The Prospector by Ralph Connor
XVIII. The Don's Recovery
Ike had his wish; for, when one day his business took him to the Fort, the stage brought a stranger asking the way to Mr. Macgregor's house, and immediately Ike undertook to convoy him thither. It was The Don.
Shock's shout of welcome did Ike good, but the meeting between the two men no one saw. After the first warm greeting Shock began to be aware of a great change in his friend. He was as a man whose heart has been chilled to the core, cold, hard, irresponsive. Toward Shock himself The Don was unchanged in affection and admiration, but toward all the world he was a different man from the one Shock had known in college days.
In Shock's work he was mildly interested, but toward all that stood for religion he cherished a feeling of bitterness amounting to hatred. True, out of respect he attended Shock's services, but he remained unmoved through all; so that, after the first joy in his friend's companionship, the change in him brought Shock a feeling of pain, and he longed to help him.
"We will have to get him to work," he said to the doctor, to whom he had confided The Don's history in part, not omitting the great grief that had fallen upon him.
"A wise suggestion," replied the doctor, who had been attracted by his young brother in the profession, "a wise suggestion. This country, however, is painfully free from all endemic or epidemic diseases."
"Well, doctor, you know we ought to get that hospital going in the Pass. Let us talk it over with him."
At the first opportunity Shock set forth his plans for the physical and moral redemption of the lumbermen and miners of the Pass.
"I have seen the most ghastly cuts and bruises on the chaps in the lumber camps," he said, "and the miners are always blowing themselves up, and getting all sorts of chest troubles, not to speak of mountain fever, rheumatism, and the like. There is absolutely no place for them to go. Hickey's saloon is vile, noisy, and full of bugs. Ugh! I'll never forget the night I put in there. I can feel them yet. And besides, Hickey has a gang about him that make it unsafe for any man to go there in health, much less in sickness. Why, the stories they tell are perfectly awful. A fellow goes in with his month's pay. In one night his fifty or sixty dollars are gone, no one knows how. The poor chap is drunk, and he cannot tell. When a prospector comes down from the hills and sells a prospect for a good figure, from a hundred to five hundred dollars, and sometimes more, these fellows get about him and roll him. In two weeks he is kicked out, half dead. Oh, Hickey is a villain, and he is in league with the red-light houses, too. They work together, to the physical and moral damnation of the place. We want a clean stopping-place, a club-room, and above everything else a hospital. Why, when the miners and lumbermen happen to get off the same night the blood flows, and there is abundant practice for any surgeon for a week or so."
"Sounds exciting," said The Don, mildly interested. "Why don't you go up, doctor? "
"It is not the kind of practice I desire. My tastes are for a gentler mode of life. The dangers of the Pass are too exciting for me. They are a quaint people," the doctor continued, "primitive in their ideas and customs, pre-historic, indeed, in their practice of our noble art. I remember an experience of mine, some years ago now, which made a vivid impression upon me at the time, and indeed, I could not rid myself of the effects for many days, for many days."
"What was that, doctor?" enquired Shock, scenting a story.
"Well, it is a very interesting tale, a very interesting tale. Chiefly so as an illustration of how, in circumstances devoid of the amenities of civilised life, the human species tends toward barbarism. A clear case of reversion to type. There was a half-breed family living in the Pass, by the name of Goulais, and with the, family lived Goulais' brother, by name Antoine, or, if you spelled it as they pronounced it, it would be 'Ontwine.' The married one's name was Pierre. Antoine was a lumberman, and in the pursuit of his avocation he caught a severe cold, which induced a violent inflammation of the bowels, causing very considerable distension and a great deal of pain. Being in the neighbourhood attending some cases of fever, I was induced by some friends of the Goulais to call and see the sick man."
"The moment I opened the door I was met by a most pungent odour, a most pungent odour. Indeed, though I have experienced most of the smells that come to one in the practice of our profession, this odour had a pungency and a nauseating character all its own. Looking into the room I was startled to observe the place swimming with blood, literally swimming with blood. Blood on the floor, blood upon the bed, and dripping from it."
"'What does this mean? Is someone being murdered? Whence this blood?'"
"'Non! non!" exclaimed Mrs. Goulais. "There is no one keel. It is one cat blood.'"
