Two lives were the stake of a Mounty’s desperate gamble with an exile’s soul
ON A keen morning in the month of October, Constable William Brent stood in the doorway of a very plain barrack building, and hummed a joyous stave culled from the gramophone records stacked in a corner of the room behind him, the while he rolled himself a cigarette. His cheerfulness owed nothing to his surroundings. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have no bleaker station than that chunk of granite in the mouth of the Mackenzie River, known as Herschell Island, but their presence there is necessary to maintain law and order, since the ships of the American whaling fleet make Pauline Bay, in the lee of the island, their anchorage for the eight months of winter.
Brent’s satisfaction arose from the fact that the monotony of the brief summer, just over, was due to be broken any day, any hour, by the arrival of the first ships of the fleet, and he was in no way troubled because he was, at the moment, the only policeman at the post, his comrade, Charley Lee, being in attendance on the inspector, somewhere on the return trip from Fort MacPherson. When they got back, which would be in a couple of days at most . . .!
Brent’s humming broke off in the middle of a bar, and he stood staring, his half rolled cigarette forgotten. Over toward the eastern shore of Pauline Bay, a schoonerrigged vessel of about sixty tons burthen was just coming to anchor. What a ship not interested in whaling, and this one carried no harpoon gun, was doing in those waters, he wras at a loss to guess, but at the moment his attention was taken by the fact that though the schooner had not yet fully lost way, one of her boats was already in the water and nearing the land, rowred hard by three men and steered by a fourth, while a fifth sat in the bow, facing shoreward.
As Brent watched, the boat grounded, and the man in the bow sprang out and began running toward the police building with a stumbling, uneven gait.
“Whatever he wants he wants it quick and he wants it bad,” was the policeman’s thought, and then the man spoke from a dozen yards away, eagerly, gaspingly.
“Is—is there a doctor here?”
For answer the stranger staggered forward and caught at the side of the door as if in need of physical support. His eyes, red-rimmed and blood-shot as if from lack of sleep, stared at Brent with a sort of horror in them.
“My wife,” he said, hoarsely.
Brent stopped him, sharply: “Your wile—here?”
“And she’s sick?”
“Very sick. The child ...”
Brent’s rising wrath and dismay exploded in an oath. “The child. You’ve actually brought your wife and child to this God-forsaken hole?”
“The child’s—coming,” said the man, and dropped his head upon his arm against the door-post.
The silence lasted perhaps three breaths. When Brent spoke again it was quite quietly.
“Is your wife a white woman?”
The stranger nodded his dishevelled head.
“And you’re alone? Just the two of you and the crew?”
“And Annie Lunt, the wife of my mate—they’re both half-breeds. She’s a smart, sensible woman but this— this is beyond her.” He stopped in his jerky, halting speech, and, straightening himself, turned his haggard eyes on Brent as if he felt some further explanation to be due.
“I am the missionary for the whaling station,” he said hoarsely. “The Dawn yonder—” he nodded his head toward the little sailing vessel—“is an old sealing schooner we picked up cheap—she carries an Indian crew, old sealers all of them— and I volunteered for the work—I’d always wanted a frontier place—and I’d a master’s certificate—I’d been reared to the sea—that saved expense—it seemed as if I’d been singled out—and when my wife begged and prayed to come with me—I yielded. God forgive me if I did wrong—I meant it for the best!” His hoarse, gasping voice ceased for a moment; he passed the tip of his tongue over his dry lips. “She was so strong and brave, and she thought—we both thought— she might help the work among the Esquimaux women, and the quarters were comfortable—a sound ship—a capable experienced woman to take care of her—how could we foresee that things would go wrong—but they have—the child should have been born hours ago—if she doesn’t get medical help soon she’ll die—she’ll die. She’s frightened now, and she’s—she’s suffering terribly.”
He hid his face in the curve of his arm, and a shudder ran through him.
