The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XXXII. Another Neighbour
How fair a lot to fill Is left for each man still!
The early days of March were bright and warm and full of the promise of spring. Mouse ears came out on the willows that bordered the river, and a bunch of them was proudly carried to Libby Anne by Jimmy Watson, who declared that he had heard a meadowlark. One evening, too, as she lay in her tent, Libby Anne had heard the honking of wild geese going north, and the bright March sun that came through the canvas each day cheered her wonderfully. Libby Anne always believed that Bud would come home in the spring--he would surely come to see the big brown tumbling flood go down the Souris valley. Nobody could stay away from home in the spring, when the hens are cackling in the sun-shiny yard, and water trickling down the furrows, and every day may be the day the first crocus comes. Bud would surely come then, and she would get all better, and she and her mother would go to Grandma's, and so Libby Anne beguiled her days and nights with pleasing fancies as she waited for the spring.
But although the snow had left the fields in black patches and the sun was bright and warm, the anemones delayed their coming and the ice remained solid and tight in the Souris.
One day, instead of the dazzling sunshine, there were lead-gray clouds, and a whistling wind came down the valley, piercing cold, carrying with it sharp little hurrying snowflakes.
Up to this time Libby Anne had made good progress, but with the change in the weather came a change in her. Almost without warning she developed pleurisy.
The doctor's face was white with pain when he told her mother the meaning of the flushed cheeks and laboured breathing. She had been doing so well, too, and seemed in a fair way to win against the relentless foe, but now, restlessly tossing on her pillow, with a deadly catch in her breathing, what chance had such a frail little spar of weathering the angry billows?
When the doctor went back to his office he saw Sandy Braden passing and called him in. He told him of the new danger that threatened Libby Anne.
"What can we do, Clay?" he cried, when the doctor had finished. "Is there anyone that can give her a better chance than you? How about that Scotch doctor, MacTavish? Isn't he pretty good? Can't we get him?"
"He's too busy, I'm afraid. I don't think he ever leaves the city," Dr. Clay replied. "He's the best I know, if we could only get him--though perhaps we will not need him. I'll watch the case, and if there is any chance of an operation being necessary we can wire him."
The next day Dr. Clay wired for the famous specialist, and in a few hours the answer came back that Dr. MacTavish could not leave the city. Dr. Clay had gone back to Libby Anne's bedside before the message came, and so it was to Sandy Braden that it was delivered.
It took Sandy Braden an hour to write his reply, and the wiring of it cost him four dollars, but it really was a marvel in its way--it was a wonderful production from a literary standpoint, and it was marvellous in its effect, for it caused Dr. John MacTavish, late of Glasgow, Scotland, to change his mind. He was just about to leave his house to deliver an address before the Medical Association when this, the longest telegram he had ever received, was handed to him. He read it through carefully, looked out at the gathering snowstorm, shrugged his shoulders, read it again, this time aloud, then telephoned his regrets to the Medical Association.
The storm, which had been threatening for several days, was at its height when the train, four hours late, came hoarsely blowing down the long grade into Millford. Sandy Braden was waiting on the storm-swept platform for the doctor, and took him at once to his hotel, where a hot supper was waiting for him.
When the doctor had finished his supper he was in a much better humour, which, however, speedily vanished when his host informed him that the patient was in the country, and that they would drive out at once.
"I won't go," declared Dr. MacTavish bluntly. "I won't go out in a blizzard like this for anyone. It's fifteen degrees below zero and a terrific wind blowing, and the night as black as ink. I won't go, that's all there is about it."
"Now look here, Doctor MacTavish," Sandy Braden said, persuasively, "I know it's a dreadful night but I have the best team in this country, and I know every inch of the road. I'll get you there!"
"I won't go," said the doctor, in exactly the same tone as before.
"And besides," Sandy Braden went on, other man had not spoken, "the little girl is ill, an operation is necessary, and the doctor is counting on you. It is now we need you, and you must come. Think of the poor mother--this little kid is all she has"----
"I know all that, and I'm sorry for her, and for you, too, but I won't go a step in this storm. Don't waste your breath. Don't you know you can't move a Scotchman? I know my own business best."
Sandy Braden controlled himself by an effort.
"Doctor MacTavish," he said, "we are wasting, time, and that little girl may be gone before we get there. I suppose you are used to this kind of thing, but, mind you, it means a lot to us, and this little girl is not going to die if human power can save her. Will five hundred dollars bring you? If money is any use to you say what you want and I'll give it to you." He was shaking with the intensity of his emotion.
Dr. MacTavish turned on him with dignity--he was thoroughly exasperated now.
"See here," he said brusquely, "I don't want your money--it's not a matter of money--I won't go out in this storm. Money won't buy me to freeze myself. Didn't I tell you I'm Scotch and canny?" he added, half apologetically.
Sandy Braden's eyes flamed with sudden anger.
He took a heavy fur coat from a peg in the hall. "Put that on," he commanded. "We will start in about two minutes. The horses are at the door."
The doctor indignantly protested. Without a word Sandy Braden seized his arm with an iron grip and bundled him into the coat, none too gently.
"You are Scotch, are you?" he said, looking the doctor straight in the eye, while he still kept a grip of his shoulder. "Well, I'm Irish, and we're the people who hit first and explain afterward." He opened the door and pushed the doctor ahead of him out into the raging storm.
The best team in the Braden stable was at the door, impatiently tossing their heads and pawing the snowy ground, ready to measure their mettle with the storm.
"Get in," Sandy Braden commanded, and without another word Dr. MacTavish got into the cutter, while one of the men who had been holding the horses came and tucked the robes around him.
Sandy Braden jumped in beside him, took up the reins, and with an "All right, boys, let them go"--they were off!
