp and smelly ambulance.
Of course I dashed down to the shore as soon as people came to tell me what had happened, and naturally I got into everybody's way. It was strange to see how these very rough-looking men took hold of poor Daddy. They were just as gentle as could be, and made an arrangement of fish-carrying barrows upon which they lifted him up and brought him to the house.
I was weeping all this time and Daddy consoled me by telling me not to be a fool. Susie, our new handmaiden, simply howled. We were bundled out, chiefly by Daddy's language, and clamored for a doctor. It actually transpired that there was one in the place, to my infinite relief. The fact that he was gone to a little island away out at sea appeared to be but an insignificant detail. An ancient mariner whom Coleridge must have been acquainted with promised to go and bring him back. If the weather did not turn out too badly he would return in three or four hours. He informed me that it was beginning to look very nasty outside. It always does, in such cases, I believe.
I spent the afternoon trying to do all I could for Daddy, and occasionally climbed up on the cliff nearly adjoining our house, to watch for the boat. An abominable fog began to come up, rolling before a dreadful wind, and I moistened more handkerchiefs, since it was perfectly evident to me that no small boat would ever return to land in such a blow. Susie told me that I must not despair, and that people did really manage to work fishing boats in such weather, sometimes. I considered her to be a cheerful prevaricator, and told her she didn't know what she was talking about. At this she curtsied humbly and assented with the "Yis, ma'am" of the lowly, and all I could do was to keep on despairing.
It was really the most dismal afternoon I ever spent, and when it began to get dark I gave up all hope. After I had become thoroughly saturated with misery Susie came to me, grinning.
"I's heerd men a comin'," she told me. "Like as not it's th' doctor."
I dashed out of the front door and met two dreadful looking creatures in oilskins. As one of them was the ancient mariner I made up my mind he had failed in his mission. But the other stared at me for an instant, quietly stepped on the few planks we call the porch, and began to shed his outer skin, which fell with a flop.
"Are you the doctor?" I finally asked him.
He bowed, very civilly, followed me into the house, and the other man placidly sat down on the porch, while the slanting rain rattled on his armour. I need hardly tell you that these people are as amphibious as manatees.
Once within doors I scrutinized the doctor. He was a rather nice tall chap with hair showing slightly the dearth of barbers in Sweetapple Cove, a fact Daddy had informed himself of, for I had seen him looking disconsolately at a safety razor. This man was also rather badly unshaven, and a blue flannel shirt with a sodden string of a necktie formed part of his apparel. I have seen healthy longshoremen rather more neatly garbed. I'm afraid that at first I was badly disappointed.
I stood at the door of father's room, which is also the parlor and dining room, hesitating foolishly. At last I asked the man to come in.
"Daddy dear, here is the doctor," I said.
You know that father does not consider himself merely as a tax-payer, and a connoisseur in split bamboos. He prides himself upon his knowledge of men and, before trusting himself to this one, had to study him carefully. I could see that he was taken a little by surprise.
"Er—er," he hesitated, "are you a physician, sir?"
"Appearances are deceptive in these jumping-off places," answered the young man. "I possess a diploma or two, and such knowledge as I have is entirely at your service."
He didn't really seem to be at all embarrassed. His look was rather a pleasant one, after all, and suddenly I became inspired with confidence. I think Daddy was impressed in the same way.
"I'm in an awful fix," he announced. "I am quite sure that my leg is broken, and of course it requires the very best attention. I can afford to take no chances with it and need a first-class man. Are you quite sure...?"
The doctor sat down by the bed, quietly, and appeared to look at Daddy understandingly. He doubtless realized that he was in the presence of one of those men whose success in life, together with the possession of grand-parents, causes them to regard themselves as endowed with the combined wisdom of the law and the prophets. I am quite sure that he also detected the big fund of common sense which lurks in the keen grey eyes under Daddy's bushy eye-brows.
"You have my deepest sympathy, Mr. Jelliffe," he began. "I need hardly point out the fact that I am the only doctor available. I am going to do my very best for you. They have some very good men in St. John's, and we may be able to get one of them to come down here, in a few days, to look over my work. In the meanwhile your leg must be attended to so that no further harm will be done. Let us have a look at it."
"I'll have to trust you," said Daddy, very soberly.
"Of course you will have to, Daddy," I put in. "You must be very good. When you move your poor leg hurts you dreadfully, and the doctor will fix it so that it won't be so painful."
I stood at the head of the bed and poor Daddy allowed me to stroke his hand, a thing he usually resents. I know that he was in great pain and feared other unknown tortures. The poor man looked at the tall doctor's big hands as if he deemed them instruments of potential torture. One really couldn't blame him for having scant confidence in a man whose business appears to be the care of this poverty-stricken population.
