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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 17. The Fight With Death
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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 17. The Fight With Death Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :736

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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 17. The Fight With Death

CHAPTER XVII. THE FIGHT WITH DEATH

At Camp No. 2 Maclennan had struck what was called a hard proposition. The line ran straight through a muskeg out of which the bottom seemed to have dropped, and Maclennan himself, with his foreman, Craigin, was almost in despair. For every day they were held back by the muskeg meant a serious reduction in the profits of Maclennan's contract.

The foreman, Craigin, was a man from "across the line," skilled in railroad building, selected chiefly because of his reputation as a "driver." He was a man of great physical force and indomitable will, and gifted in large measure with the power of command. He knew his business thoroughly and knew just how to get the most out of the machinery and men at his command. He himself was an untiring worker, and no man on the line could get a bigger day out of his force than could Craigin. His men he treated as part of his equipment. He believed in what was called his "scrap-heap policy." When any part of the machinery ceased to do first-class work it was at once discarded, and, as with the machinery, so it was with the men. A sick man was a nuisance in the camp and must be got rid of with all possible speed. Craigin had little faith in human nature, and when a man fell ill his first impulse was to suspect him of malingering, and hence the standing order of the camp in regard to a sick man was that he should get to work or be sent out of the camp. Hence the men thoroughly hated their foreman, but as thoroughly they dreaded to fall under his displeasure.

The camp stood in the midst of a swamp, thick with underbrush of spruce and balsam and tamarack. The site had been selected after a month of dry weather in the fall, consequently the real condition of the ground was not discovered until the late rains had swollen the streams from the mountain-sides and filled up the intervening valleys and swamps. After the frost had fallen the situation was vastly improved, but they all waited the warm weather of spring with anxiety.

On the crest of the hill which overlooked the camp the doctor halted the team.

"Where are your stables, Tommy?"

"Over there beyant, forninst the cook-house."

"Good Lord!" murmured the doctor. "How many men have you here?"

"Between two an' three hundred, wid them that are travellin' the road."

"What are your sanitary arrangements?"

"What's that?"

"I mean how do you--what are your arrangements for keeping the camp clean, free from dirt and smells? You can't have three hundred men living together without some sanitary arrangements."

"Begob, it's ivery man fer himsilf. Clane yersilf as ye can through the week, an' on Sundays boil yer clothes in soap suds, if ye kin git near the kittles. But, bedad, it's the lively time we have wid the crathurs."

"And is that the bunk-house close up to the cookery?"

"It is that same."

"And why was it built so close as that?"

"Sure there wuz no ground left by raison av the muskeg at the back av it."

The doctor gave it up. "Drive on," he said. "But what a beautiful spot for a camp right there on that level."

"Beautiful, is it? Faith, it's not beautiful that Craigin calls it, fer ivery thaw the bottom goes clane out av it till ye can't git round fer mud an' the dump fallin' through to the antipods," replied Tom.

"Yes, but up on this flat here, Tommy, under the big pines, that would be a fine spot for the camp."

"It wud that same. Bad luck to the man who set it where it is."

As they drove into the camp the cook came out with some refuse which he dumped down on a heap at the door. The doctor shuddered as he thought of that heap when the sun shone upon it in the mild weather. A huge Swede followed the cook out with a large red muffler wrapped round his throat.

"Hello, Yonie!" cried Tommy. "What's afther gittin' ye up so early?"

"It is no sleep for dis," cried Yonie thickly, pointing to his throat.

The doctor sprang from the sleigh. "Let me look at your throat."

"It's the docthor, Yonie," explained Tommy, whereupon the Swede submitted to the examination.

The doctor turned him toward the east, where the sun was just peeping through the treetops, and looked into his throat. "My man, you go right back to bed quick."

"No, it will not to bed," replied Yonie. "Big work to-day, boss say. He not like men sick."

"You hear me," said the doctor sharply. "You go back to bed. Where's your doctor?"

"He slapes in the office between meals. Yonder," said Tommy, pointing the way.

"Never mind now. Where are your sick men?"

