The shanty had three rooms, one of which was given up to the patient, one used as a living room, and, in the third, Capen and the minister were to sleep. Mattresses were procured, kind-hearted and sympathizing townspeople donated cast-off tables and chairs, and the building was made as comfortable as it could be, under the circumstances. Sign boards, warning strangers to keep away, were erected, and in addition to them, the Trumet selectmen ordered ropes stretched across the lane on both sides of the shanty. But ropes and signs were superfluous. Trumet in general was in a blue funk and had no desire to approach within a mile of the locality. Even the driver of the grocery cart, when he left the day’s supply of provisions, pushed the packages under the ropes, yelled a hurried “Here you be!” and, whipping up his horse, departed at a rattling gallop.
The village sat up nights to discuss the affair and every day brought a new sensation. The survivors of the San Jose’s crew, a wretched, panic-stricken quartette of mulattos and Portuguese, were apprehended on the outskirts of Denboro, the town below Trumet on the bay side, and were promptly sequestered and fumigated, pending shipment to the hospital at Boston. Their story was short but grewsome. The brigantine was not a Turks Islands boat, but a coaster from Jamaica. She had sailed with a small cargo for Savannah. Two days out and the smallpox made its appearance on board. The sufferer, a negro foremast hand, died. Then another sailor was seized and also died. The skipper, who was the owner, was the next victim, and the vessel was in a state of demoralization which the mate, an Englishman named Bradford, could not overcome. Then followed days and nights of calm and terrible heat, of pestilence and all but mutiny. The mate himself died. There was no one left who understood navigation. At last came a southeast gale and the San Jose drove before it. Fair weather found her abreast the Cape. The survivors ran her in after dark, anchored, and reached shore in the longboat. The sick man whom they had left in the forecastle was a new hand who had shipped at Kingston. His name was Murphy, they believed. They had left him because he was sure to die, like the others, and, besides, they knew some one would see the distress signals and investigate. That was all, yes. Santa Maria! was it not enough?
This tale was a delicious tidbit for Didama and the “daily advertisers,” but, after all, it was a mere side dish compared to Mr. Ellery’s astonishing behavior. That he, the minister of the Regular church, should risk his life, risk dying of the smallpox, to help a stranger and a common sailor, was incomprehensible. Didama, at least, could not understand it, and said so. “My soul and body!” she exclaimed, with uplifted hands. “I wouldn’t go nigh my own grandfather if he had the smallpox, let alone settin’ up with a strange critter that I didn’t know from Adam’s cat. And a minister doin’ it! He ought to consider the congregation, if he done nothin’ else. Ain’t we more important than a common water rat that, even when he’s dyin’, swears, so I hear tell, like a ship’s poll parrot? I never heard of such foolishness. It beats me!”