The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XVIII. To Save a Life
"It was not Hope Farwell's way to theorize about the causes of the wreck, or to speculate as to the value of inventions for making more efficient the life-saving service, when there was a definite, immediate, personal something to be done for the bit of life that so closely touched her own."
Miss Farwell turned quickly. The girl on the bed was watching her with wide wondering eyes. She forced a smile. "Yes, dear, what is it? Did you have a good sleep?"
"I was not asleep. I--oh nurse, is it true?"
Hope laid a firm, cool hand on the hot forehead, and looked kindly down into the wondering eyes.
"You were awake while the minister was here?"
"Yes I--I--heard it all. Is it--is it true?"
"Is what true, child?"
"That you care, that anyone cares?"
Miss Farwell's face shone now with that mother-look as she lowered her head until the sick girl could see straight into the deep gray eyes. The poor creature gazed hungrily--breathlessly.
"Now don't you know that I care?" whispered the nurse, and the other burst into tears, grasping the nurse's hand in both her own and with a reviving hope clinging to it convulsively.
"I'm not bad, nurse," she sobbed. "I have always been a good girl even when--when I was so hungry. But they--they talked so about me, and made people think I was bad until I was ashamed to meet anyone. Then they put me out of the church, and nobody would give me work in their homes, and they drove me away from every place I got, until there was no place but this, and I was so frightened here alone with all these negroes in the house. Oh nurse, I didn't want to do it--I didn't want to do it. But I thought no one cared--no one."
"They did not mean to be cruel, dear," said the nurse softly. "They did not understand. You heard the minister say they would help you now."
The girl gripped Miss Farwell's hand with a shudder.
"They put me out of the church. Don't let them come, don't! Promise me you won't let them in."
The other calmed her. "There, there dear, I will take care of you. And no one can put you away from God; you must remember that."
"Is there a God, do you think?" whispered the girl.
"Yes, yes dear. All the cruelty in the world can't take God away from us if we hold on. We all make mistakes, you know, dear--terrible mistakes sometimes. People with the kindest, truest hearts sometimes do cruel things without thinking. Why, I suppose those who crucified Jesus were kind and good in their way. Only they didn't understand what they were doing, you see. You will learn by-and-by to feel sorry for these people, just as Jesus wept over those who he knew were going to torture and kill him. But first you must get well and strong again. You will now, won't you dear?"
And the whispered answer came, "Yes, nurse. I'll try now that I know you care."
So the strong young woman with the face of the Mother Mary talked to the poor outcast girl, helping her to forget, turning her thoughts from the sadness and bitterness of her experience to the gladness and beauty of a possible future, until--when the sun lighted up the windows on the other side of the square with flaming fire, and all the sky was filled with the glory of his going--the sick girl slept, clinging still to her nurse's hand.
In the twilight Miss Farwell sat in earnest thought. Deeply religious--as all true workers must be--she sought to know her part in the coming scenes of the drama in which she found herself cast.
The young woman felt that she must leave Corinth. Her experience with Dan had made the place unbearable to her. And, since the scene that afternoon, she felt, more than ever, that she should go. She had no friends in Corinth save her patient at Judge Strong's, Mrs. Strong, the two doctors, Deborah and Denny. At home she had many friends. Then from the standpoint of her profession--and Hope Farwell loved her profession--her opportunities in the city with Dr. Miles were too great to be lightly thrown aside.
But what of the girl? This girl so helpless, so alone--who buffeted and bruised, had been tossed senseless at her very feet by the wild storms of life. Miss Farwell knew the fury of the storm; she had witnessed before the awful strength of those forces that overwhelmed Grace Conner. She knew, too, that there were many others struggling hopelessly in the pitiless grasp of circumstances beyond their strength--single handed--to overcome.
As one watching a distant wreck from a place of safety on shore, the nurse grieved deeply at the relentless cruelty of these ungoverned forces, and mourned at her own powerlessness to check them. But she felt especially responsible for this poor creature who had been cast within her reach. Here was work to her hand. This she could do and it must be done now, without hesitation or delay. She could not prevent the shipwrecks; she could, perhaps, save the life of this one who had felt the fury of the storm. It was not Hope Farwell's way to theorize about the causes of the wreck, or to speculate as to the value of inventions for making more efficient the life-saving service, when there was a definite, immediate, personal something to be done for the bit of life that so closely touched her own.
There was no doubt in the nurse's mind now but that the girl would live and regain her health. But what then? The people would see that she was cared for as long as she was sick. Who among them would give her a place when she was no longer an object of ostentatious charity? Her very attempted suicide would mark her in the community more strongly than ever, and she would be met on every hand by suspicion, distrust and cruel curiosity. Then, indeed, she would need a friend--someone to believe in her and to love her. Of what use to save the life tossed up by the storm, only to set it adrift again? As Miss Farwell meditated in the twilight the conviction grew that her responsibility could end only when the life was safe.
It is, after all, a little thing to save a life; it is a great thing to make it safe. Indeed, in a larger, sense a life is never saved until it is safe.
When Dr. Harry called, later in the evening as he had promised, he handed the nurse an envelope. "Mr. Matthews asked me to give you this," he said. "I met him just as he was crossing the square. He would not come in but turned back toward town."
He watched her curiously as she broke the seal and read the brief note.
"I have seen Dr. Oldham and he has told about your patient. You are right--I cannot present the matter to my people. I thank you. But this cannot prevent my own personal ministry. Please use the enclosed for Miss Conner, without mentioning my name. You must not deny me this."
The "enclosed" was a bill, large and generous. Miss Farwell handed the letter to Dr. Harry with the briefest explanation possible. For a long time the doctor sat in brown study. Then making no comment further than asking her to use the money as the minister had directed, he questioned her as to the patient's condition. When she had finished her report he drew a long breath.
"We are all right now, nurse. She will get over this nicely and in a week or two will be as good as ever. But--what then?"