The doctor was pulling off his heavy pea-jacket and appeared in dark blue flannel which revealed very capable shoulders. They reminded me of Harry Lawrence. The ancient mariner came in with a bag he had been sent for. He had also deposited his oilskins on the porch and respected other conventionalities by removing his great muddy boots and entering the room in huge flaming scarlet socks, neatly darned with white yarn. He smiled blandly at Daddy.
"Hope you is feelin' some better, sir," he said. "Don't you be talkin', for if you isn't t'won't be no time afore you is. You're sure in luck as how I could bring him, an' I'll jist lay yer a quintal as how he's goin' to fix yer shipshape."
Then there was a knock at the door and a dripping woman entered. There was not the slightest trace of timidity in her manner. Really, Aunt Jennie, I thought at first that she was the most awful frump I had ever seen. Her head was wrapped in a soaking little shawl, and her dress was a remnant of grand-mother's days. Yet the poise of her head, the pleasant smile upon her face and, more than all, her delightful voice, gave an immediate hint of infinitely good breeding.
"Can't I help?" she asked. "I'd be awfully glad to. I should have been in before but I was detained at the Burtons'. Had to look after the woman during your absence, Dr. Grant."
"I beg to introduce the providence of Sweetapple Cove," said the doctor. "Mrs. Barnett is the one person who proves the vulgar error that none of us is indispensable."
She threw off her shawl, laughing.
"The doctor and I often hunt in couples," she explained.
Her voice was really the most delightful thing you ever heard. I forgot her clothes, and her big boots, and went up to her, holding out my hand.
"Won't you let me take your shawl?" I asked. "It is sopping wet."
"I had an umbrella when I first came here," she said, "but it blew over the cliffs long ago. Thanks, ever so much. And now what can I do?"
"You are always on hand when help is needed, Mrs. Barnett," said the doctor. "Thank you for coming. I shall need you in a minute."
She gave him a quick little friendly nod and went to the bed.
"I hope that you are not suffering too much," she told Daddy. "Dr. Grant will have you all right in a jiffy."
"Thank you, madam," said Daddy, staring at her.
The doctor had been pulling endless things out of his bag. For all of their size his hands showed a quality of gentle firmness that was quite surprising and Daddy, under his ministrations, appeared to become less apprehensive.
"Now, Mrs. Barnett," directed Dr. Grant. "One hand under the knee, if you please, and the other should hold the heel. That's the way."
Rapidly he wound some cotton batting about the injured limb. Daddy had given one awful groan when his leg was pulled straight, but now he watched the winding of bandages and the application of plaster of Paris without saying a word. The doctor finally rubbed the whole thing smooth.
"That's all right now," he said. "We will let the leg down again."
Between them they gently lowered the limb upon a hollowed pillow, and Daddy looked much relieved.
"That is all for the present," said the doctor. "I hope we didn't hurt you too much, Mr. Jelliffe."
"I think it will be easier now," admitted Daddy. "I can't say that you made me suffer very much. I am obliged to you, and also to you, madam."
She treated him to a gentle, motherly smile, and grabbed her old wet shawl again.
"I'd be ever so glad to stay with you all night," she said, "but unfortunately one of my kiddies is teething and wants me rather badly. May I call in the morning?"
By this time father was utterly captured.
"You would be ever so kind," he said. "I can hardly thank you sufficiently."
She refused proffers of umbrellas and water-proofs, laughingly saying that she could not reach home much wetter than she was, and disappeared.
"Our parson's wife, Miss Jelliffe," explained Dr. Grant, "and the nearest thing to a blessing that Sweetapple Cove has ever known, I should say."
"She must be," I assented. "She is perfectly charming."
Then he went in the next room, where the mariner was waiting, sitting in a chair and contemplating his red socks.
"We're off again to-morrow morning to Will's Island," said the doctor. "Just let Frenchy know, will you? We shall start as soon as possible after I have found out how Mr. Jelliffe has passed the night."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied the old man, lifting a gnarled hand to his tousled locks.
The doctor looked around him. His big frame seemed to relax, and a compelling yawn forced him to lift his hand to his mouth. Then he came in again.
"Good night, Mr. Jelliffe," he said. "I'll be here the first thing in the morning. You may take this little tablet if the pain is severe, but don't touch it unless you are really compelled to."
Daddy stretched out his hand, in a very friendly way, and he certainly looked approvingly at the young man. Then I accompanied the latter to the outer door. It was still raining and the wind blew hard.
"Good night, Miss Jelliffe," he bade me. "Your father's injury is quite a simple one and I have no doubt we shall obtain a good result."
He picked up his oilskins and put them on again.
