THE RAGGED MAN IN THE RICKETY BOAT
Grenfell, who had been standing at the rail for some time watching the decrepid old boat and its strange occupant, answered the hail cheerily.
“Be there a doctor aboard, sir?” asked the man.
“Yes,” answered Grenfell. “I’m a doctor.”
“Us were hearin’ now they’s a doctor on your vessel,” said the man with satisfaction. “Be you a real doctor, sir?”
“Yes,” assured the Doctor. “I hope I am.”
“They’s a man ashore that’s wonderful bad off, but us hasn’t no money,” suggested the man, adding expectantly, “You couldn’t come to doctor he now could you, sir?”
“Certainly I will,” assured the Doctor. “What’s the matter with the man? Do you know?”
“He have a distemper in his chest, sir, and a wonderful bad cough,” explained the man.
“All right,” said the Doctor. “I’ll go at once. How far is it?”
“Right handy, sir,” said the man with evident relief.
“Pull alongside and I’ll be with you in a jiffy,” and the Doctor hurried below for his medicine case.
The man was alongside waiting for him when he returned a few moments later, and he stepped into the rickety old boat. As the liveyere rowed away Grenfell may have thought of his own famous flat-boat that sank with him and his brother in the estuary below Parkgate years before when they were left to swim for it. But in his mental comparison it is probable that the flat-boat, even in her oldest and most decrepid days, would have passed for a rather fine and seaworthy craft in contrast to this rickety old rowboat. The boat kept afloat, however, and presently the liveyere pulled it alongside the gray rock that served for a landing. They stepped out and the guide led the way up the rocks to a lonely and miserable little sod hut. At the door he halted.
“Here we is, sir,” he announced. “Step right in. They’ll be wonderful glad to see you, sir.”
Grenfell entered. Within was a room perhaps twelve by fourteen feet in size. A single small window of pieces of glass patched together was designed to admit light and at the same time to exclude God’s good fresh air. The floor was of earth, partially paved with small round stones. Built against the walls were six berths, fashioned after the model of ship’s berths, three lower and three upper ones. A broken old stove, with its pipe extending through the roof into a mud protection rising upon the peak outside in lieu of a chimney, made a smoky attempt to heat the place. The lower berths and floor served as seats. There was no furniture.
The walls of the hut were damp. The atmosphere was dank and unwholesome and heavy with the ill-smelling odor of stale seal oil and fish. The place was dirty and as unsanitary and unhealthful as any human habitation could well be.
Six ragged, half-starved little children huddled timidly into a corner upon the entrance of the visitor from the ship and gazed at the Doctor with wide-open frightened eyes. In one of the lower bunks lay the sick man coughing himself to death. At his side a gaunt woman, miserably and scantily clothed, was offering him water in a spoon.