"De seeck mans?" replied the cook. "She's be hall overe. On de bunk-house, on de cook shed. Dat is imposseeb to mak' de cook for den seeck mans hall aroun'."

"What? Do they sit around where you are cooking?"

"Certainment. Dat's warm plas. De bunkhouse she's col.' Poor feller! But she's mak' me beeg troub'. She's cough, cough, speet, speet. Bah! dat's what you call lak' one beas'."

The doctor strode into the cook-house. By the light of the lantern swinging from the roof he found three men huddled over the range, the picture of utter misery. He took down the lantern.

"Here, cook, hold this please, one moment. Allow me to look at your throats, men."

"Dis de docteur, men," said the cook.

A quick glance he gave at each throat, his face growing more stern with each examination.

"Boys, you must all get to bed at once. You must keep away from this cook-house or you'll poison the whole camp."

"Where can we go, doctor? The bunk-house would freeze you and the stink of it would make a well man sick."

"And is there no place else?"

"No. Unless it's the stables," said another man; "they're not quite so bad."

"Well, sit here just now. We'll see about it. But first let me give you something." He opened his bag, took out his syringe. "Here, Yonie, we'll begin with you. Roll up your sleeve." And in three minutes he had given all four an antitoxin injection. "Now, we'll see the doctor. By the way what's his name?"

"Hain," said the cook, "dat's his nem."

"Haines," explained one of the men.

"Dat's what I say," said the cook indignantly, "Hain."

The doctor passed out, went toward the office, knocked at the door, and, getting no response, opened it and walked in.

"Be the powers, Narcisse!" cried Tommy, as the cook stood looking after the doctor, "it's little I iver thought I'd pity that baste, but Hivin save him now! He'll be thinkin' the divil's come fer him. An' begob, he'll be wishin' it wuz before he's through wid him."

But Dr. Bailey was careful to observe all the rules that the punctilious etiquette of the profession demanded. He found Dr. Haines sleeping heavily in his clothes. He had had a bad night. He was uneasy at the outbreak of sickness in his camp, and more especially was he seized with an anxious foreboding in regard to the sick man who had been sent out the day before. Besides this, the foreman had cursed him for a drunken fool in the presence of the whole camp with such vigour and directness that he had found it necessary to sooth his ruffled feelings with large and frequent doses of stimulant brought into the camp for strictly medical purposes. With difficulty he was roused from his slumber. When fully awake he was aware of a young man with a very pale and very stern face standing over him. Without preliminary Dr. Bailey began:

"Dr. Haines, you have some very sick men in this camp."

"Who the deuce are you?" replied Haines, staring up at him.

"They call me Dr. Bailey. I have come in from along the line."

"Dr. Bailey?" said Haines, sitting up. "Oh, I've heard of you." His tone indicated a report none too favourable. In fact, it was his special chum and confrere who had been ejected from his position in the Gap camp through Dr. Bailey's vigorous measures.

"You have some very sick men in the camp," repeated Dr. Bailey, his voice sharp and stern.

"Oh, a little tonsilitis," replied Haines in an indifferent tone.

"Diphtheria," said Bailey shortly.

"Diphtheria be hanged!" replied Haines insolently; "I examined them carefully last night."

"They have diphtheria this morning. I have just taken the liberty of looking into their throats."

"The deuce you have! I like your impudence! Who sent you in here to interfere with my practice, young man? Where did you get your professional manners?" Dr. Haines was the older man and resented the intrusion of this smooth-faced young stranger, who added to the crime of his youth that of being guilty of a serious breach of professional etiquette.

"I ought to apologize for looking at your patients," said Dr. Bailey. "I came in thinking I might be of some assistance in dealing with this outbreak of diphtheria, and I was naturally anxious to see--"

"Diphtheria!" blurted Haines. "Nothing of the sort."

"Dr. Haines, the man you sent out last night had it."

"HAD it?"

"He died an hour after arriving at No. 1."

"Dead? Cursed fool! He WOULD go against my will."

"Against your will? Would you let a man in the last stages of diphtheria leave this camp against your will with the company's team?"

