A DOCTOR’S STORY.
“O toiling hands of mortals! O unwearied feet, travelling ye know not whither! Soon, soon, it seems to you, you must come forth on some conspicuous hill-top, and but a little way further, against the setting sun, descry the spires of El Dorado. Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”–R. L. Stevenson.
“Eucalyptus lies on the eastern slope of the Rockies. It will be fourteen years back this autumn that the coach dropped me there, somewhere about nine in the evening, and Hewson, who was waiting, took me straight to his red-pine house, high up among the foot-hills. The front of it hung over the edge of a waterfall, down which Hewson sent his logs with a pleasing certainty of their reaching Eucalyptus sooner or later; and right at the back the pines climbed away up to the snow-line. You remember the story of Daniel O’Rourke; how an eagle carried him up to the moon, and how he found it as smooth as an egg-plum, with just a reaping-hook sticking out of its side to grip hold of? Hewson’s veranda reminded me of that reaping-hook; and, as a matter of fact, the cliff was so deeply undercut that a plummet, if it could be let through between your heels, would drop clean into the basin below the fall.
“The house was none of Hewson’s building. Hewson was a bachelor, and could have made shift with a two-roomed cabin for himself and his men. He had taken the place over from a New Englander, who had made his pile by running the lumbering business up here and a saw-mill down in the valley at the same time. The place seemed dog-cheap at the time; but after a while it began to dawn upon Hewson that the Yankee had the better of the deal. Eucalyptus had not come up to early promise. In fact, it was slipping back and down the hill with a run. Already five out of its seven big saw-mills were idle and rotting. Its original architect had sunk to a blue-faced and lachrymose bar-loafer, and the roll of plans which he carried about with him–with their unrealised boulevards, churches, municipal buildings, and band-kiosks–had passed into a dismal standing joke. Hewson was even now deliberating whether to throw up the game or toss good money after bad by buying up a saw-mill and running it as his predecessor had done.
“‘It’s like a curse,’ he explained to me at breakfast next morning. ‘The place is afflicted like one of those unfortunate South Sea potentates, who flourish up to the age of fourteen and then cypher out, and not a soul to know why. First of all, there’s the lumbering. Well, here’s the timber all right; only Bellefont, farther down the valley, has cut us out. Then we had the cinnabar mines–you may see them along the slope to northward, right over the west end of the town. They went well for about sixteen months; and then came the stampede. A joker in the Bellefont Sentinel wrote that the miners up in Eucalyptus were complaining of the ‘insufficiency of exits’; and he wasn’t far out. Last there were the ‘Temperate Airs and Reinvigorating Pine-odours of America’s Peerless Sanatorium. Come and behold: Come and be healed!‘ The promoters billed that last cursed jingle up and down the States till as far south as Mexico it became the pet formula for an invitation to drink. Well, for three years we averaged something like a couple of hundred invalids, and doctors in fair proportion; and I never heard that either did badly. It was an error of judgment, perhaps, to start our municipal works with a costly Necropolis, or rather the gateway of one; two marble pillars, if you please–the only stonework in Eucalyptus to this day–with ‘Campo’ on one side and ‘Santo’ on the other. No healthy-minded person would be scared by this. But the invalids complained that we’d made the feature too salient; and the architect has gone ever since by the name of ‘Huz-and-Buz,’ bestowed on him by some wag who meant ‘Jachin and Boaz,’ but hadn’t Scripture enough to know it. Anyhow the temperate airs and pine-odours are a frost. There’s nobody, I fancy, living at Eucalyptus just now for the benefit of his health, and I believe that at this moment you’re the only doctor within twenty miles of the place.’