Brent stood and stared past him at the heaving, slatecolored sea. Every member of the force was well versed in first aid, and he was a handy man in the matter of cuts and sprains; even broken limbs and a few gunshot wounds had come his way—but this—this was different. A woman—a white woman—in the primal strait; two lives in grimmest jeopardy, and none but himself in all that dreary waste to whom the terrified man at his side could appeal. Brent was suddenly aware that his throat felt very dry. He had to make two efforts before his voice would come, and then it sounded strange in his own ears.
“Look here,” he laid a hand on the other’s arm, “what’s your name?”
“Well, look here, Thorpe, you’ve got to brace up. It mayn’t be as—as bad as you think, and if it is . . . ” For a moment words failed him, and he felt the perspiration start on the palms of his hands; “if it is we’ve just got to ease the going, that’s all. There’s chloroform up there in the medicine chest, and I’ll—”
HpHE strident scream of a steamer’s whistle cut across the words. A whaler, the forerunner of the fleet, was just entering the harbor at quarter speed. The wind, blowing inshore, brought a pungent, familiar whiff to Brent’s nostrils as he stared, his hand arched over narrowed eyes, and suddenly a shout broke from him.
“The Dancing Girl, by the living jingo. If Grouch Smith’s aboard we’re all right—we’re all right.”
He was across the room in two strides, had kicked off his indoor moccasins and was pulling on a pair of high boots before Thorpe had fully grasped the meaning of his words.
“Do you mean there is a doctor aboard that boat?” he gasped, a wild hope in his blood-shot eyes.
“There is a guy that wculd have been a full-blown doctor now only he fell down on one of his drills—not this thing you want him for—germs. Then his girl chucked him and he went to the devil—gave me the whole yarn last trip when he was too drunk to be lying.” Brent stamped his feet well home and snatching a coat from a peg, brushed past Thorpe into the keen air. The steamer had arrived at her selected anchorage, and as the two men looked, her big bow anchor splashed down, and, almost directly after, a boat put off from either side and headed swiftly beachward. filled with shouting, boisterous men.
“Here,” Brent caught Thorpe by the arm; “you get along back to your wife and tell her I’m fetching a doctor. I’ll get Smith if he’s aboard, and if he isn’t—” he hesitated, sought desperately for something adequate to say, and failing, turned from the man’s imploring eyes, and ran toward the spot where the boats would ground.
A chorus of shouted greetings met him as the leading boat ran half its length up the coarse shingle, and a big man in a red sweater made himself heard above the uproar.
“Nothin’ doin’, boys, here’s the cop. Promise it shan’t get into the papers, Johnny Canuck, an’ we’ll go quietly.” Brent, grinning amiably, ran a quick eye over the men, and saw that the one he wanted was not among them. Before he could put a question another voice hailed him: “Who’s the guy was visitin’ with you, Billy?”
“A missionary,” said Brent, and as the man turned away with a grimace, secured a word with the redsweatered whaler, Felton.
“Is Smith with you this trip?”
“Three of him; you c’n take your pick.”
“I mean that sulky fellow you call Grouch.”
He spoke casually, but the blood went a little quicker through his veins. On the sailor’s answer hung two lives.
“Oh, Grouch. Sure. He’s back on board, ugly as a cat with its tail jammed in the door. What you want of him?” Brant hesitated, unwilling to pass on the woman’s pitiful story among those rough foc’sle hands; the rest of the men had gone on up the sloping beach to the rough building maintained by the whaling company for its men. Felton was quick to notice his pause.
“I only asked because he has his knife into you f’r gettin’ him them two days in irons last trip.”
“He’s a fool,” said Brent dispassionately. “Much obliged.”
“Oh, we don’t none of us cotton to Grouch. The boat? Sure. ^Will I get a couple of the boys to take you out?” “No, I’ll be all right, thanks. I’ll leave it here when I’m through.”
“We ain’t likely to want it under two hours,” Felton responded genially, and followed his comrades.