"Approaching the bed to obtain a nearer view of the patient, I discovered the cause. Turning down the bed quilt to make an examination, you may imagine my surprise and horror to observe a ghastly and bloody object lying across the abdomen of the sick man. A nearer examination revealed this to be an immense cat which had been ripped up from chin to tail, and laid warm and bleeding, with all its appurtenances, upon the unhappy patient. All through the day the brother, Pierre; had been kept busily engaged in hunting up animals of various kinds, which were to be excised in this manner and applied as poultice."
"In uncivilised communities the animal whose healing virtues are supposed to be most potent is the cat, and the cure is most certainly assured if the cat be absolutely black, without a single white hair. In this community, however, deprived of many of the domestic felicities, the absence of cats made it necessary for poor Pierre to employ any animal on which he could lay his hands; so, throughout the day, birds and beasts, varied in size and character, were offered upon this altar. The cat which I discovered, however, was evidently that upon which their hopes most firmly rested; for, upon the failure of other animals, recourse would be had to the cat, which had been kept in reserve. The state of preservation suggested this."
"A very slight examination of the patient showed me that there was practically no hope of his recovery, and that it would be almost useless in me to attempt to change the treatment, and all the more that I should have to overcome not only the prejudices of the patient and of his sister-in-law, but also of his very able-bodied brother, whose devotion to his own peculiar method of treatment amounted to fanaticism. However, I determined to make an attempt. I prepared hot fomentations, removed the cat, and made my first application. But no sooner had I begun my treatment than I heard Pierre returning with a freshly slaughtered animal in his hand. The most lively hope, indeed, triumph, was manifest in his excited bearing. He bore by the tail an animal the character of which none of us were in doubt from the moment Pierre appeared in sight. It was the mephitis mephitica, that mephitine musteloid carnivore with which none of us desire a close acquaintance, which announces its presence without difficulty at a very considerable distance; in short, the animal vulgarly known as the skunk."
"'Voila!' exclaimed Pierre, holding the animal up for our admiration. 'Dis feex him queek."
"'Ah! Mon Dieu!' exclaimed his wife, covering her face with her apron. But, whether from devotion to his art or from affection for his brother, Pierre persisted in carrying out his treatment. He laid the animal, cleft and pungently odorous, upon the patient. Needless to say, I surrendered the case at once."
The doctor's manner of telling the story was so extremely droll that both The Don and Shock were convulsed with laughter.
"Yes, they need a hospital, I should say," said The Don, when they had recovered.
"Well," said Shock, "we shall go up and have a look at it."
The result of their visit to the Pass was that within a few weeks a rough log building was erected, floored, roofed in, chinked with moss, and lined with cotton, lumbermen and miners willingly assisting in the work of building.
The Don became much interested in the whole enterprise. He visited the various lumber camps, laid the scheme before the bosses and the men, and in a short time gathered about two hundred dollars for furnishing and equipment.
Shock left him to carry out the work alone, but after two weeks had passed he was surprised to receive a message one day that the young doctor was cutting things loose up in the Pass. With a great fear at his heart Shock rode up the next day. The first man whom he met in the little, straggling village was Sergeant Crisp of the North-West Mounted Police, a man of high character, and famed in the Territories alike for his cool courage and unimpeachable integrity.
"Up to see the young doctor?" was the Sergeant's salutation. "You will find him at Nancy's, I guess," pointing to where a red light shone through the black night. "Do you want me along?"
"No, thank you," said Shock. "I think I had better go alone."
For a moment he hesitated.
"How does one go in?" he enquired.
"Why, turn the handle and walk right in," said the Sergeant, with a laugh. "You don't want to be bashful there."
With a sickening feeling of horror at his heart Shock strode to the red-light door, turned the handle, and walked in.
In the room were a number of men, and two or three women in all the shameless dishabille of their profession. As Shock opened the door a young girl, with much of her youthful freshness and beauty still about her, greeted him with a foul salutation.
Shock shrank back from her as if she had struck him in the face. The girl noticed the action, came nearer to him, and offered him her hand. Shock, overcoming his feeling of shame, took the hand offered him, and holding it for a moment, said: "My dear girl, this is no place for you. Your home waits for you. Your Saviour loves you."