"Thank you," was all I could find to say. His long steps rapidly carried him away and he disappeared in the misty blackness.
When I returned the old fisherman, whose name is Sammy, was standing by father's bed.
"It seems to me," complained Daddy, "that he might have offered to stay with me all night. I call it rather inconsiderate of him."
"We is fixed fer that, sir," asserted Captain Sammy. "I be goin' ter stay wid' yer. I'll jist set down by the stove and, case I should git ter sleep, jist bawl out or heave somethin' at me. First I'll go an' git a bite er grub, jist a spud er two an' a dish o' tea; likely th' old woman has some brooze fer me, waitin'. I'll be back so soon ye'll hardly know I been gone."
He looked at us, his kindly old face lighting up into a smile. Then he pointed with a stubby thumb in the direction the doctor had taken.
"He've been up three nights a-savin' Dick Will's arm, as means the livin' o' he and the woman an' seven young 'uns. I mistrust he'll maybe fall asleep a-walkin' less he hurries. 'Tis a feelin' I knows, keepin' long watches on deck when things goes hard."
"But I can watch my father," I protested.
"So yer could, fer a fact," he admitted, "but yer couldn't run out handy an' fetch doctor, so I might as well stay here an' ye kin do a job of sleepin'."
As he hurried out Susie came in from the kitchen, buxom and rosy of cheek.
"Th' kittle's biled ef you is ready," she announced. "Yer must be a-perishin' fer a sup an' a bite."
I shall have to stop now, Aunt Jennie dear, and goodness knows when this will reach you, as mails are very movable feasts.
But it has been a comfort to write, and I was too nervous and excited to go to sleep, for a long time. I really think I ought to go to bed now. That doctor is really a very nice young man, and I just love Mrs. Barnett. Any one would.
Please write as often as possible, for now we are prisoners for goodness knows how long in this place, and your letters will be worth their weight in precious stones. Tell me all that is happening. Have you heard from Harry Lawrence lately?
Your loving HELEN.
From John Grant's Diary
When I awoke this morning, I was inclined to pinch myself, wondering whether I was still dreaming. In a moment, however, my recollections were perfectly clear. Yesterday evening I met people such as I should no more have expected to find in Sweetapple Cove than in the mountains of the moon. I am glad that my idea in coming here was not to convert myself into a hermit; I am afraid I should have been sadly disappointed. Mr. Jelliffe is a man just beyond middle age, shrewd and inclined to good nature. His daughter, like the rest of her sex, is probably a problem, but so far I can only discover in her an exceedingly nice young lady who dotes on her father and takes rather a sensible view of things.
It appears that they have been all over the world and, like experienced travelers, understand exceedingly well the art of adapting oneself to all manners of surroundings. In no time at all they had transformed their ugly little house into quite a decent dwelling.
Miss Jelliffe is a decidedly attractive young woman. Of course I can only compare her with Dora Maclennon. They belong to two different types. The one is a bustling little woman, very earnest, determined and hard-working, who looks to the world for something which must as yet be rather indefinitely shaped in her mind, and who is going to find it. The other, I should say, has no cut and dried aim or ambition. Her father or grandfather achieved everything for her, and she is as free as air to follow her every inclination. Both are unquestionably good to look upon, and, at least for the present, I hope it may not be treasonable to say that Miss Jelliffe is the more restful of the two. We men are apt to think that the privilege of striving and pushing forward should be exclusively ours, and when we see a woman occupied with something of that sort we are somewhat apt to resent it as an unjustifiable poaching in our preserves. For a long time I considered Dora's efforts to be something in the nature of growing pains, which would disappear in the course of time. Now I am not so sure of this. Yet when I think of the dear little girl my heart beats faster, and somehow I persist in believing that a day will come when she will drift towards me, and we will tackle the further problems of life together.
I must confess I am glad to have met the Jelliffes. Barnett and his wife have been the only people with whom one could exchange ideas unconnected with codfish. The parson is a splendid little chap, utterly cocksure of a lot of things I take good care not to discuss too deeply with him. Moreover he is away a good part of the time, and composes his sermons with a painstaking care which must be somewhat wasted on Sweetapple Cove. I don't believe the people are really interested in the meaning of Greek texts. When he is in the throes of inspiration none dare go near him and Mrs. Barnett, the good soul, walks on tiptoe and hushes her brood. I only meet her at various sick-beds. In her own home she is so tremendously busy that I feel I have no right to trespass too often. The baby requires a lot of care, and there are lessons to the others, and family sewing, and keeping an eye upon the little servant. Worshipping her husband takes up the rest of her time.
After I had my breakfast I left Sammy's house, where I have an office which would astonish some of my New York friends. I had scraped my face and put on fairly decent clothing in deference not only to my own preferences but also to the feelings of the newcomers.
