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On The Reef Of Norman’s Woe
by [?]

“It was the schooner Hesperus
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter
To bear him company.
Such was the wreck of the Hesperus
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s woe!”

Only it was not the schooner Hesperus, and she did not sail the wintry sea. It was the stern-wheeled tub Amenhotep, which churned her way up and down the Nile, scraping over sand banks, butting the shores with gaiety embarrassing–for it was the time of cholera, just before the annual rise of the Nile. Fielding Bey, the skipper, had not taken his little daughter, for he had none; but he had taken little Dicky Donovan, who had been in at least three departments of the Government, with advantage to all.

Dicky was dining with Fielding at the Turf Club, when a telegram came saying that cholera had appeared at a certain village on the Nile. Fielding had dreaded this, had tried to make preparation for it, had begged of the Government this reform and that–to no purpose. He knew that the saving of the country from an epidemic lay with his handful of Englishmen and the faithful native officials; but chiefly with the Englishmen. He was prepared only as a forlorn hope is prepared, with energy, with personal courage, with knowledge; and never were these more needed.

With the telegram in his hand, he thought of his few English assistants, and sighed; for the game they would play was the game of Hercules and Death over the body of Alcestis.

Dicky noted the sigh, read the telegram, drank another glass of claret, lighted a cigarette, drew his coffee to him, and said: “The Khedive is away–I’m off duty; take me.”

Fielding looked surprised, yet with an eye of hope. If there was one man in Egypt who could do useful work in the business, it was little Dicky Donovan, who had a way with natives such as no man ever had in Egypt; who knew no fear of anything mortal; who was as tireless as a beaver, as keen-minded as a lynx is sharp-eyed. It was said to Dicky’s discredit that he had no heart, but Fielding knew better. When Dicky offered himself now, Fielding said, almost feverishly: “But, dear old D., you don’t see–“

“Don’t I?–Well, then,

“‘What are the blessings of the sight?–
Oh, tell your poor blind boy!'”

What Fielding told him did not alter his intention, nor was it Fielding’s wish that it should, though he felt it right to warn the little man what sort of thing was in store for them.

“As if I don’t know, old lime-burner!” answered Dicky coolly.

In an hour they were on the Amenhotep, and in two hours they were on the way–a floating hospital–to the infected district of Kalamoun. There the troubles began. It wasn’t the heat, and it wasn’t the work, and it wasn’t the everlasting care of the sick: it was the ceaseless hunt for the disease-stricken, the still, tireless opposition of the natives, the remorseless deception, the hopeless struggle against the covert odds. With nothing behind: no support from the Government, no adequate supplies, few capable men; and all the time the dead, inert, dust-powdered air; the offices of policeman, doctor, apothecary, even undertaker and gravedigger, to perform; and the endless weeks of it all. A handful of good men under two leaders of nerve, conscience and ability, to fight an invisible enemy, which, gaining headway, would destroy its scores of thousands!

At the end of the first two months Fielding Bey became hopeless.

“We can’t throttle it,” he said to Dicky Donovan. “They don’t give us the ghost of a chance. To-day I found a dead-un hid in an oven under a heap of flour to be used for to-morrow’s baking; I found another doubled up in a cupboard, and another under a pile of dourha which will be ground into flour.”