In the noise that filled the room no one save the girl herself heard his words; but two or three men who knew Shock well, amazed at his appearance in that place, exclaimed: "It's the preacher!"
Nancy, the keeper of the house, who was sitting at one of the tables gambling with some men, sprang to her feet and, seeing Shock, poured out a torrent of foul blasphemy.
"Get out of this house! Get out, I say! You've no business here. Go, blank your blank soul! Take yourself out of this!"
She worked herself into a raging fury. Shock stood quietly looking at her.
"Here, Tom! Pat! Put this blank, blank out, or you'll go yourselves. What do I keep you for?"
Three or four men, responding to her call, approached Shock.
Meantime The Don, who had been sitting at one of the tables with three others, a pile of money before him, stood gazing in amazement at Shock, unable to believe his eyes.
As the men approached Shock The Don came forward.
"Stop!" he said. "This man is my friend."
"Friend or no friend," shrieked Nancy, beside herself with rage, "out he goes. He called me names in this town. He threatened to drive me out of the town."
"Come, Don," said Shock, ignoring Nancy. "I want you."
"Wait one moment and I am with you," replied The Don, going back to the table where he had been sitting." We will finish this game again, gentlemen," he said. "Hickey, that's my money. Hand it over."
"You lie!" said Hickey. "Curse you for a blank, blank swell! You can't come that game over us. It aint your money, anyway, and you know it. That's money you raised for the hospital. Come on, boys, let's clean them out. They don't belong to us."
With these words he sprang at The Don, but The Don's training in the 'Varsity gymnasium had not been in vain, and he met Hickey with a straight left-hander that sent him into the corner upon his shoulders, with his feet in the air.
Simultaneously with Hickey's attack, Nancy, shrieking "Kill him! kill him!" flew at Shock, and fastening her fingers in his hair dragged his head downward. Taking advantage of this attack a man from the crowd rushed in and struck him a heavy blow on the neck, and as he was falling kicked him full in his face. Immediately another, jumping on Shock's prostrate form, began kicking him savagely with his heavy calked boots.
"Give it to him!" yelled Nancy, dancing about like a fiend.
"Stop! Stop! You have killed him!" shrieked the young girl, Nellie by name, throwing herself upon Shock and covering him with her body.
"Get up, you blank fool!" yelled Nancy, seizing her by the hair.
At this moment, however, The Don, freed from Hickey, sprang to Shock's side, seized Nancy by the back of the neck and hurled her across the room, caught the man who was still trying to kick Shock to death, by the throat, and holding him at half arm struck him a terrific blow and threw him like a log against his companion, who came rushing to his assistance.
Meantime Nancy, still shrieking her refrain, "Kill him! kill him!" was dragging forward Hickey, who had partially recovered from The Don's blow, to renew the attack.
"Come on, you cowards!" she cried to the other men. "What are you afraid of? Come on."
Stung by her taunts the men, led by Hickey, prepared to rush, when the door opened and Sergeant Crisp appeared. Immediately the men who had attacked Shock vanished through the back door.
"Hickey, I want you. Stand where you are. You too, Nancy, and every man of you. What's this? Someone hurt? Why, it's the preacher. This may be serious," he continued, drawing his revolver. "Don't move. Not a man of you. What does this mean?" he asked, addressing The Don.
"My friend there," said The Don, "came for me. We were going out when they attacked us."
"Go and get help," replied the Sergeant. "We will carry him to the hospital. You would, eh?" to one of the men who started for the door. "Here, put up your hands. Quick!" There was a flash and a click, and the man stood handcuffed.
In a few moments The Don came back with help, and they carried Shock, groaning and bleeding, to the hospital, while the Sergeant, putting a man in charge of Nancy and her gang, accompanied The Don.
In an agony of remorseful solicitude for his friend, and cursing himself for his folly, The Don directed the movements of the bearers.
In the darkness behind them came the girl Nellie, following to the door of the hospital.
"What are you after?" said Sergeant Crisp sharply. "We don't want you here."
"I want to see the doctor," she said earnestly.
"Well?" said The Don, facing round to her.
"Let me nurse him," she said in a hurried, timid voice. "I have had training. You can depend upon me."
The Don hesitated, glancing at her dishevelled, gaudy attire, painted cheeks, and frowsy hair.