I was hardly out of the house before Sammy's wife came running after me.
"You's forgot your mitts," she cried. "Here they is. I hung 'em up back o' th' stove ter dry. It's like ter be cold at sea an' ye'll be wantin' them."
I thanked the good woman, telling her that I could afford to be careless since I had her to look after me.
"Oh! Don't be talkin'," she answered, highly pleased.
I stopped for a moment to light my pipe. Mrs. Sammy was now calling upon her offspring to hasten, for it was a fair drying day. The sun was out and the ripples glimmered brightly over the cove. The people were climbing up on their flakes, tall scaffolds built on a foundation of lender poles, and were spreading out the split, flattened codfish, that would have to dry many days before it would be fit to trade or sell. Everywhere in the settlement women and children, and a few old men unfit for harder labor, were engaged in the same back-breaking occupation. The spreading out always seems easy enough, for they deal out the fishy slabs as cards are thrown upon a table, but the picking and turning are arduous for ancient spines stiffened by years of toil.
I also looked out upon the cove, where a few men in dories were engaged in jigging for squid, pulling in the wriggling things which had been attracted by a piece of red rag, their tentacles caught upon the upturned needles of the jig. They were dropped with a sharp, jerky motion on the slimy mass of their fellows, all blotched with the inky discharge. Out beyond the rocky headlands, in the open sea, the little two-masted smacks were hurrying to anchor or already bobbing up and down with furled canvas, rising, falling and yawing to the pull of the sea. At times, by looking sharply, one could catch the gleam of a fish being pulled in, and sometimes one could hear the muffled thump of the muckle, when the fish was a big one.
The air was good indeed to breathe. The dull griminess of the village, so utterly dismal in the rain and fog of yesterday, had given place to something akin to cheerfulness. On the tops of the cliffs the scanty herbage, closely cropped by the goats, was very green, of the deep beautiful hue one only finds in lands drenched by frequent downpours. The sea was restless with long gentle swells which now only broke when they reached the bottoms of the rocks which they pounded, intermittently, with great puffs of white spray.
The goats were briskly clambering among the boulders; the dogs looked cheerful; the few chickens, no longer sad and bedraggled, scratched with renewed energy. At the entrance of the cove a few gannets wheeled, heavily, while further away a troop of black-headed terns screamed and darted about, gracefully, on long, slender, swallow-like pinions.
Even the houses, bathed in rejuvenating sunlight, looked more attractive. A few poor flowers in rare window-boxes perked up their heads. The puddles in the road were draining off into rocky crannies, and the very air seemed to have been washed of some of its all-pervading reek of fish.
I was thoroughly refreshed after a night during which I had slept so soundly that Mrs. Sammy, obeying instructions, had been compelled to enter my room and regretfully shake me into consciousness. Then I had poured much cold water over myself and used my best razor. Coffee and pancakes, with large rashers of bacon, were awaiting me, and I soon departed for the home of my new patient. Children called good morning, and a few ancient dames too old even for work upon the flakes nodded their palsied heads at me.
The house tenanted by the Jelliffes belongs to a man who is off to the Labrador, trapping cod with a crew of sons and neighbors. His wife has been only too glad to rent it to these very grand people from that amazing yacht, who have come all the way from New York, to the wonderment of the whole population, for the mere purpose of catching salmon. Her eldest daughter has been engaged as maid of all work by the tenants, and will doubtless compensate, in cheerful willingness, for her utterly primitive idea of the duties incumbent upon her.
Miss Jelliffe was sitting upon the porch. Wisps of her rich chestnut hair were being blown about by the pleasant breeze, and there is no doubt that her white shirtwaist with the rather mannish collar and tie, the tweed skirt with wide leather belt, and the serviceable low tanned shoes made a vision such as I had not expected to behold in Sweetapple Cove.
She smiled brightly as I came up and bade me good morning. Her pretty face had lost the worried, tearful look of the day before. I expressed the hope that her father had been able to obtain some rest.
"I am under the impression that Daddy slept rather better than I could," she answered, cheerfully. "Such a concert as I was treated to! I had always had an idea that my father was rather appalling, but your ancient sea-faring friend was positively extraordinary. After you left I read just a little to Daddy, and the hypnotic quality of my voice had rapid effect. After this Captain Sammy curled up on the floor, just like one of the local dogs, and spurned my offer of rugs and pillows with the specious excuse that if he made himself too comfortable and chanced to fall asleep he would never wake up. I went to my room to write a letter and presently the walls began to shake. You never heard such a duet."
"Is Mr. Jelliffe still asleep?" I asked.
"No, indeed! He has already clamored for his breakfast and is at present occupied with a bowl of oatmeal and some coffee."