"Well, I knew he shouldn't go. But he wanted to go himself, and the foreman would have him out."

"There are at least four men going about the camp--they are now in the cook-house where the breakfast is being prepared--who are suffering from a severe attack of diphtheria."

"What do you propose? What can I do in this cursed hole?" said Dr. Haines petulantly. "No appliances, no means of isolation, no nurses, nothing. Beside, I have half a dozen camps to look after. What can I do?"

"Do you ask me?" The scorn in the voice was only too apparent. "Isolate the infected at least."

Haines swore deeply to himself while, with trembling hand, he poured out a cupful of whiskey from a bottle standing on a convenient shelf. "Isolate? How can I isolate? There's no building in which--"

"Make one."

"Make one? Young man, do you know what you are talking about? Do you know where you are? Do you know who is running this camp?"

"No. But I do know that these men must be isolated within an hour."

"Impossible! I tell you it is impossible!"

"Dr. Haines, an inquest upon the man sent out from this camp last night would result in the verdict of manslaughter. There was no inquest. There will be on the next man that dies if there is any neglect."

The seriousness of the situation began to dawn upon Haines. "Well," he said, "if you think you can isolate them, go ahead. I'll see the foreman."

"Every minute is precious. I gave those four men antitoxin. Are there others?"

"Don't know," Haines growled, as with an oath he went out, followed by Dr. Bailey. Just outside the door they met the foreman.

"This is Dr. Bailey, Mr. Craigin." Craigin growled out a salutation. "Dr. Bailey here says these sick men have diphtheria."

"How does he know?" inquired Craigin shortly.

"He has examined them this morning."

"Have you?"

"No, not yet."

"Then you don't know they have diphtheria?"

"No," replied Haines weakly.

"These men have diphtheria, Mr. Craigin, without a doubt, and they ought to be isolated at once."

"Isolated? How?"

"A separate camp must be built and someone appointed to attend them."

"A separate camp!" exclaimed Craigin; "I'll see them blanked first! Look here, Haines, let's have no nonsense about this. I'm three weeks, yes, a month, behind with this job here. This blank, blank muskeg is knocking the whole contract endways. We can't spare a single man half a day. And more than that, you go talking diphtheria in this camp and you can't hold the men here an hour. It's all I can do to hold them as it is." And Craigin went off into an elaborate course of profanity descriptive of the various characteristics of the men in his employ.

"But what is to be done?" asked Haines helplessly.

"Send 'em out to the steel. They're better in the hospital, anyway. It's fine to-day. We'll send every man Jack out to-day."

"These men can't be moved," said Dr. Bailey in a quiet voice. "You sent a man out yesterday and he's dead."

"He was bound to go himself. We didn't send him. Anyway, it's none of YOUR business. Look here, Haines, you know me. I'm not going to have any of this blank nonsense of isolation hospitals and all that blankety blank rot. Dose 'em up good and send 'em out."

Dr. Haines stood silent, too evidently afraid of the foreman.

"Mr. Craigin, it would be murder," said Dr. Bailey, "sure murder. Some of them might get through. Some would be sure to die. The consequences to those responsible--to Dr. Haines, for instance--would be serious. I am quite sure he will never give orders that these men should be moved."

"He won't, eh? You just wait till you see him do it. Haines will give the orders right enough." Craigin's laugh was like the growl of a bear. "There's a reason, ain't there, Haines? Now you hear me. Those men are going out to-day, and so are you, you blank, blank interferin' skunk."

Dr. Bailey smiled sweetly at Craigin. "You may call me what you please just now, Mr. Craigin. Before the day is over you won't have enough names left. For I tell you that these men suffering from diphtheria are going to stay here, and are going to be properly cared for."

Craigin was white. That this young pale-faced stranger should presume to come into his domain, where his word was wont to run as absolute law, filled him with rage unspeakable. But there were serious issues at stake, and with a supreme effort he controlled the passionate longing to spring upon this upstart and throttle him. He turned sharply to Haines.

"Dr. Haines, you think these men can go out to-day?"