Brent frowned as he bent his back to the heavy oars. So Smith bore him a grudge, because at their last—and only—meeting, he had arrested him for forcing his drunken attentions too insistently upon the young wife of one of the Esquimaux hunters employed to procure fresh meat for the men. The inspector chancing to be engaged at the time, he had had to keep his prisoner company for an hour, and the whaler, garrulous with drink, took the opportunity to pour a tale of woe into his jailor’s bored ears. That he had worked his way through a five year medical course, and a day or two before his final examination had been ‘framed’, in the matter of some missing club funds, with the result that he failed to pass, was all that emerged with any coherence from his slurred and rambling speech. From that point, as rage began to mount in him, the tale became an unintelligible jumble of oaths and imprecations, with here and there a word of a girl who believed him a thief, and of a wild debauch that ended in the foc’sle of a tramp freighter bound round the Horn for San Francisco. Forty-eight hours in irons was the punishment meted out to him by his captain for the afternoon’s offence; the ship had gone out the following week and Brent had not seen him again.
'T'HE jarring of his boat against the vessel’s side interrupted Brent’s reflections, and as he looked about for the rope ladder try which to get aboard, his eyes fell on the very man he wanted, scowling down at him, something so hostile in the whole set of his figure, even at that distance, that Brent felt his heart sink as he made fast his borrowed boat and picked his way along the deserted, untidy deck.
“How d’ye do Smith?” he said, trying to force a little cordiality into his voice.
Grouch Smith had deliberately turned his back as the other approached, and leaning his arms on the barrel of the harpoon gun, affected to be unaware of his existence. At the direct challenge, however, he faced round and ran his deep-set eyes over the policeman from head to foot and back again.
“How d’ye do, Mister damned constable Brent,” he sneered, then, spat upon the deck. It was not an auspicious opening, but Brent’s errand was urgent, and he ignored the deliberate offensiveness of words and action.
“Say, Smith,” he said, earnestly, “dy’e remember telling me when you were up last trip that you came mighty near being a full blown doctor once?”
The effect of his words was sufficiently striking. Smith started violently, and a dull red mounted into his sallow, lantern-jawed face.
“If I told you any such bunk I made it up as I went along, and you can forget it, my lad, you can forget it,” he said. There was a threat in his voice and his angry eyes narrowed on his questioner.
Brent was quite sure he was lying, but the knowledge was little help. If he chose to deny the story he had told, the game was already lost. But the big policeman wa3 not easily discouraged in such a cause.
“It didn’t sound like a yarn, Smith,” he said mildly, compelling himself to patience. “In fact, it sounded mighty like the truth the way you told it. You were pretty full at the time, but I guess you remember some of it.”
“Ye-es, I guess I remember some of it,” Smith drawled, through the tobacco-stained teeth that clamped the butt of his cigarette. He rested an elbow on the gun and looked Brent over with a sinister regard. “I remember for instance that you walked me up to your damned boss by the collar of my shirt, and he put up such a song and dance to the old man that I got two days in irons. Oh yes, I remember quite a lot, blast you. Any special favor I can do you this morning, mister policeman Brent? Is it the inspector that’s sick, or Lee, or the whole three of you by any luck?”
The deadly hatred and bitterness of his words were enhanced if possible by the very correctness of his speech, the speech of an educated man, and Brent, looking at him, felt again the curious dryness in his throat that had assailed him earlier that morning when he first realized his utter helplessness. For a moment he thought of turning on his heel and leaving the man to his victory, but the memory of Thorpe's desperate face braced him anew.
“I don’t want any favors for myself, Smith,” he said, schooling his voice to quietness, almost to friendliness; “I’m sorry if you’ve got a hard feeling toward me—but you know what we fellows are here for. What I want to tell you is that a—a poor devil of a missionary came across to the barracks this morning who wants you the worst way.”
Just why he did not say at once what the case was, Brent could not at the moment have explained. Thinking it over, afterwards, he knew that he had temporarily evaded mention of the woman for fear of provoking such a reply as would scatter his sorely strained patience to the winds and drive his fist into the sneering face before him.
As it was, Smith stared for a moment, and then laughed unpleasantly.
“Why me?” he demanded. “Why not any other rotten foremast hand?”
“You know—because you are a doctor, or pretty nearly one.”
“I’ve told you I’m not.”