"Well," he said, "you may come."
The girl disappeared, and in a very few minutes returned dressed modestly and quietly, the paint and pencilling washed from her face, her hair smoothed behind her ears. The Don looked her over, and nodding approval said: "That is better. Now, hold the light for me."
His examination revealed serious injuries about the head and face, three ribs broken, one piercing the lungs. With Nellie's assistance he managed to dress the wounds and set the broken bones before Shock regained full consciousness.
As they were finishing. Shock opened his eyes and fixed them enquiringly upon The Don's face.
"Well, how do you feel, old chap? Pretty sore, I guess," enquired The Don.
Shock tried to speak, but his attempt ended in a groan. Still his eyes remained fastened enquiringly upon The Don's face. The Don bent over him.
"The money, Don," he said with great difficulty. "Hospital?"
The Don groaned. He understood only too well;, and unable to escape the insisting eyes, replied: "Yes, Shock. But I will make it all right. Hickey has it now."
Shock closed his eyes for a few minutes, and then, opening them again, compelled The Don's attention.
"Send for Ike," he whispered. "Right away."
Next day Ike appeared in a cold, white rage at The Don. He had got the whole story from the messenger, and blamed no one but The Don.
As Shock's eyes rested upon Ike's lean, hard face, bent over him so anxiously, he smiled a glad welcome.
"Don't look like that, Ike," he said. "I'll soon be fit."
"Why, you just bet!" said Ike, with a loud laugh, deriding all anxiety.
"Ike," whispered Shock. Ike bent over him. "I want two hundred dollars at once. Don't tell."
Without a word of questioning Ike nodded, saying "In half an hour, I guess." But in less time he appeared and, slipping the roll of bills under Shock's pillow, said: "It's all there."
"Good old boy," said Shock, trying to offer his hand.
Ike took his hand carefully. "Is there anything else?" he said, his voice grave and hoarse.
"No, old boy," said Shock. "Thank you."
"Then," said Ike, "you'll keep quieter without me, I guess. I'll be on hand outside." And with a nod he strode out of the room, his face working with grief and rage.
For a week Ike remained at the Pass in hourly attendance at the hospital, looking in at every chance upon the sick man. In Shock's presence he carried an exaggerated air of cheerful carelessness, but outside he went about with a face of sullen gloom. Toward The Don, with whom he had previously been on most friendly terms, he was wrathfully contemptuous, disdaining even a word of enquiry for his patient, preferring to receive his information from the nurse. In Ike's contempt, more than in anything else, The Don read the judgment of honourable men upon his conduct, and this deepened to a degree almost unendurable his remorse and self-loathing.
One morning, when the report was not so favourable, Ike stopped him with the question: "Will he git better.?"
"Well," said The Don gloomily, "I have not given up hope."
"Look here," replied Ike, "I want you to listen to me." His tone was quiet, but relentlessly hard. "If he don't, you'll talk to me about it."
The Don looked at him steadily.
"Would you kill me?" he asked, with a quiet smile.
"Well," drawled Ike slowly, "I'd try to."
"Thank you," said The Don. "That would save me the trouble." And, turning on his heel, he left the cowboy in a very puzzled state of mind.
But Shock did not die. His splendid constitution, clean blood, and wholesome life stood off the grim enemy, and after two weeks of terrible anxiety The Don began to hope, and insisted on the nurse allowing herself some relaxation from her long watch.
But as Shock grew stronger The Don's gloom deepened. He had determined that once his friend was fit for work again he would relieve him of the burden of his presence. He had only brought trouble and shame to the man who was his most trusted, almost his only friend.
Life looked black to The Don in those days. Lloyd's treachery had smitten him hard. Not only had it shaken his faith in man, but in God as well, for with him Lloyd had represented all that was most sacred in religion. Death, too, had robbed him of his heart's sole treasure, and in robbing him of this it had taken from him what had given worth to his life and inspiration to his work. Of what use now was anything he had left?