Haines hesitated.

"You understand me, Haines; these men go out or--"

Haines was evidently in some horrible dread of the foreman. A moment more he paused and then surrendered.

"Oh, hang it, Bailey, I don't think they're so terribly ill. I guess they can go out."

"Dr. Haines," said Craigin, "is that your decision?"

"Yes, I think so."

"All right," said Craigin, with a triumphant sneer. He turned to Tommy, who was standing near with half a dozen men who had just come out from breakfast. "Here you, Tommy, get a couple of teams ready and all the buffalo robes you need and be ready to start in an hour. Do you hear?"

"I do," said Tommy, turning slowly away.

"Tommy," called Dr. Bailey in a sharp, clear tone, "you took a man out from this camp yesterday. Tell the men here what happened."

"Sure, they all know it," said Tommy, who had already told the story of poor Scotty's death and of the doctor's efforts to save him. "An' it's a fine bhoy he wuz, poor Scotty, an' niver a groan out av him all the way down, an' not able to swally a taste whin I gave it to him."

Craigin sprang toward Tommy in a fury. "Here you blank, blank, blank! Do what I tell you! And the rest of you men, what are you gawkin' at here? Get to work!"

The men gave back, and some began to move away. Dr. Bailey walked quickly past Craigin into the midst of the group.

"Men, I want to say something to you." His voice commanded their instant attention. "There are half a dozen of your comrades in this camp sick with diphtheria. I came up here to help. They ought to be isolated to prevent the spread of the disease, and they ought to be cared for at once. The foreman proposes to send them out. One went out yesterday. He died last night. If these men go out to-day some of them will die, and it will be murder. What do you say? Will you let them go?" A wrathful murmur ran through the crowd, which was being rapidly increased every moment by others coming from breakfast.

"Get to your work, you fellows, or get your time!" shouted Craigin, pouring out oaths. "And you," turning toward Dr. Bailey, "get out of this camp."

"I am here in consultation with Dr. Haines," replied Dr. Bailey. "He has asked my advice, and I am giving it."

"Send him out, Haines. And be quick about it!"

By this time the men were fully roused. One of them came forward.

"What do you propose should be done, Doctor?" he inquired.

"Are you going to work, McLean?" shouted Craigin furiously. "If not, go and get your time."

"We're going to talk this matter over a minute, Mr. Craigin," said McLean quietly. "It's a serious matter. We are all concerned in it, and we'll decide in a few minutes what is to be done."

"Every man who is not at work in five minutes will get his time," said Craigin, and he turned away and passed into the office.

"What do you propose should be done, Doctor?" said McLean, ignoring the foreman.

"Build a camp where the sick men can be placed by themselves and where they can be kept from infecting the rest of the camp. Half a day's work of a dozen men will do it. If we send them out some of them will die. Besides, it is almost certain that some more of you have already been infected."

At once eager discussion began. Some, in dread terror of the disease, were for sending out the sick immediately, but the majority would not listen to this inhuman proposal. Finally McLean came again to Dr. Bailey.

"The men want to know if you can guarantee that the disease can be stamped out here if you have a separate camp for an hospital?"

"We can guarantee nothing," replied Dr. Bailey. "But it is altogether the safer way to fight the disease. And I am of the opinion that we can stamp it out." The doctor's air and tone of quiet confidence, far more than his words, decided the men's action. In a minute more it was agreed that the sick men should stay and that they would all stand together in carrying out the plan of isolation.

"If he gives any of us time," said Tommy, "we'll all take it, begob."

"No, men," said the doctor, "let's not make trouble. I know Mr. Maclennan slightly, and he's a just man, and he'll do what's fair. Besides, we don't want to interfere with the job. Give me a dozen men--one must be able to cook--and in half a day the work will be finished. I will be personally responsible for everything."

At this point Craigin came out. "Here's your time, McLean," he said, thrusting a time check at him.

McLean took it without a word and went over and stood by Dr. Bailey's side.

"Who are coming?" called out McLean.

"All of us," cried a voice. "Pick out your men, McLean."