The policeman’s only answer was a shrug, but it ■expressed his disbelief as clearly as words, and a little silence, pregnant with suppressed feeling on both sides, fell between the two men. They had the littered deck to themselves, and the only sound close at hand was the squeak of the rusty anchor chain in the hawser hole, as the Dancing Girl lifted to the rough swell. Once or twice, a distant shout reached them from the men ashore, happy as schoolboys in their release from the cramped quarters of the ship. Brent looked at the little schooner lying a quarter of a mile away, and wondered drearily in what words he would tell Thorpe he had failed. One last •effort he had yet to make, one last weapon with which to try to pierce the callous indifference of the man beside him.
“It’s a woman I want you to help, Smith,” he said gently, “a white woman, who’ll die, and her baby with her, if she does not get a doctor’s attention quick. She’s the wife of a missionary who came on that boat yonder—• hadn’t any more sense than to bring her, and now he’s pretty near crazy. You—you won’t turn them down, Smith?”
His own voice was husky with his earnestness. The whaler turned and stared at him.
“A white woman—here?”
Brent winced at the utter heartlessness of words and tone.
“All the same she’s here, and desperately ill. A white woman, Smith.”
“A white woman,” the whaler repeated with a grim laugh. He slouched back against the harpoon gun and raked Brent from head to foot with malignant eyes. “And the Royal Mounted Police are supposed to render aid to every distressed person that happens along to claim it, but this is a bit beyond even the Royal Mounted Police. So if Grouch Smith would just forget his grouch for a while and whirl in and fix this thing up, he’d help them out of a devil of a hole.”
He laughed again with a bitterness and mockery indescribable.
“But I’m afraid your memory—or your sense of humor—has got frost-bitten, my boy. It isn’t so very long since you didn’t seem to think me good enough to touch a dirty little rat of an Esquimaux girl, and now—you’ve grown mighty civil all of a sudden haven’t you? Aw, go to hell!”
He turned to the ship’s low rail and spat into the water.
“You won’t go?”
“Not an inch.”
“She—they’ll both die.”
“Let ’em. There’ll be two fools less in the world.” Suddenly he faced round again, his thin lips twisted into a snarl like an angry dog’s.
“Now cut it out will you? I’ve had enough of your whine. I’m a whaler—d’yer get that? A whaler, nothing more, nothing less. And if you ever open your head to me about that woman again, I’ll go below.”
For a moment Brent stood rigid, fighting an overwhelming desire to catch Smith by the throat and either choke the life out of him or be killed in the attempt. In his rage and disgust he would have given his chances of promotion, and they were good, to be clear of his official character for ten minutes, and on a neutral strip of ground, have it out with the whaler, man to man.
Driving his clenched hands into his pockets out of the way of temptation, he turned his back on Smith’s triumphant sneer, and stared at the dirty deck, inwardly cursing his own blind stupidity. If only he had kept out of it and sent Thorpe to seek Smith and tell his own tale; even the sullen brute at the rail of the Dancing Girl might have been moved by the poor devil’s distress; if Thorpe saw him now, if—Brent raised his dejected head in a sudden desperate hope—if Smith could be brought by any means into the presence of the suffering woman herself—surely—surely—if there was any humanity left in the man—but how could he be got there? Certainly not willingly—not knowingly—then how? Force was useless here; persuasion had failed; there remained trickery. Like a questing hound, his alert mind went racing back over his stormy conversation with Smith, reviewing all the information he had given about the missionary and his wife, scanning and rejecting one wild idea after another, while with every passing second the conviction of ultimate failure forced itself more insistently upon his unwilling mind.
AND it was at that precise moment that Captain Bateman stepped out of the aft companion hatch and hailed the policeman in a hoarse bawl.
“Hello, Billy Brent. How’s your boss? How’s Lee? What’s the news in town?”
The tense lines in Brent’s face suddenly smoothed out; the hands that had gone into his pockets clenched, reappeared with the makings of a cigarette. All unconsciously Captain Bateman had given him his opportunity, and he seized it with the quickness of his nature and the coolness of his training.
“They’re all right, thanks,” he said quietly, aware in every strung fibre of him of Smith’s keen, critical ears in the background, “but the inspector has his hands full with a sick woman landed at the barracks.”