Just then Frenchy came up, lifting his cap to the young lady. In one of his big paws he held his little boy's hand.
"Tak aff you cap to ze yong lady lak I tole you," he said, gravely. "Heem tink you a leetle sauvage."
The wide-eyed little chap obeyed the big sailor, his yellow curls falling over his eyes. He continued to stare at her, with a fat thumb tucked in a corner of his mouth.
"Me come say heem Beel Atkins heem go aff to St. Jean to-day. Heem got load of feesh."
"That is important news, Miss Jelliffe. Civilization is opening its arms to you," I told her. "Atkins can take letters and messages for you, and may be trusted to bring back anything you need, providing you write it all down carefully. This is also an opportunity of obtaining other surgical advice for your father."
"I need a lot of things," she exclaimed, "and there will be a message to our captain to hurry matters at that dry-dock. But I will have to consult my father."
"We go to-day?" Yves asked me, pointing towards Will's Island.
"Yes, Dick needs a lot of care yet," I answered. "But you will wait here and take some orders to Atkins first."
"Oui, orright, me wait," he said.
Miss Jelliffe had gone indoors and the man sat down on the porch, with the little chap beside him, and they gravely watched the gulls circling over the water. Yves is very big and rough looking, and his black beard is impressive. He gives one rather the idea of what the men must have been, who manned the ships of William the Conqueror, than the notion of a conventional Frenchman. Yet there is in him something very soft and tender, which appears when he looks at that child, with deep dark eyes that always seem to behold things beyond the ordinary ranges of vision.
"Ah! Glad to see you!" exclaimed Mr. Jelliffe as I entered the room. "A broken leg is no fun, but I can say that I got on rather better than I expected to. The pain has been no more than I can stand. I'll be through with this in a minute."
He swallowed his last mouthful of coffee, and Susie Sweetapple, the improvised domestic, took away a flat board with which she had made a tray.
"Is you real sure you got enough?" she enquired solicitously. "Them porridges doesn't stick long to folks' ribs, but if yer stummick gits ter teasin' yer afore dinner time jist bawl out. 'Tain't never no trouble ter bile th' kittle again."
"Thank you," said Mr. Jelliffe, as the girl left the room. "I have not yet decided, Doctor, whether that young female is an unmitigated nuisance or a pearl of great price. At any rate we couldn't get along without her."
In a few minutes I was allowed to inspect the broken leg, which was resting properly on the pillow. The swelling was not too great, and the patient declared that the confounded thing was doubtless as comfortable as such a beastly affair could be. Mr. Jelliffe possesses some notions of philosophy.
"A schooner is leaving to-day for St. John's, Mr. Jelliffe," I told him. "It will return in a few days, depending on the weather, and we could probably prevail upon one of the best surgeons there to come back with it."
My patient's eyes narrowed a little and he wrinkled his brow. He was looking at me keenly, like one long accustomed to gauging men with the utmost care.
"What is your own advice?" he finally asked.
I could not help smiling a little.
"Your fracture is not at all a complicated affair, and it looks to me as if the ends could easily be maintained in proper position. On the other hand I am still a young man, and desire to make no special claim to eminence in my profession."
"At any rate you are the local doctor."
"I suppose I represent all that this community can afford," I replied. "If I were you I would send for a consultant."
"The community doesn't seem to me to be so very badly off, as far as its doctor is concerned," said Mr. Jelliffe, slowly. "The other chap will come and undo this thing, and hurt me a lot more. I'm inclined to let things slide. This practice of yours ought to be a great thing for a stout man needing a reducing diet. How the deuce do you keep from starving to death?"
"Mrs. Sammy feeds me rather well," I replied.
My patient smiled.
"You're a smart boy," he said. "I'll admit you don't look very hungry. But how about the appetite for other things, for success in life, for the appreciation of intelligent men and for their companionship? Is there no danger of what you fellows call atrophy? Men's intellects can only maintain a proper level by rubbing up against others."
For a moment he stopped, and then went on again.
"I beg your pardon, Doctor. I'm afraid that all this is none of my business. I am sure you will take excellent care of me, and I don't see the need of sending for any one else."
"I will do my best for you, Mr. Jelliffe," I answered.
He held his hand out to me, in the friendliest way. I think we are going to get on together very well. It is pleasant to meet people who are so secure in their position that they do not feel the slightest need for snobbishness.
I soon left for Will's Island, where I remained for some hours. Frenchy's boy came with us. He's a lovable little fellow, and manifested his admiration for "la belle dame" as he calls Miss Jelliffe. He is an infant of discriminating taste.