All evening Doctor Clay stayed beside Libby Anne's bedside, soothing her restless tossing and carefully watching every symptom. Her fever was steadily mounting, and she complained of a pain in her side. Mr. Donald, who like everyone else in the household had been since her illness her devoted slave, came once and stood at the foot of the bed. Libby Anne looked up, knew him, and smiled faintly.
Dr. Clay had not mentioned to Mrs. Cavers the coming of the great city doctor, for since the storm had risen to such violence he had given up all hope of seeing him; for no one, he thought, could drive against such a blinding blizzard, even if the train did get through, which was doubtful.
The tent was banked high with snow all round, but the terrific wind loosened the tent ropes partially, and the canvas swayed and bellied in the storm. At the entrance, where the path came in between two high banks, the snow sifted in drearily, making a little white mound on the floor, like a new grave.
Through the roar of the storm came at intervals the old dog's mournful cry. The lamp on the table, turned low though it was, flickered in the draft, and the storm mourned incessantly in the pipe of the Klondike heater. Through all the other sounds came the rapid breathing of the little girl as she battled bravely with the outgoing tide. Martha and Mrs. Cavers sat on the lounge opposite the bed.
The opening of the tent door let in a sudden gust of wind and snow that caused the lamp to flicker uncertainly. A man in a snowy fur coat entered and hastily slipped off his outer garments. Mrs. Cavers did not look up. Martha turned the lamp higher.
Dr. Clay, looking up, gave an exclamation of delight.
"Doctor MacTavish, you're a brick!" he cried, springing to his feet. "I was afraid you wouldn't come."
The great man, warming his hands over the stove, made no reply, except to shrug his shoulders--he was looking intently at the little girl's face. Then he shook hands with Dr. Clay gravely and asked about the case. After hearing all that Dr. Clay had to tell him, with an imperative gesture he signified that Mrs. Cavers and Martha were to leave the tent. But something in Mrs. Cavers's despairing face revealed to him the stricken mother. He touched her gently on the arm and said, in that rolling Scotch voice that has comforted many, "We'll do what we can for the bairn."
The two women found their way with difficulty into the house, holding tight to each other as they struggled through the storm. How did this great city doctor get here? Who brought him? Who would brave this terrible storm? were the questions they asked each other. They opened the kitchen door again and again to see if there was any trace of the driver who had brought the doctor, but the square of light from the kitchen door revealed only the driving storm as it swept past.
Down in the shelter of the barn Sandy Braden unhitched his steaming horses. With the help of his lantern he found a place for them in the stable. All night long, as he waited for the dawn, there was one thought in his brain as he paced up and down between the two rows of horses, or as he looked out of the stable door at the little misty patch, of light that now and then flashed out through the storm, one agonizing, burning thought that caused the perspiration to run down his face and more than once forced him to his knees in an agony of prayer. And the burden of his heart's cry was that the little girl might live.
Before daybreak the storm died away, and only the snowdrifts, packed hard and high, gave evidence of the night's fury. Sandy Braden stole quietly up to the tent and looked in, the beating of his own heart nearly choking him. Dr. MacTavish slept on the lounge, the peaceful sleep of a child, or of a man who has done good work. Beside the bed sat Dr. Clay, watching, alert, hopeful. From the tent door where he stood he could see the little white face on the pillow and he knew from the way the child breathed that she was sleeping easily. The eastern wall of the tent was rosy with the dawn. Then he went back to the stable, hitched up his team, and drove home in the sparkling sunshine.
Dr. MacTavish woke up soon after, and Dr. Clay went into the house to tell Mrs. Cavers. She had spent the long night by the kitchen fire listening to the raging of the storm, Martha close beside her in wordless sympathy, and when Dr. Clay came in with, the good news that the operation was over, and the great man believed that Libby Anne would live, she was almost hysterical with joy.
"Can I go and see her, doctor?" she cried. "I must go and thank him for coming. Wasn't it splendid of him to come this dreadful night?"
"Come on, Mrs. Cavers," he said, his beaming.
"Oh, my dear woman, don't thank me for coming," the doctor said, laughing, when in broken phrases she tried to tell him what she felt. "Never did a man come more against his will than I. But I had no choice in the matter when that big giant got hold of me. He coaxed me at first"--laughing at the recollection--"then tried to bribe me--I forget what fabulous sum he offered me--half of his kingdom, I think. I mind he asked me if money were any use to me, but I stuck it out that I wouldn't come until he said he'd break every bone in my body, or words to that effect. So, my dear lady, your good man deserves all the credit--he simply bundled me up and brought me. I believe he swore at me, but I'm not sure."
Mrs. Cavers stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"Say, Clay," the doctor went on gaily, "there was a glint in that man's eye last night that made me decide to risk the storm, though I'm not fond of a blizzard. I believe he would have struck me. Where is he now? I like him. I want to shake hands with him."
Mrs. Cavers sank on the lounge, white and trembling.
Dr. Clay saw the mistake the other man was making and hastened to set him right.
"Do you mean to tell me, Clay, that that man who brought me here is not the little girl's father? Well, then, who in the world is he?"
"His name is Sandy Braden," Dr. Clay replied, "and he is--just a neighbour."
"Well, then," the doctor cried in astonishment, "let me tell you, madam"--turning to Mrs. Cavers--"you have one good neighbour."
Much to the doctor's surprise, Mrs. Cavers buried her face in her hands, while her shoulders shook with sobs. After a few minutes she raised her head, and looking the doctor in the face, said brokenly:
"Doctor MacTavish, you are right about that, but I have not only one good neighbour; I have many."
Then she stood up and laid her hand on the young doctor's arm. "Dr. Clay," she said, "tell Sandy Braden I have only one word for him"--her eyes grew misty again, and her voice tremulous--"only one word, and that is, May God bless him--always."