He was confronted, too, with the immediate results of his recent folly. The hospital funds, of which he was the custodian, had disappeared. He knew that Hickey had robbed him of most of them, but in order to recover them he would have to acknowledge his crime of using them for his own ends. As he moved in and out among the men, too, he had caught murmurs of a charge of embezzlement that in his present condition filled him with shame and fear. If the thing could be staved off for a month he could make it right, but he knew well that the gang would give him as little respite as they could. Indeed, it was only Sergeant Crisp's refusal to entertain any formal charge while Shock's life was in danger, that had saved The Don so far. But while Sergeant Crisp had stood between him and his enemies thus far, he knew that a day of reckoning must come, far the Seregant was not a man to allow considerations of friendship to interfere with duty. With Sergeant Crisp duty was supreme.
But more than The Don was Shock anxious to have this matter of the hospital funds cleared up, and he only waited an opportunity to speak to The Don about it. The opportunity was forced on him unexpectedly.
One day, as he lay apparently asleep, the Sergeant called The Don into the next room. Through the paper and cotton partition their voices came quite clearly.
"I have been wanting to speak to you about a matter," the Sergeant said, with some degree of hesitation, "Hickey's friends are saying nasty things about you."
"What do you mean?" said The Don, knowing only too well.
"About the hospital funds, you know. In fact, they are saying--"
At this point the nurse came running in.
"Mr. Macgregor wants you, doctor, at once," she cried, and The Don hurried in to him.
"Go and tell the Sergeant to wait," Shock said to the nurse, and she went out leaving The Don alone with him.
"Don," said Shock, "I know all about it. Don't speak. Here," taking the roll of bills from under his pillow, "here is the hospital money. Quick! Don't ask questions now. Go to the Sergeant. Go! go!"
"Nothing wrong?" asked the Sergeant anxiously, when The Don had returned.
"Oh, no," said The Don. "Nothing serious. You were speaking about some hospital funds?"
"Why, yes, the fact is, they are--it's an ugly thing to say--they are charging you with misappropriation of those funds."
"Oh, they are?" said The Don, who had by this time got back his nerve. "Well, Sergeant, let them come on. The accounts will be ready. And, indeed, I shall be glad to turn over the funds to yourself now. Excuse me a moment." He went to his desk and brought out a pass book. "This shows all the subscriptions, about two hundred dollars, I think. And here," he said, drawing the bills out of his pocket, "you will find the whole amount."
"Not at all," said the Sergeant, "not at all, my dear fellow. I thought it right you should know--be prepared, you understand."
"Thank you, Sergeant," said The Don. "Any time my books can be seen. Good-bye."
The Don went in to Shock, sent the nurse out for a walk, shut the door, and then, returning to the bed, threw himself on his knees.
"Oh, Shock," he said, "this is too much. What can I say?"
"Nothing at all, old chap. Don't say anything What is that between us? We have been through too many things together to have this bother us."
"Shock! Shock!" continued The Don, "I have been an awful fool, a blank, cursed fool!"
"Don't swear, old chap," said Shock.
"No, no, I won't, but I curse myself. I have been waiting for this chance to tell you. I don't want you to think too badly of me. This thing began in Hickey's saloon some days before that night. He was playing some fellows from the camp a skin game. I called him down and he challenged me. I took him up, and cleaned him out easily enough. You know my old weakness. The fever came back upon me, and I got going for some days. That night I was called to visit a sick girl at Nancy's. The gang came in, found me there, and throwing down their money dared me to play. Well, I knew it was play or fight. I took of my coat and went for them. They cleaned me out, I can't tell how. I could not get on to their trick. Then, determined to find out, I put up that--that other money, you know--and I was losing it fast, too, when you came in."
As Shock listened to The Don's story his face grew brighter and brighter.
"My dear fellow," he said in a tone of relief, "is that all? Is that the whole thing? Tell me, as God hears you!"
"That's the whole story, as God hears me!" said The Don solemnly.
"Oh, thank God!" said Shock. "I thought--I was afraid--" He paused, unable to go on.
"What! You thought I had forgotten," cried The Don. "Well, I confess things did look bad. But I want to tell you I am clean, and may God kill me before I can forget! No, no woman shall ever touch my lips while I live. Do you believe me, Shock?"
Shock put out his hand. He was still too much moved to speak.
At length he said: "Nothing else matters, Don. I could not bear the other thing."
For some minutes the friends sat in silence.
"But, Don," said Shock at length, "you can not go on this way. Your whole life is being ruined. You cannot draw off from God. You have been keeping Him at arm's length. This will not do."
