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The Doctor Of Afternoon Arm
by [?]

It was March weather. There was sunshine and thaw. Anxious Bight was caught over with rotten ice from Ragged Run Harbor to the heads of Afternoon Arm. A rumor of seals on the Arctic drift ice off shore had come in from the Spotted Horses. It inspired instant haste in all the cottages of Ragged Run–an eager, stumbling haste. In Bad-Weather Tom West’s kitchen, somewhat after ten o’clock in the morning, in the midst of this hilarious scramble to be off to the floe, there was a flash and spit of fire, and the clap of an explosion, and the clatter of a sealing-gun on the bare floor; and in the breathless, dead little interval between the appalling detonation and a man’s groan of dismay followed by a woman’s choke and scream of terror, Dolly West, Bad-Weather Tom’s small maid, stood swaying, wreathed in gray smoke, her little hands pressed tight to her eyes.

She was–or rather had been–a pretty little creature. There had been yellow curls–in the Newfoundland way–and rosy cheeks and grave blue eyes; but now of all this shy, fair loveliness—-

“You’ve killed her!”


Dolly dropped her hands. She reached out, then, for something to grasp. And she plainted: “I ithn’t dead, mother. I juth–I juth can’t thee.” She extended her hands. They were discolored, and there was a slow, red drip. “They’re all wet!” she complained.

By this time the mother had the little girl gathered close in her arms. She moaned: “The doctor!”

Terry West caught up his cap and mittens and sprang to the door.

“Not by the Bight!” Bad-Weather shouted.

“No, sir.”

Dolly West whimpered: “It thmart-th, mother!”

“By Mad Harry an’ Thank-the-Lord!”

“Ay, sir.”

Dolly screamed–now: “It hurt-th! Oh, oh, it hurt-th!”

“An’ haste, lad!”

“Ay, sir.”

There was no doctor in Ragged Run Harbor; there was a doctor at Afternoon Arm, however–across Anxious Bight. Terry West avoided the rotten ice of the Bight and took the ‘longshore trail by way of Mad Harry and Thank-the-Lord. At noon he was past Mad Harry, his little legs wearing well and his breath coming easily through his expanded nostrils. He had not paused; and at four o’clock–still on a dogtrot–he had hauled down the chimney smoke of Thank-the-Lord and was bearing up for Afternoon Arm.

* * * * *

Early dusk caught him shortcutting the doubtful ice of Thank-the-Lord Cove; and half an hour later, midway of the passage to Afternoon Arm, with two miles left to accomplish–dusk falling thick and cold, then, a frosty wind blowing–Creep Head of the Arm looming black and solid–he dropped through the ice and vanished.

Returning from a professional call at Tumble Tickle in clean, sunlit weather, with nothing more tedious than eighteen miles of wilderness trail and rough floe ice behind him, Doctor Rolfe was chagrined to discover himself fagged out. He had come heartily down the trail from Tumble Tickle, but on the ice in the shank of the day–there had been eleven miles of the floe–he had lagged and complained under what was indubitably the weight of his sixty-three years. He was slightly perturbed. He had been fagged out before, to be sure. A man cannot practice medicine out of a Newfoundland outport harbor for thirty-seven years and not know what it means to stomach a physical exhaustion. It was not that. What perturbed Doctor Rolfe was the singular coincidence of a touch of melancholy with the ominous complaint of his lean old legs.

And presently there was a more disquieting revelation. In the drear, frosty dusk, when he rounded Creep Head, opened the lights of Afternoon Arm, and caught the warm, yellow gleam of the lamp in the surgery window, his expectation ran all at once to his supper and his bed. He was hungry–that was true. Sleepy? No; he was not sleepy. Yet he wanted to go to bed. Why? He wanted to go to bed in the way that old men want to go to bed–less to sleep than just to sigh and stretch out and rest. And this anxious wish for bed–just to stretch out and rest–held its definite implication. It was more than symptomatic–it was shocking.