“Eh?” roared Bateman, striding down the deck toward him; “what’s all that?”
“Fact, captain. That schooner over there brought a missionary and his wife for the station, and the woman’s very ill—it’s my belief she won’t get better. The man thought the pitching of the boat was making matters worse, and, of course, the inspector gave up his room for her.”
“A woman,” Bateman ejaculated, still lost in astonishment, “good Lord!”
“That’s what we said,” Brent agreed, “poor thing, it’s tough luck. By the way, captain, the mate of the schooner told me they had a lot of magazines aboard they’re through with. I’m going over now to pick out a bunch, and if you like to send a man along with a sack I’ll get some for you at the same time.” Then a quick lift of the brows and an almost imperceptible side jerk of the head, added, plain as print, urgent as a danger signal: ‘Send Smith now—send Smith—now!”
Captain Bateman was as quick-witted a Yankee as ever drove his ship through dirty weather, and he was on very friendly terms with the three policemen. That there was something out of the ordinary underlying Brent’s request he knew, else why the eloquent pantomime when a couple of words would have served, but he played up promptly to the other’s lead, willing to wait for enlightenment until later.
“I’ll be mighty glad of ’em,” he said heartily. “Smith! Get a move on and rustle a sack or a dunnage bag— anything so it’s ha’afways clean, and go after them books with Brent. Step lively, now.”
Brent kept his eyes fixed on the cigarette he was rolling. There was a moment’s pause; then Smith brushed past him, and disappeared down the forward companion. Brent took two strides toward the skipper of the Dancing Girl.
Continued on page 62
Continued from page 5
“Thanks, captain. You’ve done me a mighty good turn. I can’t explain now, but I’ll tell you all about it before the day’s out.”
He dropped into the boat alongside, fearful lest Smith should find him in conversation with the captain and have his suspicions aroused. In less than a minute—Captain Bateman was not a man to encourage dawdling in the carrying out of his orders—the whaler threw a drill dunnage bag into the bow, and climbing down after it, cast loose the rope, and ran out a second pair of oars. The increasing wind made it a difficult task for even two men to pull the heavy boat parallel with the shore, and Brent felt no inclination to talk. It was Smith who broke the silence, when they had
covered half the distance to the schooner.
“If this is a frame-up to get me to that woman, I warn you—”
“Oh, dry up.” Brent burst out with sud■ den, calculated violence. “Didn’t you
hear me say she’d been taken ashore? If I’d thought twice I’d never have mentioned the infernal magazines while you were there for fear he’d send you along, and Lord knows I’d sooner have smallpox in the boat with me.”
Smith’s only comment on this state-
ment was a short laugh. The other’s disgust and chagrin gave him obvious satisfaction.
“As for the woman,” Brent added resentfully after a moment, “you have had the thing set fairly before you, and if you can’t see that it’s up to you, that's your look-out; I’ve done my best. We’ll give the man the chloroform as we promised, and we can do no more.” ^
“Chloroform?” Smith repeated, in a changed tone—the tone in which a man might echo the name of his home town, heard by chance in a far country. “Have you fellows got chloroform in your outfit?”
“A ten-ounce bottle,” Brent answered carelessly; “why wouldn’t we? You never know what you’re going to be^ up against in this God-forsaken country.”
Smith made no answer, and almost directly after they swept round the stern of the old schooner. The wooden ladder that had served Thorpe hung amidships, and, as the boat eame alongside, one of the crew put his shock head over the side and catching the rope Smith threw him, made it fast.
Never had Brent’s serene exterior masked keener anxiety than he felt as he mounted the Dawn’s ladder with Smith, once more wrapped in sullen hostility, at his heels. A cry from the woman, a word from her husband, would be enough and more than enough to reveal to the whaler
the trick that had been played upon him;
and granted that there was no premature disclosure, another minute at furthest would see his last card on the table, the game won, or finally and irretrievably lost. As he cleared the rail, his first glance showed him that the missionary was not on deck, and he drew a breath of relief; forward, two Indians lounged by the foc’sle hatch, and the man who had made fast the boat was sauntering forward to join them.