"All right," said McLean, looking over the crowd.

"I'm wan," said Tommy, running over to the doctor's side. "I seen him shtand by Scotty whin the lad wus fightin' fer his life, an' if I'm tuk it's him I want beside me."

One by one McLean called his men, each taking his place beside the doctor, while the rest of the men moved off to work.

"Mr. Craigin, I am going to use these men for half a day." said Dr. Bailey.

For answer Craigin, in mad rage, throwing aside all regard for consequences, rushed at him, but half a dozen men were in his path before he had taken the second step.

"Hold on, Mr. Craigin," said McLean, "we want no violence. We're going to do what we think right in this matter, so you may as well make up your mind to it."

"And Mr. Craigin," continued the doctor, "we shall need some things out of your stores."

Craigin stepped back from the crowd and on to the office steps. "Your time is waiting you, men. And listen to me. If any man goes near that there storehouse door, I'll drop him in his tracks. I've got the law and I'll do it, so help me God." He went into the office and returned in a moment with a Winchester, which he loaded in full view of the men.

"Never mind him, boys," said the doctor cheerily, "I'm going to have breakfast. Come, Tommy, I want you."

In fifteen minutes he came out, with the key of the storehouse in his hand, to find the men still waiting his orders and Craigin on guard with his Winchester.

"Don't go just yet," said McLean to the doctor in a low voice, "we'll get round him."

"Oh, he'll not shoot," said Dr. Bailey.

"He will. He will. I knew him in Michigan. He'll shoot and he'll kill, too."

For a single instant the doctor hesitated. His men were about him waiting his lead. Craigin with his rifle held them all in check. A moment's thought and his decision was taken. He stepped toward Craigin and said in a clear voice, "Mr. Craigin, these stores are necessary to save these men's lives. I want them and I'm going to take them. Murder me, if you like."

"Hear me, men." Craigin's voice was cold and deliberate. "These stores are in my charge. I am an officer of the law. If any man lays his hand on that latch I'll shoot him, so help me God."

"Hear me, Mr. Craigin," replied Dr. Bailey. "I'm here in consultation with Dr. Haines, who has turned over this matter to my charge. In a case of this kind the doctor's orders are supreme. This whole camp is under his authority. These stores are necessary, and I am going to get them." He well knew the weak spot in his position, but he counted on Craigin's nerve breaking down. In that, however, he was mistaken. Without haste, but without hesitation, he walked toward the storehouse door. When three paces from it Craigin's voice arrested him.

"Hold on there! Put your hand on that door and, as God lives, you're a dead man!"

Without a word the doctor turned again toward the door. The men with varying cries rushed toward the foreman. Craigin threw up his rifle. Immediately a shot rang out and Craigin fell to the snow, the smoking rifle dropping from his hand.

"Begob, I niver played baseball," cried Tommy, rushing in and seizing the rifle, "but many's the time I've had the divarsion in the streets av Dublin of bringin' down the polismen wid a brick."

A heavy horseshoe, heaved with sure aim, had saved the doctor's life. They carried Craigin into the office and laid him on the bed, the blood streaming from a ghastly wound in his scalp. Quickly Dr. Bailey got to work and before Craigin had regained consciousness the wound was sewed up and dressed. Then giving him over to the charge of Haines, Dr. Bailey went about the work he had in hand.

Before the noon hour had arrived the eight men who were discovered to be in various stages of diphtheria were comfortably housed in a roomy building rudely constructed of logs, tar paper, and tarpaulin, with a small cook-house attached and Tommy Tate in charge. And before night had fallen the process of disinfecting the bedding, clothing, bunk-house, and cookery was well under way, while all who had been in immediate contact with the infected men had been treated by the doctor with antitoxin as a precautionary measure.

Thus the first day's campaign against death closed with the issue still undecided, but the chances for winning were certainly greater than they had been. What the result would be when Craigin was able to take command again, no one could say. But in the meantime, for the next two days, the work on the dump was prosecuted with all vigour, the men feeling in honour bound to support the doctor in that part of the fight which fell to them.

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