Great was their joy when it was learned that the Albert was a hospital ship with a real doctor aboard come to care for and heal their sick and injured, and that the doctor made no charge for his services or his medicine. This was a big point that went to their hearts, for there was scarce a man among them with any money in his pocket, and if Doctor Grenfell had charged them money they could not have called upon him to help them, for they could not have paid him. But here he was ready to serve them without money and without price. The richest, who were poor enough, and the poorest, could alike have his care and medicine. Here, indeed, was cause to wonder and rejoice.
Many of the fishermen took their families with them to live in little huts at the fishing places during the summer, and to help them prepare the fish for market. Forty or fifty men, women and children were packed, like figs in a box, on some of the schooners, with no other sleeping place than under the deck, on top of the cargo of provisions and salt in the hold, wherever they could find a place big enough to squeeze and stow themselves. Under such conditions there were ailing people enough on the schooners who needed a doctor’s care.
The mail boat from St. Johns came once a fortnight, to be sure, and she had a doctor aboard her. But he could only see for a moment the more serious cases, and not all of them, hurriedly leave some medicine and go, and then he would not return to see them again in another two weeks. The mail boat had a schedule to make, and the time given her for the voyage between St. Johns and The Labrador was all too short, and she never reached the northernmost coast.
There were calls enough from the very beginning to keep Doctor Grenfell busy with the sick folk of the schooners. All that day the people came, and it was late that evening when the sick on the schooners had been cared for and the last of the visitors had departed.
Thus, on that first day in this new land, in the Harbor of Domino Run, Doctor Grenfell’s life work among the deep sea fishermen of The Labrador began in earnest.
But even yet Doctor Grenfell’s day’s work was not to end. He was to witness a scene that would sicken his heart and excite his deepest pity. An experience awaited him that was to guide him to new and greater plans and to bigger things than he had yet dreamed of.
For a long while a rickety old rowboat had been lying off from the Albert. A bronzed and bearded man sat alone in the boat, eyeing the strange vessel as though afraid to approach nearer. He was thin and gaunt. The evening was chilly, but he was poorly clad, and his clothing was as ragged and as tattered as his old boat.
Finally, as though fearing to intrude, and not sure of his reception, he hailed the Albert.
[A] A small fish about the size of a smelt.