The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter V. Hope Farwell's Ministry
"Useful hands they were, made for real service."
After dinner was over and they had visited awhile, the Doctor introduced Dan to his landlady across the way and, making some trivial excuse about business, left the boy in his room. The fact is that the Doctor wished to be alone. If he could have done it decently, he would have gone off somewhere with his fishing tackle. As he could not go fishing, he did the next best thing. He went to his office.
The streets were not so crowded now, for the people were at the ball game, and the Doctor made his way down town without interruption. As he went he tried to think out what it was that had come between him and the boy whom he had known so intimately for so many years. Stopping at the post office, he found a letter in his care addressed to "Rev. Daniel H. Matthews." In his abstraction he was about to hand the letter in at the window with the explanation that he knew no such person, when a voice at his elbow said: "Is Brother Matthews fully rested from his tiresome journey, Doctor?"
The Doctor's abstraction vanished instantly, he jammed that letter into his pocket and faced the speaker.
"Yes," he growled, "I think Brother Matthews is fully rested. As he is a grown man of unusual strength, and in perfect health of body at least, and the tiresome journey was a trip of only four hours, in a comfortable railway coach, I think I may say that he is fully recovered."
Then the Doctor slipped away. But he had discovered what it was that had come between the boy and himself. The man, Dan Matthews, was no longer the Doctor's boy. He was "Reverend," "Brother," the preacher. All the morning it had been making itself felt, that something that sets preachers apart. The Doctor wondered how his young hill-bred giant would stand being coddled and petted and loved by the wives and mothers of men who, for their daily bread, met the world bare-handed, and whose hardships were accepted by them and by these same mothers and wives as a matter of course.
By this time the Doctor had reached his office, and the sight of the familiar old rooms that had been the scene of so many revelations of real tragedies and genuine hardships, known only to the sufferer and to him professionally, forced him to continue his thought.
"There was Dr. Harry, for instance. Who, beside his old negro housekeeper, ever petted and coddled him? Who ever thought of setting him apart? Whoever asked if he were rested from his tiresome journey--journeys made not in comfortable coaches on the railroad, but in his buggy over all kinds of roads, at all times of day or night, in all sorts of weather winter and summer, rain and sleet and snow? Whoever 'Reverended' or 'Brothered' him? Oh no, he was only a man, a physician. It was his business to kill himself trying to keep other people alive."
Dr. Harry Abbott had been first, the Doctor's assistant, then his partner, and now at last his successor. Of a fine old Southern family, his people had lost everything in the war when Harry was only a lad. The father was killed in battle and the mother died a year later, leaving the boy alone in the world. Thrown upon his own resources for the necessities of life, he had managed somehow to live and to educate himself, besides working his way through both preparatory and medical schools, choosing his profession for love of it. He came to Dr. Oldham from school, when the Doctor was beginning to feel the burden of his large practice too heavily, and it was while he was the old physician's assistant that the people learned to call him Dr. Harry. And Dr. Harry he is to this day. How that boy has worked! His profession and his church (for he is a member, a deacon now, in the Memorial Church) have occupied every working minute of his life, and many hours beside that he should have given to sleep.
As the months passed Dr. Oldham placed more and more responsibilities upon him, and at the end of the second year took him into full partnership. It was about this time that Dr. Harry bought the old Wilson Carter place, and brought from his boyhood home two former slaves of his father to keep house for him, Old Uncle George and his wife Mam Liz.
Every year the younger man took more and more of the load from his partner's shoulders, until the older physician retired from active practice; and never has there been a word but of confidence and friendship between them. Their only difference is, that Harry will go to prayer meeting, when the Doctor declares he should go to bed; and that he will not go fishing. Always he has been the same courteous, kindly gentleman, intent only upon his profession, keeping abreast of the new things pertaining to his work, but ever considerate of the old Doctor's whims and fancies. Even now that Dr. Oldham has stepped down and out Harry insists that he leave his old desk in its place, and still talks over his cases with him.
The Doctor was sitting in his dilapidated office chair thinking over all this, when he heard his brother physician's step on the stairs. Harry came in, dusty and worn, from a long ride in the country on an all-night case. His tired face lit up when he saw his friend.