It was very encouraging to note a real improvement in the fisherman's condition, and I returned in a cheerful state of mind. In the afternoon I again called on the Jelliffes, and was chatting with the old gentleman when Mrs. Barnett, with her two oldest clinging to her skirts, put her head in at the door and cheerfully asked how the invalid was getting on.
"I won't come in," she said, "my little chaps would soon turn the place upside down."
"Do bring them in," urged Miss Jelliffe. "Daddy is ever so fond of children."
The parson's wife accepted the invitation.
"I daresay I will be able to hold them in for a few minutes," she said.
Miss Jelliffe is certainly a bright girl. I am positive that she recognized at once in Mrs. Barnett a woman who would adorn any gathering of refined people. The homemade dress mattered nothing, nor the garb of the little ones, which showed infinite toil combined with scanty means for accomplishment. It was delightful to observe the positive deference and admiration that were mingled with the perfect ease of the young woman's manner.
At their mother's bidding the little fellows said their greeting very politely. Miss Jelliffe kissed them and at once insured their further behavior by sitting on the floor with them, armed with chocolates and magazine pictures.
"You are exceedingly kind to visit us, Mrs. Barnett," Mr. Jelliffe assured her. "I hope I may have the pleasure of meeting your husband soon."
"I expect him back to-morrow," she answered. "He's away on a short trip. Sometimes he goes quite a distance up and down the coast, and occasionally it is—it is rather hard at home, when the weather gets very bad."
She looked out of the window, with a movement that was nearly mechanical, and which had become habitual during long hours of waiting.
"But he likes it," she continued. "He says it is a good work and makes one feel that one is worth one's bread and salt. And so, of course, we are very happy."
I noticed that Miss Jelliffe was studying her. A look of wonder seemed to be rising on the girl's face, as if it surprised her to find that this cultured, refined woman could be contented in such a place.
"Yes, I think I am getting along very well," said Mr. Jelliffe, in answer to a question. "This young man seems to know his business. I was just hinting to him, this morning, that such a village as this can offer but a poor scope for his ability."
"Gracious!" exclaimed Mrs. Barnett, laughingly. "Please don't let him hear you. I have no doubt that what you say is perfectly true, but we could never do without him now. He has only been here a short time, and it has made such a difference. Before that we had no doctor, and—and it was awful, sometimes. You can't realize how often Mr. Barnett and I have stood helplessly by some bedside, wringing our hands and wishing so hard, so dreadfully hard, for a man like Dr. Grant to help us. Once we sent for a doctor, far away, and he came as soon as he could, but my little Lottie was already..."
A spasm of pain passed over her face, and there was a quickly indrawn breath. Then she was quiet again.
"I hope he will never leave us," she said. "He may miss many things here, but it is a man's work."
"I don't feel like leaving," I told her, and she rewarded me by one of those charming smiles of hers.
Presently she took leave, and Miss Jelliffe looked at her father.
"Isn't she wonderful!" she exclaimed. "I can hardly understand it at all."
"It isn't only in the big places that people do big things," he answered. "What about that child she referred to, Doctor?"
I told him how the little one had been taken ill, and how they had been obliged to take her to the head of the cove, over the ice, until they were able to find a place where a pick could bite into the ground. Miss Jelliffe stared at me, as I spoke, and I could see her beautiful eyes becoming shiny with gathering tears.
On the next day, as I was doing something to the plaster dressing, she came into the room, hurriedly.
"I've been out there," she said. "What a poor desolate place in which to leave one's loved ones. Won't you let me help? I think I am getting on very well with my untrained nursing. I want as much practice as I can get."
"I am bound hand and foot," complained the patient. "These women are taking all sorts of unfair advantages of me. And, by the way, Helen, I want you to go out more. You are remaining indoors so much that you are beginning to lose all your fine color."
"I look like an Indian," she protested laughing.
"Then I don't want you to get bleached out. You must go out walking more, or try some fishing, but be careful about those slippery rocks. I can play no other part now than that of a dreadful example."
"I am not going to budge from this room," declared Miss Jelliffe. "You know that you can't get along without me. Besides, there are no places that one can walk to."
"I insist that you must get plenty of fresh air," persisted her father.
"There is no fresh air here," she objected. "It is a compound of oxygen, nitrogen and fish, mostly very ripe fish. One has to breathe cod, and eat it, and quintals are the only subjects of conversation. Codfish of assorted sizes flop up in one's dreams. Last night one of them, about the length of a whale, apparently mistook me for a squid, or some such horrid thing, and was in the very act of swallowing me when I awoke. I'm afraid, Daddy dear, that the fresh air of Sweetapple Cove is a dreadful fiction. But it must be lovely outside."
She was looking through the door, which stood widely opened, towards the places where the long smooth rollers broke upon the rocks, and beyond them at brown sails and screaming birds darting about in quest of prey.