"It is no use, Shock," said The Don bitterly. "My head is all right. I believe with you. But I cannot get over the feeling I have for that--" He broke off suddenly.
"I know, I know. I feel it, too, old chap, but after all, it is not worth while. And besides, Don, forgive me saying this--if it had not been true about you he could not have hurt you, could he?"
The Don winced.
"I am not excusing him, nor blaming you," continued Shock eagerly, "but a man has got to be honest. Isn't that right?"
"Oh, yes, it is true enough, Shock. I was a beast, as you know, at that time in my life, but I had put it all past me, and I believed that God had forgiven me. And then those two raked it all up again, and broke my darling's heart, and drove me away, an outcast. He is a minister of the gospel, and she is a member of the Christian Church."
"Don," said Shock gravely, "that won't do. You are not fair."
The door opened quietly, and the nurse came in and sat down out of Shock's sight behind the bed.
"Now, Don, I want you to read for me that tale of the Pharisee and the woman who was a sinner. For my sake, mind you, as well as for yours, for I was wrong, too, on this matter. I confess I hated him, for I cannot help thinking that he has done me a great wrongs and I have found it hard enough to say the Lord's Prayer. Perhaps you had better read this letter so that you may understand."
He took from under his pillow Mrs. Fairbanks' letter and gave it to The Don, who read it in silence. Poor Shock! He was opening up wounds that none had ever seen, or even suspected, and the mere uncovering of them brought him keen anguish and humiliation.
As The Don read the letter he began to swear deep oaths.
"Stop, Don. You mustn't swear. Now listen to me. I think she has a perfect right to do as she has been doing. But--Lloyd"--Shock seemed to get the name out with difficulty,--"was my friend, and I think he has not been fair."
"Fair!" burst out The Don. "The low down villain!"
"But listen. The question with me has been how to forgive him, for I must forgive him or keep far from Him who has forgiven me, and that I cannot afford to do. Now read." And The Don took up the Bible from the little table beside Shock's bed, and read that most touching of all tales told of the Saviour of the sinful.
"'Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.'"
As The Don finished reading, a sound of sobbing broke the silence in the room.
"Who is that? Is that you, Nell?" said Shock. "What is the matter, Nell? That is for you, too. Now we will have Don read it again." And once more, with great difficulty, The Don read the words, so exquisitely delicate, so divinely tender.
"That is for you, too, Nell," said Shock.
"For me?" she cried. "Oh, no, not for me!"
"Yes, Nell, my sister, it is for you."
"Oh," she cried, with a tempest of sobs, "don't call me that. It cannot be. I can never be clean again."
"Yes, Nell, He says it Himself. 'Her sins, which are many, are forgiven,' and He can make you clean as the angels. We all need to be made clean, and He has undertaken to cleanse us."
It was a very humble and chastened man that went out from Shock's presence that evening. Through the days of the week that followed The Don went about his work speaking little, but giving himself with earnestness and in a new spirit, more gentle, more sympathetic, to his ministry to the sick in the camps and shacks round about. But still the gloom was unlifted from his heart. Day by day, however, in response to Shock's request he would read something of the story of that great loving ministration to the poor, and sick, and needy, and of infinite compassion for the sinful and outcast, till one day, when Shock had been allowed for the first time to sit in his chair, and The Don was about to read, Shock asked for the story of the debtors, and after The Don had finished he took from his pocket Brown's letter and said:
"Now, Don, forgive me. I am going to read something that will make you understand that story," and he read from Brown's letter the words that described Betty's last hour.
The Don sat white and rigid until Shock came to the words, "God forgives us all, and we must forgive," when his self-control gave way and he abandoned himself to the full indulgence of his great sorrow.
"It was not to grieve you, Don," said Shock, after his friend's passion of grief had subsided. "It was not to grieve you, you know, but to show you what is worth while seeing--the manner of God's forgiveness; for as she forgave and took you to her pure heart again without fear or shrinking, so God forgives us. And, Don, it is not worth while. in the face of so great a forgiveness, to do anything else but forgive, and it is a cruel thing, and a wicked thing, to keep at a distance such love as that."
"No, no," said The Don, "it is not worth while. It is wicked, and it is folly. I will go back. I will forgive."