“I guess the mate’s below,” Brent said shortly, and led the way to the aft companion. The door at the top of the steps was closed and the sliding hatch drawn forward. Brent slapped it back, threw
open the door, and ran down the five narrow,wornstepsthatledintothesaloon. He had taken in all there was to see there before his foot touched the floor; the saloon was empty except for the usual furniture, but in the furthest corner a door stood open showing a vista of a little passage with a glimpse of a stove and a littered table in the small galley at the end, and beside the table, a man sitting in an attitude of the deepest dejection, his back to the door his head sunk between his hands. It occurred to Brent, as his eyes passed swiftly over the missionary, that the unhappy man had had ample time, since they parted at the door of the barracks, to despair of the aid that had been promised. But his business at the moment was not with Thorpe. There were two cabin doors at the right of the saloon, both closed. In a cold sweat—for Smith had reached the foot of the companion and the reckoning was a matter of seconds now—Brent turned to the left— and found what he sought. A cabin door stood ajar, and against the farther wall, in the place formerly occupied by the berth, stood a small iron bed.’ A thin, dark woman stood beside it, looking at Brent with intelligent, melancholy eyes, He recalled her clearly afterward, but at the moment she made no impression upon his consciousness—his whole attention was seized and held by the woman upon the bed. She had half raised herself on her elbow, and was staring at the stranger with wild, dilated eyes. A tangle of dark hair hung about her face—the face of a mere girl—and her under lip was streaked with blood where her teeth had bitten in again and again. For the time it took to draw one breath, Brent looked at her; then her face went down amid the welter of disordered pillows, and simultaneously the constable leaped back, thrust himself
between Smith—whom he had blocked till that moment from a sight of the cabin —and the companion, and gaining the deck in two jumps, slammed the door shut and reached for the sliding hatch, And, as he did so, there rose from the room he had just quitted, a muffled
scream of such dire anguish, such pitiful terror, as made the man shudder despite his iron nerves. The closing hatch blotted out the sound, and with his hand on the fastening of the door, just as he had planned in that moment of inspiration
on the deck of the Dancing Girl, Brent waited for the outcome of his last throw, his quickened pulses beating out the seconds, his keen ears strained to catch
any sound from below, till a minute had passed, and no sign from the tricked man; another minute, and another, and Brent remembered with a sudden oath of dismay that there was sure to be a way through the galley to the forward companion and so on deck. In another moment he would have thrown caution to
the winds and gone down to find out for himself what was occurring below, but at that very instant he felt a tug at the handle of the door, and a voice he did not know — clear — ringing —imperative — shouted his name, “Brent! Open the door. Quick.”
There was that in the tone that Brent
did not even think of disputing. He flung the door open and stepped back, and Smith sprang out upon the deck and caught him by the arm. But was it Smith, Brent marvelled, this man with the keen, alert face, the bright, eager eyes, the terse, authoritative voice laying quick directions upon him, or was it another, bearing an odd facial likeness to Smith, the whaler, wearing the rough, weatherbeaten clothes of Smith the whaler,
gripping his arm with the long, nicotine stained fingers of Smith the whaler, but having no slightest resemblance in voice or or manner to that sullen misanthrope.
For an instant the policeman stared, bewildered, then came to attention mechanically, for this man, this stranger, to him as his commanding officer might have spoken, “Get me that chloroform quick, Brent, Continued from page 62
Continued on page 64
Ask the mate for a man to each oar and drive them. Have you any carbolic acid? Then fetch that, too. Quick man—quick —and we may save her yet.”
He turned and ran down into the saloon and a black-haired, harsh-featured man who had followed him on deck, touched Brent’s arm.
“We take your boat, eh, save time lowering—all right.” He shouted, and the three men who had been idling in the bows came running; five more appeared from the direction of the forward hatch, and in a moment the big boat was speeding shoreward as fast as willing hands could drive it. The police barracks were not very far from the water’s edge, and Brent, on fire with excitement, made little of the distance. In ten minutes he was back aboard the old sealer, and finding no one in the saloon, presented himself, diffidently and on tip-toe, at the door of the sick woman’s cabin. He was astonished at the change that had been wrought even in that space of time.