"You are hungering for a breath of the sea, Miss Jelliffe," I told her. "Sammy and Frenchy are waiting for me to go to Will's Island again. With this wind it will be only a matter of three or four hours there and back. Could you stand a trip in a fishing boat?"
"Just the thing for her. No danger, is there, Doctor?" asked Mr. Jelliffe.
"Not on a day like this," I replied. Miss Jelliffe made a few further objections, which were quickly overruled. Finally she gave Susie all sorts of directions, kissed her father affectionately, and was ready to go.
"We'll be back soon, Daddy. You are a dear to be always thinking about me. I know I am very mean to leave you."
"The young lady'll be well took care of, sir," declared Captain Sammy, who had come in to say that the boat was ready.
So we went down to the cove where Frenchy, already apprised that such a distinguished passenger was coming, was feverishly scrubbing the craft and soaking the footboards, endeavoring, with scant success, to remove all traces of fish and bait.
"It's dreadful, isn't it?" said Miss Jelliffe as we passed by the fishhouses. "I know that when I get back home I shall never eat another fish-cake. And just look at the awful swarms of flies and blue-bottles. And the smell of it all! It is all undoubtedly picturesque, but it is unspeakably smelly."
The men were busily working, and girls and boys of all sizes, and one heard the sound of sharp knives ripping the fish, and the whirring of grindstones, and the flopping of offal in the water. These people were clad in ancient oilskins, stiff and evil with blood and slime, but they lifted gruesome hands to their forelocks as Miss Jelliffe went by and she did her best to smile in answer.
"Couldn't they be taught to be a little cleaner?" she asked me. "Isn't it awfully unhealthy for them?"
"It is rather bad," I admitted, "and they are always cutting their hands and fingers and getting abominably infected sores. They only come to me when they are in a more or less desperate condition. Yet one can hardly blame them for following the ways of their fathers, when you consider the lack of facilities. They can't clean the fish on board their little boats, as the bankers do on the larger schooners, and there is no place in which they can dispose of the refuse save in the waters of the cove. They don't even have any cultivable land where they could spread it to fertilize the ground. It must drift here and there, to go out with the ebb of the tide or be devoured by other fishes, or else it gets cast up on the shingle. The smell is a part of their lives, and I am nearly sure that they are usually quite unconscious of it. Moreover, they are always harassed for time. If the fishing is good the men at work in the fish-houses ought to be out fishing, and the girls should be out upon the flakes. They often work at night till they are ready to drop. And then perhaps comes a spell of rain, days and weeks of it, during which the fish spoils and all their work goes for nothing. Then they have to try again and again, with hunger and debt spurring them on. And the finest part of it is that they never seem to lose courage."
"I wonder they don't go elsewhere and try some other kind of work," suggested Miss Jelliffe.
"I dare say they are fitted for little else," I replied. "And besides, like so many other people all over the face of the earth they are attached to their own land, and many get homesick who are transplanted to other places. They seem to have taken root in the cracks between these barren rocks, and the tearing them away is hard. So they keep on, in spite of all the hardships. They get lost in storms and fogs; they get drowned or are frozen to death on the ice-pans, nearly every spring, at the sealing, for which they are paid in shares. This naturally means that if the ship is unsuccessful they get nothing for all their terrible toil and exposure. Indeed, Miss Jelliffe, they are brave people and hard workers, who never get more than the scantiest rewards. I think I am becoming very fond of them. I'm a Newfoundlander, you know."
"Was it home-sickness that brought you back?" she asked.
"It may have been sickness of some sort," I answered.
She looked at me, without saying anything more, and we stepped on board the boat, after I had guided her over the precarious footing of a loose plank which, however, she tackled bravely.
From Miss Helen Jelliffe to Miss Jane Van Zandt
During these long evenings there is absolutely nothing for me to do except to inflict long epistles upon you. Dear Daddy seems to be making up for some of the lost sleep of his youth, and is apt to begin early the unmusical accompaniment to his slumbers.
We are now able to dispense with the nice old mariner who watched him so effectively the first night. Daddy said the competition was too great for him to stand, and explained that he wanted a monopoly. You will be delighted to hear that as far as we can tell the poor leg is doing nicely; at any rate the doctor seems to be pleased. I had no idea that our patient would be so easily resigned to his fate. He is just as good as good can be.
To console you for reading about the hardships I must tell you that I had one of the times of my life to-day. An ultimate analysis of it would reduce itself to a trip from a dirty shore, in a dirty boat, to a dirty island, at least that part of it that was not daily scrubbed by the Atlantic billows. Of course this may be somewhat exaggerated, but the places one departs from and arrives at are somewhat trying to sensitive noses.
