Vaccination in those days was by no means the universal custom that it now is. And smallpox, even now, is a disease the name of which strikes panic to a community. The minister had been vaccinated when he was a child, but that was—so it seemed to him—a very long time ago. And that forecastle was so saturated with the plague that to enter it meant almost certain infection. He had stayed aboard the brig because the pitiful call for help had made leaving a cowardly impossibility. Now, face to face, and in cold blood, with the alternative, it seemed neither so cowardly or impossible. The man would die anyhow, so Thoph had said; was there any good reason why he should risk dying, too, and dying in that way?
He thought of a great many things and of many people as he stood by the hatchway, waiting; among others, he thought of his housekeeper, Keziah Coffin. And, somehow, the thought of her, of her pluck, and her self-sacrifice, were the very inspirations he needed. “It’s the duty that’s been laid on me,” Keziah had said, “and it’s a hard one, but I don’t run away from it.” He began to descend the ladder.
The sick man was raving in delirium when he reached him, but the sound of the water lapping the sides of the saucepan brought him to himself. He seized Ellery by the arm and drank and drank. When at last he desisted, the pan was half empty.
The minister laid him gently back in the bunk and stepped to the foot of the ladder for breath. This made him think of the necessity for air in the place and he remembered the little window. It was tightly closed and rusted fast. He went up to the deck, found a marlin spike, and, returning, broke the glass. A sharp, cold draught swept through the forecastle, stirring the garments hanging on the nails.
An hour later, two dories bumped against the side of the San Jose. Men, talking in low tones, climbed over the rail. Burgess was one of them; ashamed of his panic, he had returned to assist the others in bringing the brigantine into a safer anchorage by the inlet.
Dr. Parker, very grave but businesslike, reached the deck among the first.
“Mr. Ellery,” he shouted, “where are you?”
The minister’s head and shoulders appeared at the forecastle companion. “Here I am, doctor,” he said. “Will you come down?”
The doctor made no answer in words, but he hurried briskly across the deck. One man, Ebenezer Capen, an old fisherman and ex-whaler from East Trumet, started to follow him, but he was the only one. The others waited, with scared faces, by the rail.
“Get her under way and inshore as soon as you can,” ordered Dr. Parker. “Ebenezer, you can help. If I need you below, I’ll call.”
The minister backed down the ladder and the doctor followed him. Parker bent over the bunk for a few moments in silence.
“He’s pretty bad,” he muttered. “Mighty little chance. Heavens, what a den! Who broke that window?”