"Hello, Doctor! Glad to see you. Has he come? How is he?" While he was speaking the physician dropped his case, slipped out of his coat, and was in the lavatory burying his face in cold water by the time the other was ready to answer. That was Harry, he was never in a hurry, never seemed to move fast, but people never ceased to wonder at his quickness.
"He's all right," the Doctor muttered, his mind slipping back into the channel that had started him off to thinking of his fellow physician. "Got in on the ten-forty. But you look fagged enough. Why the devil don't you rest, Harry?"
Standing in the doorway rubbing his face, neck, and chest, with a coarse towel the young man laughed, "Rest, what would I do with a vacation? I'll be all right, when I get outside of one of Mam Liz's dinners. It was that baby of Jensen's that kept me. Poor little chap. I thought, two or three times he was going to make a die of it sure, but I guess he'll pull through now."
Dr. Oldham knew the Jensens well, eighteen miles over the worst roads in the country. He growled hoarsely: "It'll be more years than there are miles between here and Jensen's before you get a cent out of that case. You're a fool for making the trip; why don't you let 'em get that old bushwhacker at Salem, he's only three miles away?"
Harry pulled on his coat and dropped into his chair with a grin. "What'll you give me to collect some of your old accounts, Doctor? The Jensens say that the reason they have me is because you have always been their physician."
Then the Doctor in characteristic language expressed his opinion of the whole Jensen tribe, while Harry calmly glanced through some letters on his desk.
"See here, Doctor," he exclaimed, wheeling around in his chair and interrupting the old man's eloquent discourse. "Here is a letter from Dr. Miles--says he is sending a nurse; just what we want." He tossed the letter to the other. "There'll be the deuce to pay at Judge Strong's when she arrives. Whew! I guess I better trot over home and get a bite and forty winks. A Jensen breakfast, as you may remember, isn't just the most staying thing for a civilized stomach, and I need to be fit when I call at the Strong mansion. Wonder when the nurse will get here."
"She's here now," said the old Doctor, and he then told him about the meeting at the depot and the fight on the street. "But go on and get your nap," he finished. "I'll look after her."
Harry had just taken his hat when there came a knock on the door leading into the little waiting room. He hung his hat back in the closet, and dropped into his chair again with a comical expression of resignation on his face. But his voice was cheerful, when he said: "Come in."
The door opened. The young lady of the depot entered. The old physician took a good look at her this time. He saw a girl of fine, strong form and good height, with clear skin, showing perfect health, large, gray eyes--serious enough, but with a laugh back of all their seriousness, brown hair, firm, rounded chin and a generous sensitive mouth. Particularly he noticed her hands--beautifully modeled, useful hands they were, made for real service. Altogether she gave him the impression of being very much alive, and very much a woman.
"Is this Dr. Abbott?" she asked, looking at Harry, who had risen from his chair. When she spoke the old man again noted her voice, it was low and clear.
"I am Dr. Abbott," replied Harry.
"I am Hope Farwell," she answered. "Dr. Miles, you know, asked me to come. You wanted a nurse for a special case, I believe."
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Harry, "we have the letter here. We were just speaking of you, Miss Farwell. This is Dr. Oldham; perhaps Dr. Miles told you of him."
She turned with a smile, "Yes indeed, Dr. Miles told me. I believe we have met before, Doctor."
The girl broke into a merry laugh, when the old man answered, gruffly: "I should think we had. I was just telling Harry there when you came in."
Then the younger physician asked, "How soon can you be ready to go on this case, Nurse?"
She looked at him with a faint expression of surprise. "Why I'm ready now, Doctor."
And the old Doctor broke in so savagely that they both looked at him in astonishment as he said: "But this is a hard case. You'll be up most of the night. You're tired out from your trip."
"Why, Doctor," said the young woman, "it is my business to be ready at any time. Being up nights is part of my profession. Surely you know that. Besides, that trip was really a good rest, the first good rest I've had for a long time."
"I know, of course," he answered. "I was thinking of something else. You must pardon me, Miss. Harry there will explain that I am subject to these little attacks."