That young doctor I spoke of is the responsible party, aided and abetted by Daddy. Between them they just bundled me away, under some silly pretense that I needed fresh air. It is possible, after all, that they may have been right.
We went down to the fish-houses and flakes that crop out like queer mushrooms on stilts all over the edges of the cove, and it was a shaky damsel who shuddered over the passing of a wobbly plank. The crew of two waited below in the boat, and smiled encouragingly, so that I had to try and show more bravery than I really felt. I had no desire to intrude among the squids; one sees them dimly through the clear water and they impress one, as they move about, as resembling rather active rats. The cod are more partial to them than I ever shall be. Then there was a rather rickety ladder down which I scrambled. I am sure the crew had never seen silk stockings before, but their heads were politely turned away. A large, exuberantly whiskered Frenchman in picturesque rags gave me his hand and helped me down with a manner worthy of assorted dukes and counts; and there was a little boy who sat on a thwart and looked wistfully at me.
"De leetle bye, heem want go, if mademoiselle heem no mind," said the Frenchman, bashfully, with a very distinct look of appeal.
The little fellow also sought my eyes, and held his ragged little cap in his hands. He was simply the curliest darling, clad in a garment of many colors made of strange remnants and sewed by hands doubtless acquainted with a sailor's palm but unfamiliar with ordinary stitching.
Naturally I bent down and lifted him up and put him on my knees, recognizing in this infant the nicest discovery I have yet made on this amazing island. His little pink face and golden curls imperatively demanded a kiss. He is just the sweetest little fellow you ever saw, and looks altogether out of place among the sturdy urchins of the Cove. Then I had to put him down, because of course I had flopped down in the wrong place. I notice that in small boats one always does. The child took his cap off again and said "merci," and I had to smile at Yves, the Frenchman, whose grin distinctly showed that the way to his heart lies through that kiddy.
We were off at once, and I sat astern near the ancient. Yves had gone forward and the doctor, after the usual totally unnecessary concern as to rugs and either useless things, followed him and appeared to practice his French on the sailor.
"That there Frenchy," Captain Sammy confided to me, "is most crazy over th' young 'un. I never did see sich a thing in all me born days."
"He must be awfully proud of such a dear little son," I answered.
"There's them as says it ain't the son o' he," replied Sammy. "He don't never talk about the bye. They says he jist picked him up somewheres, jist some place or other. You would hardly think what a plenty they is as have fathers or mothers neither, along th' coast."
This opened to me a vista of troops of kiddies wandering up and down the cliffs, wailing the poor daddies that will never be given back by the rough sea, and the mothers who found life harder than they could bear, and it saddened me. You always said I must beware of my imagination, but I think there was a funded reality in that vision. Then I was compelled to look about me, for we were passing through headlands at the narrow mouth of the cove, the long lift of the open sea bore us up and down again, softly, like an easy low swing. That terrible reek of fish had disappeared and the air was laden with the delightful pungency of clean seaweed and the pure saltiness of the great waters. North and south of us extended the rocky coastline all frilled, at the foot of the great ledges, with the pearly spume of the long rollers.
It was very early when we arrived in the Snowbird, and I was not on deck very long. It didn't seem nearly so beautiful then, and I had no idea that it would be like this.
"It is perfectly marvelous," I told Captain Sammy. "But it is a terrible coast. How do you ever manage to get back in storms and fogs? The mouth of the cove is nothing but a tiny hole in the face of the cliffs."
"Times when they is nought but fog maybe we smells 'un," he replied, with the most solemn gravity.
"I hadn't thought of such an obvious thing," I replied, laughing. "It seems quite possible. But how about gales?"
"They is times when we has to run to some o' the bays north or south of us fer shelter," he answered. "I've allers been able to fetch 'un."
"But what if you were carried out to sea?"
"Then likely I'd git ketched, like so many others has, ma'am."
And then, Aunt Jennie dear, in spite of the shining of the bright sun upon the glittering water and the softness of the air that was caressing my face, I felt very sad for a moment. It looked like a very cruel world for all of its present smiling. On this coast the elements seem always to be waiting for their prey, just as, in the shelter of ledges deep beneath our keel, unspeakable slimy things with wide glaucous eyes are lying in watch, with tentacles outspread.
"It all seems very dreadful to me," I said.
But the old fellow, though he nodded civilly in assent, had not understood me in the least. This was clearly the only world with which he was acquainted; the one particular bit of earth whereupon fate had dropped him, as fertilizing seeds are dropped by wandering birds. I daresay he is unable to realize any other sort of existence, excepting perhaps in some such vague way as you and I may think of those canal-diggers of Mars. Close to us, to port, we passed a big rock that was jutting from the water and over which the long smooth seas washed, foaming with hissing sounds.