“You mustn’t talk any more, Bucky,” warned the doctor, feeling his pulse. “It’ll hurt you.”
“Hurt me!” Severn laughed hysterically, as If what the doctor had said was a joke. “Hurt me? It’s what’s going to put me on my feet, doc. I know it now, I been too much alone this last winter, with nothin’ but my dogs to talk to when night come. I ain’t never been much of a talker, but she got me out o’ that. She used to tease me at first, an’ I’d get red in the face an’ almost bust. An’ then, one day, it come, like a bung out of a hole, an’ I’ve had a hankerin’ to talk ever since. Hurt me!”
He gave an incredulous chuckle, which ended in a cough.
“Do you know, I wish I could read better ’n I can!” he said suddenly, leaning almost eagerly toward Father Brochet. “She knows I ain’t great shucks at that. She’s goin’ to have a school just as soon as she comes, an’ I’m goin’ to be the scholar. She’s got a packful of books an’ magazines an’ I’m goin’ to tote over a fresh load every winter. I’d like to surprise her. Can’t you help me to—”
Weyman pressed him back gently.
“See here, Bucky, you’ve got to lie down and keep quiet,” he said. “If you don’t, it will take you a week longer to get well. Try and sleep a little, while Father Brochet and I go outside and see what you’ve done.”
When they went out, Weyman closed the door after them. He spoke no word as he turned and looked upon what Bucky Severn had done for the coming of his bride. Father Brochet’s hand touched the doctor’s and it was cold and trembling.
“How is he?” he asked.
“It is the bad malady,” said Weyman softly. “The frost has touched his lungs. One does not feel the effect of that until spring comes. Then—a cough—and the lungs begin literally to slough away.”
“That there is no hope—absolutely none. He will die within two days.”
As he spoke, the little priest straightened himself and lifted his hands as if about to pronounce a benediction.
“Thank God!” he breathed. Then, as quickly, he caught himself. “No, I don’t mean that. God forgive me! But—it is best.” Weyman stared incredulously into his face.
“It is best,” repeated the other, as gently as if speaking a prayer. “How strangely the Creator sometimes works out His ends! I came straight here from Split Lake. Marie La Corne died two weeks ago. It was I who said the last prayer over her dead body!”
HIS FIRST PENITENT
In a white wilderness of moaning storm, in a wilderness of miles and miles of black pine-trees, the Transcontinental Flier lay buried in the snow. In the first darkness of the wild December night, engine and tender had rushed on ahead to division headquarters, to let the line know that the flier had given up the fight, and needed assistance. They had been gone two hours, and whiter and whiter grew the brilliantly lighted coaches in the drifts and winnows of the whistling storm. From the black edges of the forest, prowling eyes might have looked upon scores of human faces staring anxiously out into the blackness from the windows of the coaches.