"Oh, I know already," she returned smiling. "Dr. Miles told me all about you." And there was something in her laughing gray eyes that made the rough old man wonder just what it was that his friend Miles had told her.
"All right, get back to business you two," he growled. "I'll not interrupt again. Tell her about the case, Harry."
The young woman's face was serious in a moment, and she gave the physician the most careful attention as he explained the case for which he had written Dr. Miles to send a trained nurse of certain qualifications.
The Judge Strong of this story is an only son of the old Judge who moved Corinth. He is a large man--physically, as large as the Doctor, but where the Doctor is fat the Judge is lean. He inherited, not only his father's title (a purely honorary one) but his father's property, his position as an Elder in the church, and his general disposition; together with his taste and skill in collecting mortgages and acquiring real estate. The old Judge had but the one child. The Judge of this story, though just passing middle age, has no children at all. Seemingly there is no room in his heart for more than his church and his properties--his mind being thus wholly occupied with titles to heaven and to earth. With Sapphira, his wife, he lives in a big house on Strong Avenue, beyond the Strong Memorial Church, with never so much as a pet dog or cat to roughen the well-kept lawn or romp, perchance, in the garden. The patient whom Miss Farwell had come to nurse, was Sapphira's sister, a widow with neither child nor home. The Judge had been forced by his fear of public sentiment to give her shelter, and he had been compelled by Dr. Oldham and Dr. Harry to employ a nurse. The case would not be a pleasant one; Miss Farwell would need all that abundant stock of tact and patience which Dr. Miles had declared she possessed.
All this Dr. Harry explained to her, and when he had finished she asked in the most matter-of-fact tone: "And what are your instructions, Doctor?"
That caught Harry. It caught the old Doctor, too. Not even a comment on the disagreeable position she knew she would have in the Strong household, for Harry had not slighted the hard facts! She understood clearly what she was going into.
A light came into the young physician's eyes that his old friend liked to see. "I guess Miles knew what he was talking about in his letter," said the old Doctor. And the young woman's face flushed warmly at his words and look.
Then in his professional tones Dr. Harry instructed her more fully as to the patient's condition--a nervous trouble greatly aggravated by the Judge's disposition.
"Nice job, isn't it, Miss Farwell?" Harry finished.
She smiled. "When do I go on, Doctor?"
Harry stepped to the telephone and called up the Strong mansion. "This you, Judge?" he said into the instrument. "The nurse from Chicago is here; came today. We want her to go on the case at once. Can you send your man to the depot for her trunk?"
By the look on his face the old Doctor knew what Harry was getting. The younger physician's jaw was set and his eyes were blazing, but his voice was calm and easy. "But Judge, you remember the agreement. Dr. Oldham is here now if you wish to speak to him. We shall hold you to the exact letter of your bargain, Judge. I am very sorry but--. Very well sir. I will be at your home with the nurse in a few moments. Please have a room ready. And by the way, Judge, I must tell you again that my patient is in a serious condition. I warn you that we will hold you responsible if anything happens to interfere with our arrangements for her treatment. Good-bye."
He turned to the nurse with a wry face. "It's pretty bad, Miss Farwell."
Then, ringing up the village drayman, he arranged to have the young woman's trunk taken to the house. When the man had called for the checks Harry said: "Now, Nurse, my buggy is here, and if you are ready I guess we had better follow your trunk pretty closely."
From the window the old Doctor watched them get into the buggy, and drive off down the street. Mechanically he opened the letter from Dr. Miles, which he still held in his hand. "An ideal nurse, who has taken up the work for love of it,--have known the family for years--thoroughbreds--just the kind to send a Kentuckian like you--I warn you look out,--I want her back again."
The Doctor chuckled when he remembered Harry's look as he talked to the young woman. "If ever a man needed a wife Harry does," he thought. "Who knows what might happen?"
Who knows, indeed?
Then the Doctor went home to Dan. He found him in Denny's garden, with Denny enthroned on the big rock--listening to his fun, while Deborah, from the house, looked on, unable to believe that it was "the parson sure enough out there wid Denny,"--Denny who was to have been a priest himself one day, but who would never now be good for much of anything.