A table covered with a towel had been placed near the bed, and on it were the two white enamel basins half full of hot water; a brand new nail brush lay beside them, and a clean handkerchief, folded in four. The half-breed woman was on her knees before a small trunk, dragging out linen and towels in nervous haste; John Thorpe looked on, his haggard face transfigured with renewed hope, and beside the bed stood Smith, his long fingers on the woman’s wrist. At sight of him Brent’s mind went back to a day some years before when he had been one of four men detailed to carry an injured comrade to the operating room of the hospital at Regina. Smith had removed his coat and sweater and slipped a white cotton shirt of Thorpe’s, tunic-wise, over his own coarse grey flannel shirt; the sleeves of both were rolled nearly to the shoulder, and round his lean hips was pinned a big hólland apron; its lower edge slapped the ankles of his grimly incongruous sea-boots as he strode over to Brent, took the chloroform bottle, removed the cork, and gave him back the bottle.
“Hold it, please, we can’t afford any accidents with that,” he bade him, and with his hack-knife swiftly and dexterously grooved the cork its entire length, put it back in the bottle and inverted it over the folded handkerchief. A quick patter of tiny drops fell on the little square of cambric, and Smith turned and laid it gently over the face of the exhausted girl.
"Breathe deeply Mrs. Thorpe—deeply. That’s right. You will be better before very long.”
With an odd feeling that it was all a particularly vivid dream from which he would presently wake up, Brent watched from the doorway; Thorpe watched from the foot of the bed; Annie Lunt watched from beside the open trunk, her hands full of towels, and a tense silence fell on the little cabin; while a minute went by, another and another, until the girl’s small clutching hands dropped limp and still upon the tumbled coverlet, her hurried breathing grew peaceful and regular, and Smith lifted his bright, keen eyes to Thorpe’s.
“Come here and continue the chloroform. Brent, keep the galley fire going and give Annie all the hot water she asks for.”
He was across the room with the words still on his lips, and Brent went out with the sickly-sweet smell of chloroform in his nostrils and a sound in his ears of stiff bristles on calloused hands.
A CHEAP little clock on a crowded shelf ticked out the minutes to the policeman’s anxious ears above all the noise of crackling wood and spluttering kettle. They grew to half an hour, to three-quarters, and still the grim fight went on in the little cabin across the width of the saloon. Four times, Annie Lunt came for hot water, and each time her step was more hurried, her face more perturbed. Brent had not the courage to put the question that trembled on the tip of his tongue; he refilled the kettle, stoked the little stove until it was nearly red-hot, and, once and again, stole out into the saloon to stare at the closed door beyond which Smith battled for the lives of the mother and the child. He was turning back for the sixth time, when he was arrested by a strange, thin, wailing cry such as he had never heard before. For a moment he doubted his ears, but when the cry sounded a second time, comprehension came to him, mingled with panic, and he bolted back into the galley, and waited there with what patience he could muster for whatever news might come. It was Smith himself who brought it, some twenty minutes later. Smith, who came slowly into the galley, rolling down the sleeves of his grey shirt with hands that trembled in the reaction from the tremendous strain he had undergone.
“A nice, husky boy, and the mother’s fine. They’ll be all right now.” He nodded reassuringly to Brent, and pulled on his mackinaw coat. “If you’ll pass the word to the mate, he’ll take me back to the ship.”
“You’re not going back to the ship.” Brent’s voice was brusque with suppressed emotion. “You’re going to bunk at the barracks till navigation opens, and then you’re going to borrow enough from me and the inspector to go out and clean up that last year in medical college and hang out your shingle. How about it Smith?”
Smith spun round and stared at him. In hi^ eyes a great hope fought with incredulity.
“Brent. You mean that? You—my God.” His exhausted body dropped into a chair beside the little table, and his head went down upon his out-flung arms.
Very noisily for so light-footed a man, Brent went out into the saloon, and rolled himself a cigarette with meticulous care.